Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas - Joyeaux Noël - Weihnachtsgrüße

I would like to take the opportunity to wish all my readers 'seasons greetings' from this corner of Ireland.  The weather has not been that kind of late with one storm system after another depositing lots of liquid sunshine outside. With the strong winds, the only variation appears to be the 'angle of attack' of the liquid stuff. 2015 has been very wet and I would expect the yearly average to be at least 130% above the statistical mean.

Despite the gloomy weather, things move on apace and 2015 did see one or two highlights for me.  I did manage to get my Goeland Randonneuse out a few times for a run.  I really like the way the bike rides. Frame is 531 tubing and bike came equipped with 650B Michelin 'World Tour' tyres.  They are amber wall tyres and it is over 30 years since my bike was equipped with Michelin 'World Tour' tyres, so the clock has been well and truly wound back.  The Goeland dates from 1960 but the rear derailleur was updated in the 1970s to a Huret 'Duopar' long cage mech.  The only thing I have added to the bike was a Lion Bellworks engraved brass bell.  I really like these and unlike the alloy 'ping' bell that equipped my racing bike in the 1970s, this one has a loud, lingering melodious ring.  Despite it's efficacy for those of normal, unobstructed hearing, the bell's performance is limited, especially where joggers and walkers are concerned, those who are plugged into their personal music player but 'tuned out' of the real world.

A friend completed two restorations over the winter of 2014/15.  The first was a 1938 Saxon Twin Tube.  His reason for wanting another Saxon was the fact his father ran a cycle shop before and after WW2 and was an agent for Saxon.

His second bike was even more personal.  It was a Hill Special from Padiham, Lancashire and was one of four frames his father had bought to sell through the shop in the early 1950s.  The bike was one of these four and had one owner from new.  He was able to buy it back from the owner as he had got too old to ride it. The bike was actually built up by his sister and given the 'once over' quality control check by his father to make sure the bike was up to spec before it left the shop.  Components are original to the bike and have been re-chromed and polished where required.

The staff at the Springhill Cycle Collection have received a new recruit in keeping with the ethos of the collection.  Meg, a rescue dog, has joined the staff in a supervisory role. Apart from watching, to make sure the restorations are up to standard, she has undertaken the onerous task of dealing with the dodgy catering. She has to be let into this role slowly.....

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Titanic Quarter

I took advantage of the dry weather to enjoy the dog days of summer on my bike.  Today is the last day of late summer bank holiday weekend and I took the opportunity to ride into Belfast to visit the Titanic Quarter.  Belfast was not as busy as I expected with the cycle paths seeing fewer cyclists and pedestrians than anticipated, compared to last week when the P&O cruise ship 'Arcadia' was in port.  

I used the new pedestrian/cycle bridge at the Lagan weir to cross over the River Lagan onto what was once Queens Quay where the old Belfast & County Down Railway had it's Belfast terminus and Kelly's Coal Merchant had their offices and where coal was unloaded from their fleet of colliers into railway wagons on the quayside.  A lot of old Belfast has been swept away in redevelopment and the Belfast Odyssey Arena and W5 Centre were the first of the new buildings in the area. Residential housing, the Titantic centre, and the new Public Records Office have all been opened in the Quarter, as well as the restored White Star Line SS Nomadic which was built as a tender ship for the RMS Titanic.  

The Quarter is well worth a visit and the excellent Dock Cafe is popular with cyclists as the food and coffee are to be recommended.  The cafe also has a display of memorabilia about the Belfast Port and RMS Titanic.  There is a large public artwork in the communal area outside the cafe featuring RMS Titanic. It is easily reached by bicycle for the visitor to Belfast by using one of the bicycle hire scheme bicycles.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Cycles George Martin, Lyon

Georges Martin was born in Chamelet, Rhone Department, France in 1915 and died in Poule-les-Écharmeaux in 2010 aged 94 years. Georges rode professionally for J FOLLIS, Lyon. He is credited with one hundred victories according to the excellent Anciens Velos Lyonnaise website. Georges rode and won the Circuit de Six Provinces in 1946:- 
                                            1. Georges Martin,
                                            2. Pierre Baratin,
                                            3. Raphaël Géminiani.

Both Martin and Baratin were team mates for FOLLIS. Georges rode in the first post war Tour de France in 1947. The teams were national teams, but teams from both Germany and Italy were missing, an Italian team being composed of Italian-French. Georges Martin rode for a regional French Team – Equipe du Nord-Est.

