Memories from former member Dan Preston.
This is a blog that will probably be of more interest to our older members, but is nevertheless relevant as a record of the history of the club.
This is a story of my experiences as a member of the Weaver Valley Cycling Club. It is not meant as a history of the club, more a tale of my own experiences.
I first joined the club in January, 1969… over half a century ago… although I cannot believe it. Cannot believe that it was over half a century ago that is.
I had, for some years, fancied joining a cycling club but, until the time I saw an ad at Hartford Tech. for the Weaver Valley, I had no idea how to go about it. Cycling clubs were not advertised in the papers in those days (even the ‘Tour de France’ was just a footnote in ‘Other Sports’) and on the odd occasion that I saw Crewe Clarion riders out and about the buggars were too fast for me to catch.
I remember asking about bike clubs at a bike shop in Middlewich once. It was in Lower Street and part of the bullring that was demolished in 1971 to make way for the expressway. The shop was called ‘Foster’s’ and it was one of those old-fashioned bike shops, the heady smell of new tyres and three-in-one oil meeting you at the door. The owner (in my memories of him) was a stalwart man of few words, although he was always ready with a reprimand for young lads who had not looked after their bikes properly. When I asked him about cycling clubs and how I could go about joining one his reply was, ‘Welllll… They’ve all joined away now haven’t they.”
Not all that helpful of a reply but, not wanting to press him further, I let it go at that.
During my apprenticeship at Foden’s, I worked for eight months with a fitter named Charlie. He had an old Claude Butler and, even though he rode to work and back in a gabardine mac with a butty bag on his back, he did have a strong and steady pace. In fact, before I worked with him, me and a mate of mine from Winsford had a go at him on our way home from the apprentice school. At that time, we were sixteen years old. We didn’t know much about drafting, but we did know that if you rode in the slipstream of a double-decker bus you could easily keep pace and then blast past the bus when it started to slow down for the next stop.
“So then,” we decide. “Let’s have a go at the old bloke in the gabardine mac.”
That same afternoon, on Murgy’s Straight, he comes past us, strong steady pace as usual. Me and my mate jump on the back, ride behind him for a few yards and then blast past… me riding my Viking Hosteller, my mate riding a sit-up bike with Sturmey Archer gears. Still, Viking Hosteller with Huret Svelto gears and sit-up and beg bike notwithstanding, we had youth and ignorance on our side.
Thrashed past him we did and never looked back, forgot all about him. Forgot all about him that is until he came alongside us, with ease I might add. Came alongside us and said (in some agitation) “Next time you ride up my arse I’ll have you both in the hedge.” Then he pressed on his pedals and dropped us like we were standing still.
Charlie McNeil his name, a bloke with an old Claude Butler and legs like steam hammers. I found out later, when I worked with him, that he had once been a member of The Dane Valley Wheelers which, before it was disbanded, was based in Middlewich.
If I may diverge a little before coming to my first club run with the Weaver Valley? When I was growing up my dad used to take us on family bike rides in the country. He had one of those old Bobby’s bikes with relaxed frame angles, a sprung seat and Sturmey Archer gears. He knew how to repair that gear system as well. Despite his attempts to teach me though, I never could master it. I did, however, learn how to ride a bike and soon discovered the freedom of the road.
On one bike ride with my dad, one summer evening in 1960, we were in the lanes up near Brereton and my dad decided that we should have a breather at a wayside bench. Well, I had never seen a bike race before, not for real anyway. I had seen bits of the ‘Tour de France’ on the flickering black and white tellies in Jackson’s window on Wheelock Street, but not one in the flesh as it were.
Anyway, while we were sitting on the bench, enjoying the summer evening, a group of riders came round the bend, riding hard and taking up all of one side of the road. They were all dressed in the racing kit of the day and, although this is not an actual memory, I would imagine that their bike bottles were mounted in front of the handlebars as was the fashion. Needless to say, I was impressed and it is possible that they came round twice while we sat there. Without prior experience of a bike race, I knew that they would come round again, which makes me think that they must have come around twice before we left. Myself, I was all in favour of waiting, I wanted to see them come round again. However, my dad, getting to his feet and taking hold of his bike, said, “Come on! We don’t want watch anymore of that meither.”
