- Trading Post
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
We Are Everywhere
To call the village of Gortahork remote would not be out of order. In the far reaches of western Donegal it sits, at the edge of the sea, barricaded off from the rest of the county by a fierce looking mountain range. And since the closure of the regional railway line in the 1960s, it is not serviced by public transport - although private coaches operate in the area, making it possible to get around via bus & bicycle with a bit of planning. It was in this manner that I first arrived there some weeks ago, marveling at its beauty, isolation and Gaelic-only road signage. But while all of these things I'd expected from the area, what I didn't expect was to meet a kindred velo-spirit within moments of arrival. I was exiting the Offig an Phoist, if you will, to discover a woman examining my bike, which I'd left leaning against the wall.
"That's a nice bicycle," she said, giving me a searching, experimental look, "...a lovely bicycle?"
I laughed in disbelief.
"It wasn't just the bike I recognised, but your tweed coat," she explained. We were soon at her house, looking at bikes.
AJ stumbled upon this blog a few years back, when she decided to spruce up her old Raleigh Colette. Inspired by stories such as those of Carice's Raleigh Sports and Somervillain's Shogun conversions, little by little the sprucing up turned into an all out refurbishment project, complete with fresh powdercoat and updated components.
The Raleigh Colette is not a typical choice for such deluxe treatment. Produced through the 1980s right up to Raleigh's demise, it was a model that struggled to find direction in a culture where bicycles were increasingly associated with sport, not transport or casual rambling. Thus geared toward the sporty young woman of the '80s, the Colette was an attempt to pare down and freshen up the more iconic Raleigh Sports, which by then must have seemed clunky and old-fashioned to much of Raleigh's target market.
Unfortunately, the result was not exactly striking. From one year to the next, the designers could not even decide on the shape of the bike. For that reason, some Colette models are found with parallel step-through tubes, and others with shallower-angled top tubes, while others still were made with slightly curved, "loop" style frames (as in this lovely refurbished example from CycleEXIF). Who knows whether they even all used the same tubing and geometry; for all I know one Colette could ride completely different from the next, depending on year of production. In the looks and colourscheme department, these bicycles did not win any prizes either; certainly the nicest looking Raleigh Colettes you are likely to find, are those that have been repainted and overhauled aftermarket.
Some are bound to ask, why bother with a bicycle so unremarkable? Put simply: because AJ liked how it rode, and she liked how it looked. This alone made it special and worth refurbishing, regardless of pedigree or objective value.
And so off the bicycle went to a series of local workshops for disassembly and stripping and powdercoating and rebuilding. This was accompanied by months of researching, saving for, and acquiring some new parts.
Until at last, complete with personalised brass bell, the Colette was ready to ride. For the past few months, AJ - an artist and teacher - has used this bike for much of her short-distance transportion, including trips into the village for errands and pub transport, as well as leisure rides.
One thing that surprised me, is that AJ did not see fit to change the original gearing on the Colette. Gortahork is a very hilly place, and as many have noted the vintage 3-speeds tend to be geared high. Having grown up in the area though, AJ is used to the hills and does not seem especially bothered - and I cannot help but admire that, with a shudder, as I grit my teeth whilst climbing up to her house on my own sub-1:1 granny chariot!
As we talked about gearing, I followed AJ into the depths of her shed and was introduced to a number of other machines, including a pair of e-bikes she rides with her mother over the mountain roads, and a '70s step-through with drop bars, in some ways very similar to my "shattered Record." But the most intriguing among these to me, was this Windsor Viper children's roadbike, which I dragged out into the light, stunned at how heavy they managed to make this tiny machine.
Prior to setting eyes on this bicycle, I had been aware of two unrelated Windsor brands: one being the cheapo mail-order bikes sold today, and the other being Windsor Mexico, which produced Cinelli-lookalike roadbikes in the 1970s. This Windsor kid's bike did not seem to share the build characteristics or headbadge design of either of these brands. And so, very possibly, there is a third, even more obscure, Windsor Bicycles brand, hitherto unknown to vintage bike trivia enthusiasts (you're welcome!).
The headbadge appears to depict a screeching insect, with a shield upon its breast. The lugs, the weight, and the medley of components suggest a lower-tier build from the '70s. And the sizing is suitable for a teenager, or an adult under 5ft in height.
The bike once belonged to AJ's cousin, and she recalls him riding it quite a bit when they were kids.
After that it languished for decades in an aunt's shed, until she rescued it and brought it into her own, while deciding what to do with it.
Another restoration project? It would probably be for the fun of it only, as few kids of today are likely to delight at the idea of riding something this heavy!
On the other hand, with some tweaking this 26" wheel bicycle could be set up to fit a small adult who might very much enjoy it. While it might not be valuable, this Windsor Viper is certainly unique - and, to my eye, quite attractive.
As I look through AJ's pile of bikes and consider my own, once again I find myself thinking about what motivates us to do this stuff - to take an interest in the history and construction of these two wheeled machines that did not need to be anything more than tools, to admire and research them, to fuss and modify, and, moreover, to enjoy reading stories of others who do the same. And regardless of what this motivation is, just think of how odd and wonderful it is that the world is full of us!
And so the next time you find yourself in a region that seems as remote and detached from "cycling culture" as can be, just think! Somewhere out there, in a house, apartment, or shed, and hidden from plain sight, there surely live some loved and lovely bicycles - along with their lovely owners - that would surprise and delight you, should you ever chance upon them.