The 1947 Tour started in Paris on 25th June 1947 and comprised of 21 stages, there were 99 starters, but only 53 riders completed the race, which was won with an average speed of 31.412km/hr. The top three podium places were all filled by French riders:-
                                            1. Jean Robic,
                                            2. Édouard Fachleitner,
                                            3. Pierre Brambilla.
Georges Martin rode in the 1948 edition of the Tour de France achieving 39thin the General Classification (G.C.) at the end of the race. The 1948 Tour was won by Gino Bartali in an average speed of 33.442km/hr. 

Georges rode the 1949 Tour improving his overall position to 35th overall by the end of the race. The 1949 Tour was won by Fausto Coppi in an average speed of 32.121 km/hr. The speeds seem slow by modern standards, but stages could be longer and the mountain stages were run on un-metalled roads. Georges Martin also rode the 1949 Classic Paris - Roubaix achieving a position of joint third with Frans Leenan and Jésus-Jacques Moujica

I have no information on the colour of the 1940s FOLLIS team frames and trade jerseys. There is some evidence that the 1950's FOLLIS team jersey was green with a wide grey centre band on which the lettering was red. The colour of the team bikes was a metallic grey, with contrasting head and seat panels in pale metallic blue. Forks were chrome plated along with the head lugs. Earlier frames had the 'J FOLLIS' metal head badge. It is known that FOLLIS supplied frames to the cycle trade. FOLLIS had been granted a patent for the manufacture of lugless frames in Janury 1949. A WOLHAUSER (Lyon) tandem lugless frame is known, which shows all the features of being made by FOLLIS but has a WOLHAUSER metal head badge and transfers. 

I now know that Georges Martin finished riding professionally in 1950, but he began selling bicycles under his own name firstly at 78 Rue de la Part-Dieu, Lyon, then at 101 Rue Moncey, Lyon and finally at Rue du Noir, Lyon. The Georges Martin bicycle in the Springhill Cycle Collection dates from 1952 and shows a lot of features of an early edition FOLLIS frame. The frame fittings and wrap over seat stays are typical FOLLIS, but the fork crown is unique to Georges Martin. Given his connection to FOLLIS and the fact they were known to supply frames to the cycle trade, the evidence points to Georges Martin's frames having been built by FOLLIS and appear to have been built from Vitus tubing. However, Georges Martin was interviewed by a French researcher before his death. The truth of some of his testimony is in doubt, as known facts are different to Georges' version. What is known is that Georges Martin bicycles are rare in France. The bicycle in the Springhill Collection is in original condition complete with period components, Simplex derailleur, Pellisier hubs and Ava rims, Beborex brake levers with 'San Giorgio' brake callipers, 'Radios' dynamo and lights, Mavic 'Inal' mudguards/fenders, Selle Anglais leather saddle. The machine has the original French tax plate with original owner's name and address still attached to the frame. The only replacement parts appear to be the Christophe leather toe straps. 

The machine has 700C wheels and appears to be set up for cyclotourist competitive events. The December 1950 issue of the CTC Gazette contains a report on the Paris Bike Show of that year. Their correspondent reports on the number of constructeur Demi-Course and Randonneur bicycles at the show.  A Demi-Course bicycle has mudguards/fenders and lights but no decaleur for a sacoche/handlebar bag. Recourse to photographs from the 1950s of the Poly de

Chanteloup randonneurs event, show machines being ridden with mudguards and lights but no racks or bags. Some of these machines have the alloy drinks bottles in a cage attached to the handlebar as per the Georges Martin in the Springhill collection. The 1950 Poly de Chanteloup was won by FOLLIS, Pierre Baratin winning the professional hillclimb and Roger Billet winning

the randonneur event for FOLLIS. Since the end of competative cycletourist hillclimbs, time trials and endurance events in France from 1977, the term Demi-Course now seems to refer more to cheaper mass produced machines made from Hi-Ten tubing, rather than a bespoke hand built bicycle around an artisan constructeur built frame for cyclotourist competition. The Georges Martin in the Springhill Cycle Collection is a lightweight steel frame built up with high quality, for the time period, components.

Joseph (Giuseppe) Follis was born in Alpignano, near Turin on 16th October 1911 and after living and working in Lyons became a naturalised French citizen on 11th March 1940, before Italy declared war on France on 10th June 1940. 

