Mouse, bless him, did me the great honour of lending me a frame he had. It was way too small for him, but even so it was a very generous thing to do. At this distance in time I can’t even recall his real name - wherever you are Mouse, thank you.
The frame, stove-pipe black, was stickered up as a ‘Gios Torino’.
Real bikes from the factory of Gios Torino in the 80s were total works of art. Here’s one in full race mode under the gifted legs of Belgian hardman Roger De Vlaeminck.
My bike, under the stickers, was actually a more mundane affair. My mate Oli who has ‘the eye’ reckoned it was a local hand-made frame made from Japanese, not Italian steel.
I can’t say I cared that much. It was a perfect size, was half the weight of the old Raleigh and was a big leap aesthetically - it looked like an Italian frame and that would do me.
Some people could afford to care, and in their eyes a locally welded bike made of Japanese tubing was not a proper bike. There was (and still is) lots of tosh talked about the difference between British Reynolds steel, Italian Columbus and Japanese Isiwata and Tange. All rubbish of course, a kind of snobbery that still has hold in some cycling circles where people are more concerned with the brand’s perceived advantage than it’s actual performance. The particular types of steel that are suitable for making bikes out of are all a lot more similar than they are different. There would be very few people who could tell the difference between identical frames made with similar grades of tubes from the various manufacturers. The geometry coupled with the diameter and thickness of the tubes has more bearing overall on how a bike rides than the grade of tubing.
As in any small clique there’s a language of ownership in cycling where each brand has a specific place and makes a certain statement. Sometimes people spend a lot of money on bikes to show that they are serious. Sometimes people ride deliberately old bikes in order to show that have distain for people who spend a lot of money on bikes to show that they are serious. It’s all quite complicated and a good kind of anoracky fun. The irony is that anyone who doesn’t own a bike and speak this language simply sees ‘a bike’ and lumps the rider on a £8000 Colnago in with the rider on the £500 Halford’s special.
I won’t pretend I didn’t want a beautiful Italian bike, but that was more about owning something that was exotic and ‘from the source’ than anything else. That and some of their paint schemes, which were amazing in that 80s ‘every neon colour possible’ way.
The Colnago Master is probably the highest form of the artful bike in the 80s.
So my ‘Gios’ was a very average bike, by modern standards a bit of a lump. Back then frames pretty much weighed the same and had more or less the same design. Sizing was simple. A 21” bike (my size then and for evermore) meant the seat tube and top tube were the same length, 21”. All bikes were like this, built ‘square’. If you wanted something with a longer top tube you had to take a longer seat tube.
So now I had the frame and The Wheels, so it was really only bits and pieces I needed. While parts from Campagnolo was pretty much the only thing a real cyclist with a real income would buy, I had to make do with the new kid on the block, Shimano’s ‘inferior’ but significantly cheaper parts. So I ended up with a bit of a rag bag of parts, mostly 600EX, one of Shimano’s early efforts at a racing group. Back in those days there weren’t any compatibility issues, no index shifting, so everything just worked with everything else. Easy.
By this time I had joined the local cycle club, Port-Nicholson-Poneke, or PNP as it is more commonly known. They had run the event at the track and they were the only club in Wellington proper, so there was no choice.
For those of you used to dodging a litter of lycra-clad cool kids on carbon bikes on the weekend and (in London at least) waiting in queues of twenty or more bikes at the lights, let me set the scene for you.
This was 1980 in a country that is rugby mad. The club, which covered the whole of the metropolitan Wellington area of 250,000 people had a membership of about 30. There were a couple of other clubs in the Wellington Region, two in the Hutt Valley and Kapiti-Mana, and then the club in the Wairarapa, Masterton. I’m guessing there were about 200 racers in the whole region. The only other people you would see on bikes back in those days were other racers and the ocassional weirdos with beards riding Dawes Galaxies, inevitably British expats (we’ll come back to those gents in about twelve bikes and thirty years time).
The club was run by ‘The Brays’ a family who lived out in Tawa and had the good grace to welcome legions of sweaty cyclists into their homes. Dave and Sandra ran the club and their two children, Fiona and Andy, were members. They even had a van with a sliding side door and a skylight - pretty flash back then.
Most sports clubs on the planet would probably operate in roughly the same way - a couple of extremely dedicated people at the core who did the boring stuff in order to give others the room to do what they loved, a ‘cool’ bit (in our club this was the Rice’s and Meo’s who never actually showed up to the club meetings or wore the club jerseys in races but got the best results) and then ‘the rest’ who formed the base of the club, bulking out the numbers and generally doing it for fun.
Pretty quickly I fell in with a subset of the club, a few riders who gathered around the certifiably bike-mad Oli Brooke-White and ‘track stand champion’ Henry Chlebowicz. Oli and Henry worked as mechanics at The Bicycle Village and, due to it’s close location to my high-school, I defected from Burkes and took up residence there.
After school, for as many days as the shop owner, Roland Hoffe (RIP), would tolerate, I would go down sit in the workshop and chat to ‘the boys’, looking at expensive parts as they came in, watching Oli and Henry at work and reading their expensive copies of the impossibly exotic International Cycle Sport - the only way we got any news cycling news from the continent. These mags gave us iconic images of the cyclists of the era - Moser, Saronni, Fignon, Hinault and the occasional American like Le Mond. The idea that a kiwi would ever even be able to ride The Tour was really wild (I didn’t know that, in fact, that had already happened in 1928).
Basically we drooled over the magazines and did our best to copy the look of the bikes, clothes and, most importantly, the attitude of the European racers.
Oli was the best at this by a long chalk. See photo evidence left where he does a terrific imitation of a Eurpoean pro at the end of a hard day. Oli will need no introduction to Wellington cyclists. A man of impeccable taste in bikes, generous and very very patient, he was then (and remains) a top wrench and a top bloke. He’s the kind of guy who would be a mechanic and confidante for British Cycling if he’d grown up here in the UK and not 12,000 miles away. Every club needs an Oli.
Back then he was a slender thing, riding impossibly large frames and making it look cool. He was the one with the bike that looked like it had just been purchased, every day, where my bike looked like I washed it once a year in cold water without soap. I still prefer riding bikes to looking after them and my mechanical skills are rudimentary - I have just enough to keep my bikes going and that’s it.
At this point in the history of cycling they didn’t need a lot of looking after thankfully. All frames were steel, all racing bikes were ten speed with easy to look after friction shifting. Your chamois in your wool shorts was actually real goat leather, the soles of your Sidi’s were wood and you nailed your cleats to them. You had toe-straps and a single, small bottle on your bike. Lights were as effective as single candles. They were so dim the notion of a high and low was pointless. There were no HRMs, no power meters. I didn’t even have a speedo. I used to watch the milage in the car as we drove local roads to learn how long they were.
My modern standards it was all very much seat of the pants. But I had the important things - I had my crew, I had some adults to organise races and point to at the start line, and I had a bike that was good enough. It didn’t make me sigh like Trevor Rice’s Benotto or the Rossin’s of the Meo brothers, but ‘The Gios’ did the job and I rode the fuck out of it.
I also have no photos of it or me riding it, which is really weird considering how much of my life I had invested in it.
And my next bike? I have no photos of that either… but that may be just as well, considering.
Next: Gios Rosa