24 Mar 2011

Secondhand bicycle madness

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To Holland last week to collect more Dutch bikes. Our man Johann is a good four hour drive from Calais and Ted and I rolled up at midday Saturday. We haggled a little over the price of thirty bikes and then jammed them all into the van. After that we sat and smoked cigarettes in the sun.

It was hard work finding this guy and so many well-priced bikes. The buying process now seems remarkably straightforward and doesn’t really compare to our earlier more shambolic efforts.

In fact those early trips were a pleasure and much more like road trips in their range and drift. Driving around Benelux, searching for secondhand bikes from town to town, was really the best sort of travel: we had only a loosely-defined objective but this led us into the very heart of Dutch and Belgian towns. And so their societies. Such is the part that cycling plays in the function of these places.

We were often frustrated on these early trips – we struggled to fill a car on our first venture – but it was revealing to meet the people in the shops. We asked about bikes from Brussels to Spa and the German border, cruising around in the Skoda and racking up the miles. Only once did we find what we were after, inveigling our way into an attic and a horde of old stock and parts.

This felt a little devious, depriving a nation of its heritage somehow. But then the old guy was happy to get rid of what he saw a junk. Part of me was ashamed at the material thrill of all this. But then this treasure hunting, this sense of getting something for little or nothing is in some ways a capitalist fundamental. Our paltry adventure had the same basic shape as most foreign trade ventures of the past. You look for rare commodities to buy cheaply and you sell them on at a profit. We were simple middlemen rewarded in part for the adventure of our travel, and for the sake of trade.

So we were joking with those handy women at Lock 7 last week about the potential of our trip this time around. They wanted to know the whereabouts of a sale we were headed to in Holland and I was precious in not disclosing the details.

We can’t go around giving up our contacts: this is one of the only real values our business. There aren’t that many vintage road bikes out there anymore and if we have a decent source of these we have to be a little bit precious in protecting it.

The sale itself was an anticlimax in part because it was busy with people doing the same thing as us. The drive from Eindhoven was the best part of the day, sixty miles of wet fields, cattle and turbines in a very Dutch pastoral.

We found the bike fair in a suburban-feeling Dutch village – what other sort is there? On entering the village hall we found a sort of bicycle Crufts with lots of people parading their favourite and best restored vintage machines, men crooning over the finish on a re-chromed Masi, men taking suggestive photos of bikes from very cunning angles.

Each to their own. But it was pretty odd in some respects after the wholesale of the previous day with Johann. Such a flagrant display of bikes as things: materialist, fetishist, perfectionist, abstract – expensive nostalgia tinged with a feint eroticism.

20 Feb 2011

Italian Road Bike, Dutch Road Bike

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Moser and Koga Miyata road bikes, new in at Heavens. These are pre-restoration pictures, so the bikes will look pretty scruffy here. Pictures of the finished bikes will appear here soon.

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.

17 Feb 2011

Maclean’s Apollo – luck and the bike

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Occasionally you luck out and things discover you, rather than vice versa. God know I’ve spent enough time trawling ebay and the like with limited success, looking out for those 1950s road bike bargains. Bikes listed, badly spelt; bikes finishing at 10pm…

But those days are gone. I really can’t be arsed anymore, not that the value of these bikes has gone down in my estimation, or that the price in real terms has gone down either.

Over Christmas I waved goodbye to the Claud Butler Avant Coureur, to the Holdsworth Whirlwind. And at very reasonable prices, to some very satisfied customers.

So imagine my surprise… More info to follow

15 Feb 2011

New (Old) Road Bikes

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Secondhand road bikes, new from Heavens…

We have ten new road bikes coming to market in the coming weeks. Only two are ready to go at the moment – you can probably tell which, even from the pictures here.

Prices and pictures of all the finished bikes will go up in time. In the meantime, click on the pictures for a sample (and better quality images and prices).

28 Jan 2011

Secondhand road bikes, projects, parts

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Secondhand road bikes are hard things to come by, at least at sensible prices. We get emails from people frustrated at ebay and other markets as prohibitively expensive, people who. want parts, frames, wheels. Sometimes customers don’t want the finished article but want to build a bicycle themselves.

Have we got anything going cheap, even a part-built racing bike?  The short answer is yes, but you have to be hands-on and make an appointment to rummage in the garage. We are market traders after all, and want to deal with people, and want to keep our stock moving around.

It’s a sad thing to have to admit, but at this stage some of our bikes never really make it past the purchase stage. These are the bikes which lie at the back of the lock up looking a bit sorry for themselves, with us putting off a decision as to what to do with them. It doesn’t make economic sense for us to carry out a complete restoration, and we’re often slow to admit this.

There has been a large-framed Chesini road bike around for months. The wheels (not the originals) were rotten, so i threw them away. The early Shimano STIs are broken, and at this stage we don’t have the resources to restore it faithfully (or perhaps turn it into a single speed).As such it got stripped and the parts saved and so the frame is for sale. But if someone had wanted to take it one, it would have been cheap. £15o?  For Cinelli bars and stem, Shimano 600 parts and all those fixtures and fittings which make the building of a bike from scratch so expensive… That’s not a bad deal.