According to eye witnesses Joseph Follis had worked for Morel & Vana, Lyon in the 1930s and was responsible for the production of their FORTIS brand of bicycles. Following closure of the company, Joseph moved to the Rue du Dauphiné where he brazed frames in a wooden hut at the bottom of the garden. The Follis family were innovators who were granted patents for derailleur gears, manufacture of frames and bicycle brakes. The patent granted to the Follis family for a bicycle brake in November 1951 corresponds in principle to the locally (Lyon) manufactured BEBOREX brakes and levers. FOLLIS is perhaps not a French marque that is as well known as say LeJeune, Helyett, Peugeot, Mercier and Motobecane. The two known professional riders in the 1940s were Georges Martin, Pierre Baratin and André Mossière who rode cyclocross events. 

The FOLLIS professional team in 1954 ~ 1956 period included René Remangeon, Normand Christian Fanuel, Roger Chaussabel and Jean Forestiere. There were photographs of Roger Rivière with his bike published in 'Sport et Vie' in his last year as an amateur which identify it as a FOLLIS by the head badge. There is still more to be learned about both Georges Martin and the FOLLIS marque. 

George's daughter held a retrospective two day exhibition in Poule-les-Écharmeaux entitled in english – 'Georges Martin, the heroic years of the Tour de France' on 9 – 10th July 2011, the year after Georges had passed. I wish I could have been there. 

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Time to Change

It is a fact as you get older that your body has a way of reminding you that you are no longer 18 years of age.  The spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak.  I suffered with knee pain in my right knee when I raced decades ago.  It forced a lay off from riding the bike for around 3 weeks at one stage.  Turns out that it was probably caused by having flat feet.  A conversation at work with a colleague who hard similarly suffered resulted in a visit to Hospital and the use of orthotics was recommended to correct the problem and casts taken.  I got two sets, one specifically for cycling and the other for everyday use.  Problem solved....or so I thought.  What I hadn't reckoned on was wear and tare to the knee joints over the years and arthritis in my right knee.

Years ago when I started cycling, pedals came in various styles for road, track and touring, but toe clips and toe straps were 'de rigeur'.  Rigid wooden soled cycling shoes with plastic shoe plates for use with quill pedals were invariably Italian, Sidi, Duegi and the brands imported by the late Ron Kitchin.  His catalogue 'Everything Cycling' was a drool fest for an impecunius teenager.  My first proper cycling shoes were a pair of Pete Salisbury leather shoes bought through his 'ad' in the back of 'Cycling'.  The shoes had a smooth flat sole to which I affixed T.A. shoe plates (a Ron Kitchin line) from my local bike shop run by a clubmate.  These were used for training, racing, commuting and touring. 

Pedals fitted to my bikes at the time were racing bike - Campagnolo Record quill road pedals.  There was a mail order cycling assessories company 'Freewheel' which sold it's lines via a glossy colour catalogue.  One of the lines they carried was 'Miche' pedals and hubs.  The hubs were a copy of Campagnolo 'Gran Sport' and the pedals were a copy of Campagnolo Super Record with the black anodised alloy cages.  However the axle was steel, unlike Campagnolo which was Titanium.  These pedals were good value and quality for the price paid and were fitted to my hack bike, however their achilles heel was the lack of spares.  Anyway, I digress. 

I seem to remember 'Look' pedals and shoes were the first of the then new generation of 'clipless' rigid cleat systems.  The pedals were single sided road pedals but Shimano later introduced it's double sided SPD pedals.  These were much better for general riding and touring.  These have been my preferred option with suitable shoes, however I started to suffer knee pain which became very uncomfortable at times.  After investigation it was diagnosed as arthritis.   Medical advice was exercise and learn to put up with the discomfort.  At times easier said than done.

I rode a vintage two day event a couple of years ago when I had been suffering a lot of knee pain.  I was apprehensive about the ride but decided to try it anyway.  Back to quill pedals and toe clips, very alien when used to SPDs.  However, I didn't suffer any significant discomfort when using the pedals, even when pushing down hard on the pedals, a big change for normal.  A couple of other longer rides using toe clips and pedals have convinced me to ditch SPDs.  I have converted my normal bikes back to quill pedals, toe clips and toe straps without ill affect.  

A friend recently on a vintage run related that he found that toe straps were too long.  Modern leather toe straps - I use 'Zefal Christophe' are thinner than the older best quality 'Alfredo Binda' which used to be a lot harder to fit through the quill pedal.  It was common practice to put a couple of twists on the toe strap while threading though the pedal.  It is a lot harder to describe than to show in a photograph.  I have to say my relative unfamiliarity with toe clips and toe straps have soon disappeared, old skills have been quickly re-learnt.  My enjoyment of cycling has improved due to the lack of on the bike knee pain.  My knees have certainly endorsed the change from SPDs.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Tall Ships

I took advantage of the improving weather today and rode into Belfast to check out the new pedestrian/cycle bridge at the Lagan Weir.  The media were just dispersing and the bridge was open, so I used it for the first time to go to the Dock Cafe for a cup of coffee.  As I cycled down past the Odyssey Arena I was confronted by the first of the tall ships with two oil rigs in the distance at Harland and Wolff for repair.  It is unusual to see three oil rigs in the shipyard at one time as there is another over by the twin cranes Samson and Goliath.  

