19 Feb 2011

Secondhand Bicycle – London Heavens

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People get very caught up in the buying and selling of bikes, possibly to the detriment of their general relationships with people. Amongst traders and obsessive riders of bicycles you always come across characters of interest, and characters from the fringe. Especially in Hackney.

You only have to look at the London Fixed Gear Forum (LFGSS) crew to see just how strange all this obsessing can all get. The bike is a thing to foreground for sure. And there are some very nice people who subscribe to this site.

But at the greasy end of this forum, as with all forums, are a bunch of guys suffering from the worst sort of social mal-adaptation, who hide behind their keypads. They really should get out a bit more.

Perhaps our business suffers from the opposite effect. By virtue of being outside and having to deal with people face to face all the time, perhaps we are over-socialised, by which I mean cheap.

By modern corporate standards our pricing and procedures are a joke. But then there seems to be a certain strata of society which is put off by modern corporate procedures, and would rather deal with us. Call it nostalgic or call it sticking to your principles, but I would rather stand in the street and chat, rather drive a van and barter than sit in an office and administer.

Also random things happen in the street. Last week an old guy came to speak to us and said he’d got a few things for sale, if I was interested. We get a lot of things offered up for sale in the street, mainly from crackheads offering goods freshly lifted from the railings on the nice houses in De Beauviour Town.

This guy clearly wasn’t of this sort, so we exchanged numbers and I agreed to call him the next day.

I don’t know how he found out about Heavens. Maybe he was just walking by. But when I went to his place, one of those crumbling tenement blocks which hide away in Hoxton, I could count myself very lucky indeed.

There are a lot of people out there interested in very vintage bicycles and parts. These guys are true collectors, nostalgic for a golden age of British cycling and manufacturing, and for whom the acquisition of a particular pedal or handlebar can be a labour of obsessive love.

I’ve been there before myself in a minor way, and had some beautiful vintage bicycles. But these were more happened across than sought after. And this seems to be the way. I could never really afford to keep these bikes. I sold my 1955 Holdsworth Whirlwind, which I swore I’d never sell, and as part of the sad reasoning of parting renounced my love for vintage bikes as unduly romantic – how the strictures of economics can easily kill romance!

Suffice to say I still understand that we have a proud industrial heritage which produced some exceptionally capable and beautiful machines; and that this industrial heritage exists even though the means of production have gone; and that bicycles spawned a generation of urban working class builders and riders liberated in the post-war years, and that the bicycle was then a fantastically democratic object providing real mobility in the years before cars really choked up the roads.

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I digress. The guy in Hoxton turned out a treasure trove of vintage bicycle parts. Amongst these was a Maclean’s Featherweight frame. This fantastically rare and sought after frame would have been the business in 1949 when it was built, and the guy in Hoxton had had it since new. Maclean’s were in fact an Islington builder, based at 362-3 Upper Street and as such would have been the local bike shop for the Cosham family.

Mr Cosham was the sort of guy who is sort of going out of fashion these days. Once he got going on

This small collection of frames and parts had belonged to Mr Cosham and his family, his brother and his sister. They had all been cycling fanatics and Mr Cosham described a yard once full of bikes, for all the family including a tandem and various racing machines; of cycling back from darts tournaments drunk and getting up at six to start work.

It is quite sad of course, to see a man giving up his frames. I could only imagine the day when we gave up our own bikes. But Mr C wanted rid of the lot, and we took it all away in ICELAND bags. The parts have all been meticulously preserved in greaseproof paper and rags and as such are in remarkable condition considering much of it is from the 40s and 50s.

Though it feels a little sacrilegious we are selling the parts and frames on ebay. It would be nice to put the whole lot in a display cabinet so people could get a good look into history this way, but this being impractical it might as well go to people who are going to use it, and treasure it.

We’re going to give Mr Cosham a fair cut of the profits.

Here is a selection of the cache.

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