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    The Orange Bike  
    On Saturday afternoon I was in the garage cleaning out the rear hub from my commuting bike, when my son came home (driving my car, of course) and asked me what I was doing. The conversation got around to the life history of my "Orange Bike".

He wasn't always orange. As far as I know, he was born around 1960 in the back room of Excel Cycles in Woolwich New Road in South-East London. The builder was the then owner of the shop, a Mr Harry Perry. He was a time-trial bike in his youth, built of Reynolds 531 Plain Gauge tubing, with braze ons for the single down-tube derailleur lever and the brake cable guides.

In 1974 I was looking to buy my first "real bike", and went to visit Excel Cycles, where the then owner, Paul Moepham, had previously helped me with various upgrades to my brother's 3-speed. Harry Perry had been the supporter of the local racing team, and Paul had been one of the "lads". He had taken up with Harry's daughter, married her, and in time taken over the business.

"Old Orange" was hanging from the ceiling of the shop, resplendent in a new paint job (a sort of scotch mist color). Paul built him up with the standard components of the day -- Weinmann 610 Center Pull brakes and Weinmann alloy rims, Williams steel cottered cranks, simplex gear changer, Normandy hubs, and a Regina block. On that bike I started club riding with a London YHA local group and later with the Norfolk DA of the Cyclist's Touring Club. On it I took my first summer tour, to the Yorkshire Dales and the CTC's York Rally, in the summer of 1975.

But I was already lusting after something better. As one rides more, one learns more about riding and what features one would like on a bike. In the autumn of 1975, I went back to Paul's shop with a large chunk of the earnings from my summer job, and ordered a custom-built touring frame, just a fraction more upright than "old orange", with a "double clanger" (as front derailleurs were colloquially called) and all the braze ons that one could ask for (including pump pegs on the left seat stay, but no bottle cages bosses, which were not then generally available). That bike is the "Blue Bike" that many of you have seen on TBB rides and on my web page.

New Blue was given Old Orange's rear wheel, and Orange was equipped with a single fixed gear for commuting through the winter to college. I remember cycling home after classes though the deserted country lanes and the Norfolk mists by the feeble light of a Sturmey Archer Dynohub, finding my way more by smell than by sight. I also remember some glorious moonlit nights, racing my own shadow over the smooth tarmac, feeling that nothing could compare with being young and free and mounted on a well-maintained bicycle.

Old Orange with its single fixed gear continued to be my commuting and wet weather bike through my years at University and through my first year of doctoral work at Oxford. Then I received word that I might have the chance to spend a year in New York State, and the question arose: what bike should I take? I was concerned about storage and transportation of my fancy blue bike, but a single fixed gear was hardly the best steed for the touring that I hoped to do while in the USA. I compromised by having "Old Orange" re-enameled -- this is when it actually became Orange -- and rebuilt as a ten-speed. In the interim, Paul's shop had moved because of an urban redevelopment scheme, and had been renamed "Harry Perry Cycles", in honor of the late master of the brazing torch who had founded the business. So his maker's name was now emblazoned on old orange's frame tubes in bold black letters. This was surely his finest hour.

"Old Orange" saw me thorough the 1979 gas crisis in New York, and went touring with me in the Poconos and all around Westchester County. I had intended to recoup my investment by selling him before returning to England, but instead brought back to England a bride and found that now I had a real need for two bikes! Gloria rode Old Orange for the years that I was finishing my doctorate; I recall riding to the CTC birthday rides in Melrose in a rainstorm so heavy that the water came over the tops of our shoes, and when we finally found a bed and breakfast (camping was out of the question that night, even for me) having to make way for the man with the vacuum who was suctioning water out of the living room.

But eventually Gloria rebelled, insisting that she wanted a "Girl's Bike", and didn't want any truck with that complicated double clanger. So when I found my first job in the US and we moved to Seattle, I built up a Puegot "Mixte" frame for her, and "Old Orange" became my commuting bike. Somewhere the movers had damaged his front fork, and he was supplied with a disappointing replacement by R&E Cycles in Seattle. He reverted to a five speed. In Portland he acquired a dent in his top tube. Last year the Williams cottered crank complained angrily about lack of maintenance, and it was replaced by a Shimano cartridge bottom bracket, but the single fixed gear was restored.

So, last Saturday, Old Orange got some fresh bearings and grease in his rear hub, some lube on his chain, and on Monday he carried me home from work smoothly and safely behind behind 25 watts of halogen light. We don't go on long trips any more, and it's been many years since he's been camping, but I'm glad that we still get to ride together. We've been places, Old Orange and I.

Andrew Black

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  Page Last Updated: Jan. 20, 2003  
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