A chance encounter with a Claud Butler bike has untapped a torrent of memories.
I learned to ride a bike when I was about nine (which was rather late for me). I have no memory of the bike on which this took place, but I do remember the process. My father insistently taught me, and I doggedly refused to be taught, until one day when I was on my own I got onto the thing, in the back garden, and taught myself. After that there was no stopping me.
For my twelfth birthday I was given a proper bike, or at least my parents’ notion of proper. (They were overprotective of me, I now know.) There was some subterfuge involving, I think, a cricket bat, which somehow couldn’t be unwrapped until I’d been taken down to the garden shed under some pretext, there to be unveiled this gorgeous Raleigh, in a colour I’d now call magenta but then saw as very displayable red.
It wasn’t, of course, my dreambike. That would have entailed full drop bars, alloy rims, 10-speed Derailleur gears, many other features I can’t remember: all mounted on a Claud Butler racing frame with, crucially, cutaway lugs. These latter were supposedly designed to reduce weight, which was ridiculous – they were an early manifestation of teenage designer bling, and hence heavenly.
I didn’t have any of that. My bike had semi-drops, chrome-plated rims which rusted if not oiled weekly, a sprung saddle, three-speed Sturmey-Archer, old lady mudguards and, most dreadfully, a chain guard, in matching colour trim! But it was still near the top of the local game, and I loved it.
Customisation rapidly followed, of course. The chain guard was the first to go. I can’t remember the other tweaks I snuck in behind my parents’ backs. I do remember the parentally approved water bottles, and can still taste an aluminium-tinged warm sip through a plastic straw. We discussed the feasibility of taking a hacksaw to those clunky lugs to make them look like cutaways; even, I think, drawing fantasy designs.
It was never going to be the racing bike I craved. But I can remember, quite vividly, the short and long expeditions it carried me on. That was my first taste of real freedom, granted me, intentionally or not, I’ll never know, by my parents.
I’ve no idea what happened to the bike.