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Also we are not really fetishists. We have had some bikes which would make the lfgss crowd fall off their fixies, so much kudos a would Freddy Maertens or a Gios cyclocross bike bring. And we have sold these bikes reasonably to people we like. Not that a business needs to function on the principle There has been a beautifully built Schils frame, very lightweight and artfully put together. This has dropped in price to the point where I’ll sell it for £100. A friend of ours who works in Mosquito saw the frame, pointed out the cast lugs and engravings on various parts of the bike and just said, You’re too cheap. And maybe we are. Are people put off from buying this frame because they are used to the economies of ebay and Brick Lane Bikes?

30 Nov 2010

Buying a Secondhand Dutch Bike

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Secondhand dutch bikes from Heavens are unpretentious, bomb-proof, and cheap.

They are certainly cheaper and better than the gas-piping (this is a derogatory term for inferior quality steel products) available from manufacturers like Bobbin.

We offer a two-month warranty (excluding tires) on all the bikes we sell, and we only really sell high-end bikes from major manufacturers from Gazelle, Batavus, Sparta. All of these bikes are still manufactured in Holland, and are usually around £600 to buy new.

But then the Dutch don’t think twice about spending this sort of money on a bicycle. But then they have a transport infrastructure which accommodates bicycles equally, even prioritizes the bicycle, as any visitor to Holland will tell you.

Most of the bikes we sell have modern 3, 5 or 7-speed internal gear hubs, which means all of the workings are hidden away inside the bike.

Similarly, these Dutch bikes mostly feature hub brakes. This again means the mechanical workings are hidden away, meaning it’s much more difficult for the weather to get at your working parts.

Dutch bikes are good at encouraging this sort of no-hassle experience. Mudguards and a straight-backed riding position add to this feeling of easy superiority.

When people ask me, How can I best maintain my Dutch bike?, I tell them to just ride it and forget about it. These things are designed to work until they don’t work anymore, at which point (several years later) you take them to the bike shop, where they are fixed. If they cannot be fixed, you throw them into the canal.

We often have to fine-tune gears and brakes, replace cables or adjust the position of the rear wheel. But most of the bikes we buy need only these minor works and new tires, then they are ready to sell.

Most of our Dutch bicycles sell for around £170, a bit more for a more really good one or a really fashionable or elegant one.

And as for selling them, half of the battle is getting people to try them. After that the riding experience kind of sells itself.

29 Nov 2010

For Sale: Gios Carbon Fibre

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Sometimes it seems more appropriate that our stock go into a museum than onto Broadway Market for £350. And this is an example of the sort of rare bicycle which would be at equally at home on the concourse as on the road.

  • Bonded carbon-fibre tubing (aluminium lugs)
  • Sachs ‘New Success’ groupset
  • Fir/Mavic MA40 rims, Campagnolo Record Hubs
  • Rolls saddle
29 Nov 2010

Guide to Buying a Secondhand Road Bike – Part 1

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This is really all about working out how much money (if any) you are going to have to spend on your bike in the future, and when.

Part 1 of this guide is to focus on wheels and tires.

  1. Check your tires. These can be easily replaced, but will cost you £25 plus. Knackered old tires will have splits in them and be brittle to the touch/on the edges.
  2. Be aware that if you replace old tires you may have to replace inner tubes as well, as these are often pretty crusty when you get inside, and do not respond well to probing about with tire levers.
  3. Check wheel rims. If the rims are concave this means they have had a lot of use, and won’t stop particularly well.
  4. It sounds obvious, but check the wheel is straight. Turn the bike upside down and check it spins clear of the brake pads, without periodically rubbing. It may be a simple matter of tightening in some of the spokes, but then those spokes may be rusty and not tighten, or the rim may be bent in which case you may need a new wheel, which will be expensive..
  5. Check there is no ‘play’ in the hubs. If you put a little weight on whichever end of the bike you are looking at gently pull the wheel back and forth along its axle, there should be zero movement. If there is ‘play’ i.e. the wheel shifts in its axle, this means your wheel needs adjusting/throwing in the canal.
  6. Watch out for tubular tires. These were fitted to the lightest wheels available in their day, but are a bugger in London when you have to fix a puncture on the move. In fact, it’s near impossible not to do these (properly) in less than half a day.
29 Nov 2010

Buying Secondhand Road Racing Bicycles

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Racing Bikes (or more properly Road Bikes) operate at the dynamic edge of cycling, allowing you to go ever further and ever faster. This is the point for anybody who has ever considered or even admired professional cycling. Not that everybody does of course. For some people professional cyclists are just drug-addled perverts in tights/who shave their own legs.

Modern road bike technology is obscene and extraordinary in equal measure. To get on a good modern carbon-fibre bike almost feels like cheating, such amazing progress can you make. And off the peg carbon bikes from C.Boardman (Halfords) are reasonably priced. if you consider spending a grand on a bike a reasonable thing to do.

They are all made in Taiwan of course, a fact which doesn’t perhaps have a lot of romance attached to it. Certainly not as much as having your bike made in Italy, or California. Practically the only bikes you can buy made in The West are niche, hand-made steel numbers with niche prices e.g. Pegoretti.

Secondhand racing bikes are slightly different. They can in all honesty be a bit hit-and-miss. Some of them represent absurd value for money. We recently (and rather reluctantly) sold a Concorde made Frank Vandewalle for £370 which was truly amazing: fast, stiff, stable up and down hill – you could have raced it. And that is a great thing to be able to say about £370.

Some are better suited to posing, cranky old fashion nags with grinding hubs and bent forks (Heavens does sell these from time to time).

But then you paid £150 and if it gets nicked, it gets nicked, big deal. But then you left it outside the pub. And you’re not even sure which pub.