16 Jun 2012

Road bikes, racing bikes

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A quick update then on our new stock, specifically looking at road bikes. We didn’t manage to get as many as usual, but then it’s proving more difficult to get secondhand bikes generally, as the recession bites in Holland and Belgium. That statement might sound specious, but it’s true. People are holding onto their old bikes longer because they no longer have the capital to change them as often as they wish, which in Holland is every few years, much as people in boom times would get a new plate car over here. It wasn’t strictly necessary but it helped them say something about their wealth and their status as consumers.

I digress. Here are some pictures of the road bikes, ending with the best one.

This is a Concorde with C-Record – very nice. Let’s hope Johnny gets around to fixing it one day. It will be £450.

And can you spot the carbon fibre Specialized lurking in the background here? It’s had a few interesting modifications but is startling fast. Get in touch for further details, but £250.

And the icing on the cake?

16 Jun 2012

Hello Sailor!

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Here’s a happy photo of Johnny filling up the truck with chip fat after it stopped working on the motorway outside of Genk.
Those gloomy clouds are coming directly out of his brain.

We’re wise enough to carry a few spare parts for the engine around with us these days, but it was still a disconcerting few minutes, fumbling around under the bonnet as the traffic roared by, unsure as to whether our car (and our cargo) would ever make it back to Britain.

Rivetting stuff. But only to say that it was a problem with the fuel filter, a blockage as a consequence of us using such novel fuel types. Which does rather beg the question:

Did this happen because a chip got stuck somewhere in the engine?

07 Jun 2012

Secondhand bike shop, Spring 2012

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It’s perhaps worth saying something of the latter part of our most recent trip to Benelux, even though regular readers of this blog will probably remark, ‘Well, there’s nothing new in these slightly morbid travelling tales.’

But then this is the bike business I would counter, where nothing really ever changes.

I was, fortuitously enough, ill off work on the Friday and so able to join Johnny in Flanders for our twice annual trip to the bike markets of that area. I say fortuitously but then I also had to take Eurolines from Victoria coach station which is always a humbling experience. We were doing quite well and the sort of creeping frustration which sets in on any long bus journey was being kept well at bay until a detour took us out to France and a couple of laps around an industrial estate, where we picked up a cabal of Czech driver’s hands, all fat necks and ill-fitting shirts, who to be fair enough seemed like perfectly nice guys, but whose entrance delayed my arrival in Flanders and caused the inevitable Eurolines neurosis to finally begin to set in.

On arriving in Flanders I discovered that John, who had had a day alone in the city and plenty of time to coordinate a meeting, was in fact waiting at a different station in a different part of the city. After a mouthful of curses he soon emerged and, following a brief scuffle induced no doubt by the Eurolines frame of mind, we were reconciled in one of our favorite bars where several strong Belgian lagers led seamlessly on to a cheap kebab and a satisfied coma, in a tent well-pitched by the side of a motorway.

Imagine if you can the cycle ride back from the heart of the city to the campsite, which proved to be a decent distance from the centre. The city in question is all lakes and parks and tramlines, and our late-night tour of the city was pleasant and not a little dangerous; and even though John had chosen old Dutch ladies bikes and they weren’t particularly fast per se, they were certainly moving pretty fast at this point, and bits fell off.

And on our return finally to the campsite we were joined, suddenly but definitively, by our neighbour, who was a permanent resident of the site. I suppose then that makes it a trailer park. And even though I had been briefed about his madness I was unprepared for the stream of consciousness ramblings of a supposedly recovering drug addict, whose machine-gun delivery in impeccable Dutch-flavoured English described subjects as diverse as novel methods by which one can deliver amphetamine to the real potentiality of my being a murderer, to the political crisis in Belgium.

28 Feb 2012

Heavens Cycles Olympic Bonanzza!

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Oh dear. It has been a long winter.

At long last Heavens’ has a new stock of bicycles, though of course with Heavens ‘new’ is a very relative term . As always the bikes have come from Holland and Belgium but this time from a bunch of new sources, as Johnny explores the hinterland of secondhand bike buying on the continent in winter.

Europe-wide austerity measures have seen Heavens embrace the joys of the Belgian lay-by overnight, truly not a place for the feint-hearted. And of reheating spaghetti bolognese in the back of a leaky trailer.

