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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


In 1961 John Head wanted a bicycle to cycle across London to his job at the Bank of England. In view of the prestige of his employment he decided that it must be a "gentlemanly" machine in keeping with his dignity. Accordingly, he did his research and decided that the "Rudge Superbe" fitted the bill. Rudge cycles were by now part of the Raleigh cycle empire. He bought the deep red bicycle from a little south west London cycle agent:
Over the years the cycle carried him to and from work. He had children, joined the Cyclists' Touring Club and, eventually the Veteran-Cycle Club (having acquired a variety of machines over the years). But the Rudge was always his favourite bicycle and even though it was a "gentlemanly machine" he used it at cycle camps and rallies.

We now fast-forward to 2008. John is now 82. He always vowed to keep on riding his Rudge, but has reached the stage where he can no longer lift his leg over the cross-bar. To keep on riding (he has my respect) he bought a modern, open-framed bike. The Rudge was oiled up and stored, but he felt it a shame that it was no longer used and (reluctantly) advertised it for sale in the Veteran-Cycle Club's magazine for £100 (a satisfactory mark-up as it cost £28 in 1961).

This is where I come in. I saw the advert, then forgot it. 3 weeks later I re-read it, thought I would give him a ring, although I guessed it would have been sold. But no, he "had been mucked about" and it was still there. So I made the trip to West London and spent a morning with John and his wife (his reminiscenses were worth £50 alone!) and paid the full price for his beautiful, original and much loved machine. Here he proudly displays it on the day of sale:

Having taken it home and introduced it to my own bicycles, you see it here in detail

The saddle is a magnificently comfortable Brooks "B66" with large insulating springs

The chaincase protects the drive and means that one can ride it without resorting to trouser clips, or tucking them in your socks to avoid oil stains

Lighting is provided by the still working Sturmey-Archer hub dynamo set in stainless steel wheel rims and the magnificently chromed head lamp. Gearing (very low) is by Sturmey-Archer 3 speed in the rear hub.

The bell gives out a sonorous "ding-dong", befitting the bicycle's dignity, whilst the stand enables it to stand alone (nothing so common as leaning it against a wall!)

Fortunately your average bicycle thief would not give the bike a second glance (they only seem to pinch mountain bikes) - however the Rudge comes with a built in fork lock (John even supplied the two original keys)
The Rudge is a nice ride. Unlike my "head down, arse up" drop handlebarred bikes, it will not be hurried. As befits a "gentleman's bicycle" one sits high in the saddle, looking over the scenery whilst cruising serenely along. On the flat it will allow itself to run at about 12 mph. Middle gear takes care of head winds and slight rises, whilst I am astounded how the low bottom gear allows one to ride up almost any hill. One almost feels that a collar and tie should be worn when riding it!
I use it frequently to do the 3 miles into town and it will get its first run out (under my ownership) with the Veteran-Cycle Club in July. Appropriately it will be a local ride - "A Marsh Meander" over Romney Marsh, ending up for fish and chips at a cafe in the ancient town of Rye.


Maureen and Eric said...

What a beautiful machine, your Rudge! Wish we could join you for your "Marsh Meander" over Romney Marsh, ending up for fish and chips at a cafe in the ancient town of Rye. Sincerely, Maureen & Eric

Jeff said...

If gas (petrol) continues to go up and up, as I suspect, then a lot of Americans might need a new Rudge. The 50 mile ride to and from work should help keep many of us in excellent shape too.

Knowleypowley said...


A cracking post and a wonderful machine.


herhimnbryn said...

I agree with KP. A great post, Will John and his wife get to see it?
Good to know that the much loved Rudge has found a new home where it will be loved and cared for again.

Avus said...

Maureen and Eric:
Thanks for visiting (and for your recommendation of my blog on yours - how much commission do you want?)
Yup! I guess a lot of people will be thinking of using a bike for shorter journeys. (Although I think I would draw the line at 50 miles!)Gas here is now £1.28 a litre, which works out at about $10 a gallon in your money!
Wonderful indeed - the more I ride it the more I like it - speed does not matter, it is so serene.
John does not belong to the "internet age", but I have mailed him photos and mentioned how much I enjoy the Rudge, and that I will keep it as he had it until the day comes when, like him, age causes me to pass it on to another caring Veteran-Cycle Club member. He wrote back to say how glad he was that he had found the perfect home for it (it's almost like passing on a much loved pet!)

Robyn said...

I also wondered if John would read your post becauses he would then know that he had found the perfect home for it.

I have wonderful memories of Rye. One of my favourite little towns during a trip to the UK.

chiefbiscuit said...

I am deeply impressed - both with the respect and care for the past, as well as for maintenance of belongings in this throw-away, consumer-age. The bike has been kept in impeccable order. John must've been thrilled when you turned up to buy his Rudge. Couldn't've gone to a better home.

Avus said...

Yes, Rye, with its cobbled streets, always leaves an impression on visitors. The pinnacle of the experience is to stay at the 14th century Mermaid Inn with its connections with the ancient smuggling "trade".
You sum up the aims of the Veteran-Cycle Club perfectly: "respect and care for the past".

Lucy said...

What a beauty, I can't believe the condition of it. Fantastic story Avus.

Avus said...

Yes - the story behind it is half the attraction for me. It is not often that one can have such an authentic and caring "life history", straight from the horse's mouth (sorry John!) when acquiring a previously owned article.

Nea said...

Oh my what a lovely piece of machinery. And what fine shape it is in. He really took good care of it didn't he. Well it couldn't have gone to someone more worthy, and who will take just as good of care of it......

Avus said...

Yes - I feel quite a responsibility to look after it! (But I would anyway)

Molly said...

They don't make stuff to last like that anymore. Of course it helps that John was sp meticulous in taking care of it. Lucky you to come by such a magnificent machine, lucky John to know his treasure is in such sable hands. The bike I learned on looked very much like this. It was a green "high Nellie.Your marsh meander sounds idyllic.....

Avus said...

Thanks for calling by, Molly, nice to meet you.

Helen said...

I really enjoyed reading about John's bike and so glad it's gone to a good home. An absolute treasure.

It's Sunday morning so I'm off to the shop on my bike for the paper. Mine has no mudguard, no chain guard and a bell that goes dink,dank! It's been raining so I'll return with a little spray of mud flicks up my back.

Avus said...

Never mind the condition of the bike - you are cycling, which is the important part!

Doohickie said...

What a beautiful machine! And getting it from the original owner with documentation, and being able to speak with him, even better!

I live in Texas and picked up a Raleigh DL-1 a year ago. You're description of your bike sounds so like mine: "It will not be hurried," etc. I even call my The Old Gentleman. From what I can tell, mine is a youngster compared to yours- a 1996 model I think, based on the Sturmey Archer hub date.

Granny J said...

John obviously knew that his beloved machine was about to find a new and loving home. Thank you for the story, Avus.

sadashiva Beedu said...

Beautiful,well maintained bicycle. Regards,
B.R.Sadashiv Rao, Mangalore, India09844476811