My interest in bicycles started when I was a young kid. I actually grew up more focussed on other sports including football, sailing and golf. We always had 4-5 bikes handy between my two brothers and I. Both of my brothers were strong riders (I was never an A grade rider) and from a young age we saved up to buying good components, assembling and repairing our own bikes and occasionally visiting the ‘big smoke’ to visit Melbourne’s premier bicycle shops in the 1980-90’s. I also recall our family always taking a keen interest in Tour De France highlights (in Australia 20-30 years ago coverage was very limited) and accommodated riders in the Herald Sun Tour (Australian domestic road race). My brothers and I were very fortunate that my father had a large workshop so we had access to every tool known including spray painting equipment and gas welders. I guess my first restoration was when I was 12 or so as I stripped, serviced and painted a beginners bike for my then 5 year old brother.
I guessed the collection ‘bug’ started when I lived in Brisbane in early 1990’s - I remember seeing badly damaged Tommasini pista frame – these Italian masterpieces were very rare in Australia and I remember this bike in sparkling condition at the velodrome - I could not understand why or how a beautiful (and expensive) frame that was lovingly constructed on the other side of the world could be abused and eventually abandoned. This bent Tommasini looked like it had been ridden into a wall or up a gutter so for me the respect for a track bike and quality machinery had been lost.
So perhaps this sympathy was how the ‘save the track bike’ bug started? I am 6’2” so any large frame (58cm or so) that was for sale locally I would make enquires about – this started with a Ken Evans pista – Ken Evans is a legendary Australian frame builder. I brought the frame for $200 or so, wrapped it up in plastic and knew that I would get to it one day when my family had settled and I had a proper workshop.
I have never been part of the fixie culture and instead prefer to keep a very low profile, keep to small group rides, restore bikes at my own pace to a period correct condition and ride them as intended – on the track. One thing lead to another and a few more frames and components would occasionally come up for sale locally. Some of the frames are from overseas, so over 15 years or so quietly chipping away and before long some really good frames, wheels and parts were stockpiled. I have over 20 bikes now, 15 or so pistas of which 12 or so are fully restored while the remaining frames are all well into the restoration pipeline – 2 or 3 bikes a year is about all I can manage room, budget, family and time wise. My preference for pistas stems from the fact that they are the simplest (racing) bike there is – pistas are brutally simple and pure racing machines – I don’t find them trendy or the need to be part of any track bike scene – they are former race machines so my interest is to preserve this history.
Importantly all of the bikes get ridden – they don’t sit around in a lounge room and gather dust. I live 2 kms from an indoor velodrome in Melbourne, so I can ride the backstreets to the track on bikes with non-lightweight tyres or if it is raining and pack a pista with lightweight tyres and drive there. I am also very fortunate there are many of training and racing events that a few Melbourne cycling clubs (and Cycling Victoria) run. I am a member of Brunswick Cycling Club, which is a fantastic club. I am also a father of two sporty kids and hold down a senior professional role which requires long hours and travel, so I have to be very selective in allocating time for rides and time in the workshop. My road rides are limited to Sundays.
I have never really set out to buy a special frame – so long as the frame fits, it is in salvageable condition, perhaps has an historical link and the price is reasonable.
The best part about restoring classic steel bicycles is meeting some very talented people, bringing something back to an ‘as new’ condition and on sometimes re-acquainting the bicycle (with Australian built frames) with the original owner and/or builder.
I have a little white book with all of the parts listed so I can see which parts go into which project or plan well ahead if I am missing anything – this makes finishing off a build reasonably easy.
Frames are painted back to original colour 90% the time, but on the odd occasions an alternate colour scheme is selected.
The only bicycle frame that I would like to acquire is a large Chesini Innovation, a big Kalavinka NJS pista or a Vitus BMX – the fork is the hardest part to obtain. I don’t have a ‘best’ bike, but the best ‘feeling’ track bike is a 1996 Moser and the best road bike is a Basso Astra.
A proper workshop is also important when working on projects (and keep other bicycles fully serviced). A few local people also support my passion – Sun Graphics, Cyclo Retro and Shifter bikes – these are all great guys who are masters in their craft and great guys to boot.