Our man Johann, who usually supplies most of our glorious stock, is very much a fair weather salesman. He is the ultimate purveyor of excellent Dutch bikes but tends to head off to Egypt this time of year to spend your hard-earned cash.

Whether he is there this year remains to be seen.

But either way we have had to look elsewhere for bikes until the Spring at least, and as such Johnny has had quite a road trip.

Our research methods must unfortunately remain a mystery to you. However I can reveal that destinations have included Groeningen, Amsterdam and Nijmegen; and that he was nearly arrested in the last here, as the police were rightly alerted to the sight of a tired and haggard man stuffing yet another old bike into the back of a Japanese-registered utility vehicle.

We bought a Toyota Hilux Surf 2.4TD in late summer. This car has been a constant source of both amusement and horror. Purchased for £1000 it looks like quite a vehicle for the money, and it is. It’s been on jollys to the Lake District and the Peak and now Holland; and it is slow but intimidating, much like Johnny himself.

And John in particular has employed a typical Heaven’s spirit in making the damn thing work long-term. It emerges that these engines are remarkably tractable if you own little more that an advanced bicycle tool-kit, doggedness and a whole lot of patience. And are willing to work on the engine Christmas day, with your dad.

And the engine runs on reconditioned chip fat! Or at least a combination or chip-fat and diesel. This is perhaps the greatest revelation about our car.

As to the bikes, pictures will follow. But there is the typical crop of Gazelle, Batavus and Locomotief. Even the dreaded Peugeot (unsmiley face).

02 Feb 2012

Long Hibernation

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A long absence from Heavens then, weathering the cruelties of winter.

Nevertheless we have been trading as a few people sniff us out via the web; Johnny has also been stood in the freezing cold, flogging a few bits from the back of our shed.

This is our market at this time of year. And there will be more photos going up from our seasonal ‘banger sale’.

As always we also have some cracking road bikes sitting around, waiting for the Spring when people start to think about cycling again.

There is a carbon-fibre Cadex which will be cheap and nippy; also Diamant, Gazelle, Cannondale, Chesini, Concorde.

A big shout out to Fiona btw who crashed her bike and has just got through a brain scan and internal bleeding!

Also there are the aforementioned bangers, which all work and which are subject to our two month warrant; from Jan Janssen, Daimant again and Gazelle etc etc.

09 Nov 2011

Heavens Hackney Winter Warmer

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The late onset of winter brings a different feel to a working market. Gone are the joys and fresh morning starts of the spring and summer months. Now, by the look of most of our fellow traders, this is a bit more about getting through the day.

Very few people think, Oh I’ll spontaneously buy a bike today, on a wet November lunchtime.

A blessed few do however keep buying bicycles. To those few – we salute you.

A guy came down from Lancashire last year in a foot of snow to pick up his Flandria Freddy Maertens, although this probably tells you more about Lancastrians than anything else.

So the focus may shift on to road racing bikes as these seem to appeal regardless of the weather. In part because they are such lovely furniture pieces, though flatmates nationwide may disagree with this statement.

This Chesini is wonderful whether moving or sat in the lounge. It is the most spectacular steel frame build ever seen at Heavens Cycles. Perhaps it is a custom build.

Certainly the old man we bought it from in Belgium looked like he had the money to spend on a custom bicycle, but then as the Flemish never tire of reminding you, they live in the richest economic area in the world*. He didn’t speak any English and my Flemish is vague but enthusiastic. Nevertheless I managed to communicate via a series of desperate gestures my high regard for his bicycle.

It is always sad to relieve a man of his evident pride and joy – it’s as if you are taking away his racing license, or his wife. But then one cannot afford to be a sentimentalist in business, however low-fi your business model+. To be fair our man looked like he was firmly, happily retired from racing as he puffed away on a large cigar. He was also about sixty five and had fitted a more sympathetic gearing and an new (but ugly) rear derailleur to accommodate this, a move we immediately reversed. We’ve also serviced the shifters and re-cabled the bike, as well as fitting new pads and bar-tape etc.