I took a few photos of the 'Morgenster' before the crowds arrive for the 'Tall Ships' event in Belfast from Thursday 2nd July until Saturday 5th July.  I then went to the Dock Cafe for my cup of coffee.  It is a popular spot with cyclists and the food is good.  

After enjoying my cup of coffee, I cycled down Queens Road to the entrance of the Harland & Wolff Repair Yard.  I took a few photographs of the two oil rigs before retracing my steps.  I could see the masts and rigging of another tall ship on the opposite side of the harbour.  I cycled back over the River Lagan and followed the NCN cycle route out through Clarendon Dock up to Duncrue Street where I turned into the Belfast Harbour Estate and right onto Northern Road. I followed the road round to the road junction at the Harbour exit where I turned left onto Dufferin Road.  I could see the tall ship berthed in Pollock Dock. 

I enjoyed the run today despite the breeze.  I had a tailwind home so it was a comfortable spin back.  There was another tall ship in Belfast Lough off the County Down coast about Bangor obviously en-route to the harbour.  It was nice to see the first of the ships which have arrived.  The event looks set to draw the crowds.

Monday, 29 June 2015

HMS Caroline

Belfast underwent a significant increase in shipbuilding activity during the 19th century with the change from traditional wooden ships to hulls made from iron and later steel. There were 3 shipyards on the River Lagan up until the end of the 19th century when it reduced to 2, Workman Clark and Harland & Wolff. During World War I German U Boats operated in British and Irish waters. The Royal Naval Air Service operated airships from Bentra near Whitehead. The Royal Navy maintained a presence in Belfast and HMS Caroline was moved to Belfast to serve as a depot ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve from 1924 after she was decommissioned and placed in Reserve from 1922.

HMS Caroline was built by Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, her keel being laid down in January 1914 and launched on 29th September 1914 for fitting out. She was completed in December 1914 and was commissioned into service on 4th December 1914. HMS Caroline was one of a number of C Class Light Cruisers and she was to serve as part of the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet based at Scapa Flow and spend her war service patrolling the North Sea. HMS Caroline saw action against the German Imperial Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. In 1919 after the conclusion of hostilities, HMS Caroline was moved out to the East Indies Station where she finished her active service. After moving to Belfast in 1924, she went to Harland & Wolff shipyard to have her boilers and armament removed for her continued service as a depot ship for the R.N.V.R.  HMS Caroline was returned to Royal Naval active service during World War II serving as the headquarters for the Royal Navy in Belfast. As the war progressed the role and function of the Royal Navy expanded and premises were requisitioned around the harbour and city for naval use. A lot of the ratings wore HMS Caroline hat tallies although not actually based on board. After the conclusion of hostilities HMS Caroline again reverted to her peacetime role as a depot ship for the R.N.V.R. HMS Caroline was given a refit at Harland & Wolff shipyard in 1951. She continued as a depot ship until 2009 when the R.N.V.R. moved ashore and was finally decommissioned out of service in 2011. Her ensign was laid up in Belfast's St. Anne's Cathedral.

At that point the future of HMS Caroline was uncertain as the second oldest Royal Naval warship. Proposals were made to move her to Portsmouth and in 2012 initial funding of £1 million was secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards restoration and the announcement that she was to stay in Belfast. In October 2014 an announcement about a further £12 million towards the restoration of the ship with the planned opening of the ship as a museum in time for the centenary of the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 2016. Restoration work is ongoing with the teak deck planking having been lifted. Paint analysis of the ship has revealed 38 different shades of grey used on the ship during her service. The new information has enabled experts to determine her colour during different periods of her service and determine the exact shade she was painted during World War I.

HMS Caroline is currently berthed in the Alexandra Dock behind the Titanic Film studios where 'Game of Thrones' is filmed. It is easily reached by bicycle. As part of the plans to turn her into a floating museum, the nearby old Harland & Wolff historic Titanic Pump House is to be turned into a visitor centre for the ship. As restoration work is ongoing the ship is not yet open to the public but she can still be seen from the security fencing. For anyone interested in maritime history she will be well worth a visit, alongside the White Star Line tender for the RMS Titanic, SS Nomadic and the Titanic visitor centre.

