My first real bicycle

Cycle racing at Preston Park
From the private collection of Mick Deacon

Learning about bikes

When I was about 12, I had a beaten up old racing bike. I used to hang out at a cycle shop, just off Trafalgar Street, one street up from my secondary school, Fawcett. I got to know other, older boys, of whom quite a number were racers. I also got to learn a great deal about bikes. One boy had the greatest bike I had ever seen. It had all the best features, Campagnolo gears and chainset, a customised Brook’s saddle and so on. One day, he asked me if I would like his bike for myself.

A memorable moment

I told him that although I wanted it, I had no way to pay for it. But he replied that he was giving up cycling and would like me to have it. That was one of the most memorable moments in my life up to then. He gave me the bike, with all its fittings. I think it was probably the greatest demonstration of real generosity that I have ever known. The bike, even then, was worth hundreds of pounds.  Imagine, as a 12 year old, suddenly being given a top-of-range, racing bike! Having acquired such I beautiful bike, I joined a cycling club called the Brighton and Hove Wheelers. Its meeting place was at an old building near Carlton Hill; it was a bit like an old ‘youth club’ with the usual table tennis, darts and so on. Later, I joined a very professional club, called Brighton Premier (later Brighton Velo), mostly because I liked their yellow jerseys but also because they specialised in cycle racing.

Do you remember your first cycle? Please share your memories with us by posting a comment below

Racing in Preston Park

I started doing time trials, in the early mornings, outside of Brighton. Then I took up, first riding on and then racing on, the Preston Park Cycle Track. Nowadays it is called the Velodrome. I often used to go there just to ride my bike as fast as I could. Junior racers did not ride the fixed wheel bikes, with no brakes, that were used by older riders, so my, very fancy, bike was ideal on the track. Cycling in Brighton was wonderful There were few cars and there was thus no need to ride on the pavement. Later, I became a Mod and somehow bought a Vespa scooter. Once I was on the scooter, the bike had to go! I like to think that I passed it on to someone else, without charging them a penny. Whether I did or not, I cannot remember. 

Comments about this page

  • I bet you flogged the bike for some Mod gear, as apposed to Campag gear, Philip! I didn’t have a fancy bike, just a Raleigh roadster, which I paid £12 for, second-hand. I eventually sold it for the same amount as it was in such good condition! I used to live near Paddington Recreation Ground at one time, which had one of the old-style outdoor tracks as in the photo above, but they redesigned the park, which didn’t include a new track. I bet they are regretting that with the huge surge of interest in cycling of late!

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (16/07/2015)
  • Stefan, I remember Raleigh bikes from when I was much younger. They were sold alongside Claud Butlers and Dawes bikes. I always fancied a ‘Claud’.  I think it was the exotic name as much as anything else. Dawes I seem to remember made mostly touring bikes, while Raleighs and Claud Butlers were often racing bikes. I think I learned, much later, that all three sorts of bikes were made by the same company!  It wouldn’t surprise me. There was a bike shop called Strudwicks in a street opposite the Level, the name of which I can’t remember (was it Oxford Street?). It was very near an ice cream shop called Pips. Strudwicks always had a nice row of the above named bikes in their window. An ice cream and a long stare in the window were great ways to spend quarter of an hour.

    By Philip Burnard (17/07/2015)
  • Hi Philip.  I also started  from very humble  beginnings, my first bike was an old passed down  BSA when I was about 10 or 12 years old. After joining  my second school, Fawcett, I saved up and purchased a sports bike with drop handle bars from Halfords in London Road. I then joined the CTC (Cyclists Touring Club). They had regular evening meetings at Patcham Place YHA with Sunday bike rides. After a short time I became more interested in the sport side of cycling and massed start racing. I then built my very own professional machine with all the top end Campag gear, Mafac brakes etc with a handmade frame from Italy (Fiorelli), and joined Brighton Velo. I eventually received my racing license from the BCF, and competed in races all over Sussex, Hants and Kent. Also for a short time was a member of Central Sussex C.C. where I could do roller training. They were all great times, and we did not imagine that cycling would become so popular as it is now.

    By Joe Mann (18/07/2015)
  • I was lucky enough to have a Claud Butler – my folks were both keen cyclists themselves, and picked out a good second-hand frame for me.  I think it was from a bloke from Percy Banham who had a small repair shop up New England Road.  Although I never joined a club, I used to like thrashing round the track in Preston Park. I think I was more like my Dad, who was a long distance road racer – I regularly rode from Patcham to the King Alfred for swimming training and then rode back afterwards.  I wish I was that fit now!

    By Marc Turner (18/07/2015)
  • Yes, I remember Claud Butler and Dawes frames, Philip. I always thought, erroneously, that Dawes cycles were made in Dawes Road near my school on the borders of Fulham and Chelsea, as a load of the lads used them! Much later in life, thorough work, I came across a firm called Witcomb (?) Cycles based in Deptford. I helped the MD set up a limited company to export their hand-made frames to the continent, and further to the US. The Board of Trade couldn’t issue a license until the company was registered, so he was not amused when told there was a three or more month delay! Typical of those days in this country. They don’t exist now, sadly, but I wish I was fit enough to buy one now I have the funds!

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (23/07/2015)
  • I recall, as a young lad, being given a tool bag and spanners, with “Prestonville Nomads” emblazoned on the side. I also recall a horrendous crash on the Preston Park cycle track when a cyclist called Mike Harmer (I believe) broke his jaw in a crash on the banked bend by the tea/cricket pavilion.

    By Derek Ost (26/07/2015)
  • Great to read the all the above as I was born in Brighton in 1953. Could any one help and remind me of the name of a cycle shop  in Lewes Road close to the bottom of Elm Grove.  It sold cycles and I think toys.  This would be roughly 1960 onwards.  Thanks in anticipation

    By John Almy (16/08/2015)
  • Hi John, I’m sure this shop was Bradshaws, they also sold Dinky Toys which were always displayed in a cabinet on the left as you walked in the shop.

    By Joe Mann (17/08/2015)
  • Hello Derek. I have only just read your message, above, about the crash on the Brighton Cycle Track.  I am fairly sure it was the one that I was involved in. Three of us, as juniors, came off the final bend. The two riders in front of me touched wheels and I went into the back of them both. It all happened at the bottom of the bank, in front of the stand. One boy was seriously injured. I slid a long way along the track and had what is now known as ‘road rash’ – very severe abrasions down one side of my body. I was treated at the hospital and had to have some time off school to recuperate. The scars took years to heal.There were other sorts of scars, too. Quite a while after the accident, I went back to the track to ride round. As I got on my bike I started to tremble, badly and found that I couldn’t ride at all. That was the end of my track career and – as I indicated above – soon after I gave up bikes for good and became a Mod. 

    By Philip Burnard (17/01/2016)
  • The talk of cycle track racing brings back two memories. One was that Reg Harris – the most famous track cyclist of his time – used to race on the track at Preston Park. He rode a track bike with a Carlton frame. In the early 60s, I bought a second-hand Carlton track frame after following up an advert in the Argus. It was fairly heavy and I built a full track bike out of it. Impressionable as I was then, I used to wonder if it was a frame that Reg had used.

    The other thing I remember well was that, during a particular track race, a rider started to sprint to get to the front of the bunch. As he did so, his back wheel completely collapsed and he gently subsided into the track. He had a very red face and had to put his bike on his shoulder and wander back to the start area, facing cat calls and laughter. ‘Get off and milk it!’ was a favourite one.

    By Philip Burnard (10/08/2019)

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