It is odd to see 9-speed STIs on a steel frame, as this sort of modern-era technology coincided with the advent of aluminium in bicycle frame building. Or put another way steel had sort of become obsolete by the time by the time this technology came in, all which does rather suggest that this was both a custom build and a craft-build, and the evident craft involved in the frame building backs up this thinking.

Chesini still make some radical steel-framed road bikes – http://www.chesini.it/road.php?id=40 .

The seat-cluster is worth the entrance fee alone. And the guy who painted the bike has his name on the bike. The paint is incredible. And the carbon cranks are a touch.

I have no idea what to ask for this bicycle. A thousand pounds would not be beyond some London speculators.

And with Christmas coming up it would be insane not to offer such retro fiets treats as the little brown Dutch number below. These bikes are bomb-proof and have already come such a long way.

Also, here are some other great road bikes from Heaven’s Cycles. More 9-speed technology, more racing-grade steel. And more very reasonable prices, of course.

*Sometimes this sort of smug business does bite you in the ass. Witness our gleeful purchase of an ex-pro team carbon fibre bicycle with Stephen Roche’s name written onto the crossbar. We ignored this potential fact of cycling history, discounting it as improbable – Steven Roche won the Tour de France, Giro de Italia the World Championship, in the same year – and found ourselves instead focussed on regluing one of the tubes which had come unstuck from the lug, in the way that apparently bonded frames tend to do. This repair was effected outside, in the dark. The decrepitude of the bike obviously coloured our opinion of it and we quickly sold it, to a policeman, for £300! (Do officers read blogs?)

Subsequent information revealed that this was indeed Steven Roche’s bicycle.

*This may be untrue. And let’s see how the Belgians ride out the Euro-zone crisis. The Flemish will also sometimes talk of how the affluence of their cities (Brugge, Antwerp, Gent…) is a relatively new thing, not discounting Antwerp’s status as the largest city in the medieval world. New Flemish money comes from textiles and textile crops and is in part a result of the guild traditions which continue to exist amongst farmers, and which continue to organise them. The money was previously in the southern, Walloon towns (in the 19th century) before the European mining bubble burst. The war also inverted the traditional French language hegemony in Flemish territories, but that is another story.

12 Sep 2011

More road bike stock

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There are only a couple of occasions each year where we can get our hands on the the sheer number of quality/quirky secondhand racing bikes we need. The community event in Belgium we attend is one such occasion and always throws up some treats. All of the bikes below came from this sale. Please remember these bikes are as yet unreformed and as such will look a lot fresher once we’ve gone to work on them.

Do click on the images for a better picture.

This bike above is undoubtedly the best in strictly art terms. The frame build is nuts, it has 9-speed Ultegra, carbon cranks. I think the frame is around 54cm.

This blue Lucasa is the oldest road bike we bought and possibly my favorite. I’ve never heard of the builder but it is a nicely done frame, Ishiwata tubing, Campagnolo/Modolo bits.

I I always hope we are going to get one of these in my size but, as yet, no luck. It looks a bit gawky here but is much less intimidating in the flesh. Diamant don’t really have too much of a rep that i know of, in the UK at least, but the ones we’ve had in the past have been superb bicycles. This one is the best we’ve had with Campag drop-outs and and complete Shimano 600 groupset.

More good clean road bikes from the Freddy Maertens shop and Comafi respectively. We try to buy bikes in good order that are going to require the minimum amount of finishing from ourselves (obviously there are exceptions to this rule) and these two fitted the bill. Both are pretty much ready to go.

We have finished working on this bike so I thought i’d throw a picture in. Bonkers, this machine is ugly/beautiful and fast. Who ever heard of Reynolds 893 tubing? This might be the best road bike we have ever had, upright geometry, Shimano parts. You can really fling it around and pretend like you’re Marco Pantani.

And of course we have a load of dutch and town bike stuff as always.

07 Sep 2011

Pinarello Opera

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Somebody said to me yesterday, ‘Ugh this is better than the usual junk you sell’.

Which I though was a bit much. But there’s no doubt that this is an ahem exceptionally fine machine.