Revisited HMS Caroline on Monday 30th May 2016, before the 100th commemoration of the Battle of Jutland on 31st May 2016 to be held on board, as the last surviving ship that took part in the sea battle in which 6000 Royal Navy sailors lost their lives, of which 800 were Irish.  The restoration is impressive considering her external condition in 2015.  She is now a world class museum.

Monday, 8 June 2015

A Bit of a Breeze?

The course of life doesn't always run smooth and circumstances can conspire to disturb the settled routine of daily life. This is what has happened with my cycling, not by choice, I might add. So the opportunity to have some 'bike time' awheel with friends, was too good an opportunity to pass up. The date and venue were agreed by phone for the following Saturday as the weather forecast seemed to hint at improving weather. The weather only improved marginally over the unseasonally cold, wet weather, with strong wind and showers on the day in question. 

I chose to ride to Central Railway Station, Belfast as the other riders were all arriving by train. The journey into Belfast was uneventful apart from the grind into the headwind and a heavy rain shower as rode past the Harbour Estate. Despite the headwind I arrived 10 mins before the agreed meet up time. I preferred to spin a low gear into the headwind rather than push a much higher gear. Retaining the ability to spin and stay on top of the gear meant I would tire much less quickly during the ride. 

Meeting up with the other riders was firstly a chance to admire the various bicycles and secondly to catch up with friends. After the initial pleasantries, our ride leader explained the route would take us through busy traffic for approximately one mile along the busy A20 route Albertbridge Road, onto the Newtownards Road at Holywood Arches, where we would pick up the Comber Greenway route out to Comber.  After a gap of around 35 years since cycling these same roads, the volume and density of motor traffic has increased enormously, along with changes to road signage, road junction layout and traffic control. 

The one thing which struck me immediately was the vehicle fumes. This of course diminished once we entered onto the Comber Greenway which follows the route of the old Belfast & County Down Railway main line (closed in 1950) out of Belfast. It crosses a number of main roads, the crossings being controlled by traffic lights, but then quickly takes the rider away from the hubbub of urban traffic. The route was fairly well used by cyclists, from groups of mamils, (middle-aged men in lycra) groups of women cyclists, kids on bikes, through to youngsters taking tentative steps on their bikes with dad. The strong wind was not proving to be much of a deterrent to many folk. The Comber Greenway is also used by dog walkers and joggers too, so it is a shared space, not solely for cyclists. 

I found the route pleasant and following the former railway track bed the gradient does not rise sharply except where a road has to be crossed and the former railway bridges have long since been demolished. However there are no steep climbs on the route, so the nervous can rest easy. I personally found as a relatively unfit rider after a prolonged lay off I didn't have to change out of the comfortable gear I was spinning once, despite the wind. It was a pleasant run out to Comber and the weather was kind without any heavy rain showers.

The Greenway comes out on the Comber Bypass probably where the old Comber railway station had been. I was immediately aware again of vehicle fumes from the busy road. Our route followed the Comber Bypass to a roundabout where we turned right and proceeded along the road for a short distance before taking a road to the left marked as a part of the National Cycle Network (Route 99) for Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetland Trust

This was to be our lunch stop as our ride leader assured us they have a great cafe and you get 15% discount off your meal bill if you cycle there. It was my first visit and I was impressed by the vistors centre and cafe. There are fine views out over Strangford Lough and of Scrabo Tower from the cafe. The food was good as well. There are plenty of bike parking racks at the visitor centre which was nice to see. Plans for the next ride were made over lunch and bicycle topics discussed. 

The return was made to Belfast after lunch which was mostly into the wind. The journey became interesting once back in Belfast on roads with traffic. The wind was being funnelled between the buildings and the blast of wind as I crossed the mouth of one or two of the side streets blew the bike out into the centre of the carriageway despite my best efforts. Apart from this, return was made to Central Station in good time for the others to catch their various trains. 

After bidding our farewells, I resumed my journey by bike. There was a stand of bicycles for the new Belfast Bike Hire Scheme at Central Station but there were too many cars and taxis dropping off and collecting people to take any photographs. I stopped at the much quieter bike stand outside the Belfast Harbour Commissioner's Offices to take a photograph of the new bike hire scheme. Only one bicycle had been removed from the stand of bikes. I continued the final part of my run, thankful that it was at least a tailwind back.