I was typically brief in my description here:


But on my own blog I can afford to be a bit more effusive. This has been my bike since i bought it in 2009 and we have bonded so much that a sale feels like a betrayal. But then I see objects – for that is ultimately what this is, unused – sat around gathering dust and affection simultaneously. Technics decks, even CD-Js at friends houses, reminding them of the glory days as they play everything through the computer. Before you know it the things have taken on the used patina of furniture.

Of course by this rationale you’d get rid of anything the moment you stopped finding use for it, a kind of ruthless utilitarianism. But then you’d have a lot more space. I have resolved to be a little crueler to objects.

Anyway I digress. This is a very light and very rapid bike, one of the last Pinarellos to be made in Italy. I have taken a slightly curious pride in the thing being made (at least in part) of steel, though it is a very high-tech steel blown as thin as a coke-can on the down-tube. This makes for a super-rigid ride. And the carbon bits give it that characteristic spring.

And STIs! There really is nothing better.

Worst is i know i’ll never be able to afford another bike like this.

I’m not selling this due to an upgrade but because I’ve finally accepted that the bike is the wrong size for me. It 6′ I am an inch or two tall, or my torso is a bit squat. Whatever. The bike is £550, a decent deal I think.

30 Aug 2011

Delicate with a hammer

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It’s great fun having such good friends in the London cycle business. Now is probably the time to give these people a big-up.

This post has been prompted by meeting Przemek at London Field’s Cycles who has been a genuine legend over the last few weeks. The bike on the right in the picture below would not be the stupendous 1930s success story it so obvious is now we it not for his persistence and delicacy with a unheard of tool, and a hammer.

He’s probably ruing the day he met us however as he is now the go-to man with humpy wheels and unusual bottom bracket projects. He is also appalled by some of our techniques and approaches. We humbly promise to learn from our mistakes.

Just going into the workshop place at this excellent shop is an education for under-resourced mechanics like us. The array of tools is the sort of thing that a certain curious breed of people get very excited about. And Przemek has a tool for everything, including one which tells us by how many millimetres certain of our frames are out of true i.e. bent.

Sometimes you wish there wasn’t a tool for this sort of thing.

Przemek has a imperious attitude which is richly deserved. The man creaks with authority and strolls around his workshop with the air of a man unsurprised by the problems which surround him.

I think the reason he and the other guys in East London help us out is that, at Heavens, we keep that rich tradition of the British amateur alive and kicking.

Yes we use Park Tools, and Johnny is actually a pretty good mechanic. But we also realise that, in some respects, life is too short to own a shop or have a full-time job. A controversial statement.

Thanks also have to go to those handy women at Lock 7. They not only put up with endless attempts (not by us) to burgle that good-looking goldfish bowl on the canal, but also with constant requests that we borrow their tools, get a discount on this, get some advice for a minute on this.

Lee and Catherine have to be the most patient proprietors in London, a cruel but natural consequence of them having such a nice and richly windowed shop on the canal. They attract all the attention Hackney can throw at them, which is considerable. And they are always fielding requests from people who bought their bike on Brick lane for fifty quid and, following the disintegration of this bike apart a short time later, want it fixing up for less than a tenner.

This is also a consequence of their being a little more approachable than your average Halfords jobsworth, and by the fact that they serve good coffee.

23 Aug 2011

Skoda Felica RIP

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How to mourn the loss of such a good friend, companion, accomplice, death-trap?

The much-loved Heaven’s wagon is about to move on, prompted by the purchase of a newer, uglier and infinitely less fuel efficient vehicle.

And so far at least our new vehicle has given us nothing but attacks of anxious cramps, due to (legitimate) questions regarding it’s heritage, mechanical integrity. Even its legality.

But talk of the new squeeze is premature. We’re still sizing one-another up. And the Skoda doesn’t really like me talking about the Hilux yet, it just hasn’t come to terms with it. But then I suppose that the wound is still fresh. Sorry Skoda.

How i will miss your death-rattle exhaust pipe, paper-thin clutch and exploding engine.

The price of the car on Gumtree btw is currently £400.

Trips to the Peak District and Belgium will never be the same. I loved that sense that i was lucky to make it through even the most insignificant of journeys, and the relief combined with amazement which would come at the end of a further flung trip. How I used to slap your plastic dashboard with affection!

Enough. Skoda Felica 1.3 GLXi P546 DRC R.I.P xxx