So, reluctantly, I got back on the bike and off we went, down the lanes and back home.
I have often wondered who may have been in that race.
An amateur road race in 1960 on a circuit near Brereton.
Moving on then, the day came when, after a brief flirtation with motorcycles (a Tandon with a Villiers Engine, an Aerial Leader and a Velocette Viper) the ad for the Weaver Valley C.C. came to my notice.
Anne Gregory may remember this notice as she told me at the time that she had been instrumental in its manufacture.
Having seen the notice I enquired at Jack Gee’s bike shop in Northwich that same weekend. I still have the Runs List that he put into my hands on that Saturday. As far as I recall, all that was needed in order to join was a bike and ten bob for the membership. Sounded like a good deal to me.
A little unclear from the above scanned image:
February, 8th. ‘Club Dinner Tickets 12/6d. From A. Littlemore or D. Hornby
February, 16th. ‘Scavenger Hunt Organised by J.A. Little and D.W. Hornby
February, 23rd. ‘Algreave (Midgely Gate Farm) and Somerford
As can be seen from the Runs List, the first club run of the year was to Rainow with a tea stop at Pexhill Cottage on the return trip.
That being so, on Sunday 5, January, 1969 I headed out from Middlewich to the Iron Bridge, Greenbank. I was soon to find out that rides in the winter started at 10:00 A.M., but only approximately and not on the stroke of the hour.
These then are the circumstances of that first club run as I remember it.
The day was dull and dreary, damp with a chill in the air. I arrived early, there was an older gent there who, along with the way his bike was kitted out, looked like a well-experienced cyclist. He was on the opposite side of the road to where the club actually met, but there was no-one else there so I approached him.
“Is this the Weaver Valley?” I asked.
He said something about it was his first time out with them and hoped that someone would arrive soon.
Not long after that, a rather strangely attired gent with a trike showed up. I can’t say that I remember what he wore on that day, apart from a deer stalker hat. I do remember when I got to know him more that, more often than not, he wore plaid cycling trousers with a zip at the bottom of each leg. Tartan socks were pulled over the top of these, as was the fashion in cycling in those days. I can’t say that I remember what his jacket was like, but something suitable for cycling and/or hiking. Somehow, I knew that this oddly attired gentleman with the trike was the Ring Master. Therefore, I approached him and repeated my earlier question, “Is this the Weaver Valley?” He must have replied in the affirmative, but I do not recall his exact words.
This gentleman turned out to be Alan Little, the Honourary Secretary of the club at that time. In not too long of a time, Alan became one of my best friends.
Also present on that Sunday, for certain, were Anne Malam (Gregory), Alan Short (another good friend with whom I shared many adventures, including that of coming over to Canada), Mark Stephens and Peter Birch.
Also, Richard Proudfoot and Robert Stapleton were on that run as I recall a conversation between the two of them at Pexhill Cottage over currant buns and tea.
Alan Kemp, Dave Griffiths and Dennis Hornby were likely there, but it was a long time ago and, over time, one run tends to merge into another.
These days, lycra is the norm for any bike ride, however, that was not so in those long-gone days. Everyone there with experience… so everyone apart from me… wore the same type of cycling trousers, socks and cycling shoes as Alan Little. I cannot speak for Anne Malam, however. Track suits were also popular for cycling in those days.
For myself, I wore what I would ordinarily wear. So probably jeans, leather shoes, shirt, jumper, sports jacket and a bob hat. Now I think of it, Alan Kemp was on that first run, as he has often stated that, in addition to my shirt, collar and sports jacket, I also wore a tie. This is not so. I only wore a tie on the rare occasion that I had the good fortune to do a bit of courting.
On that first ride, I learned why some members were sprinting for what I came to learn were ‘Primes’. I also learned not to join in with this foolishness as, on top of getting to Rainow, I also had to get back.
Anne was the Club Captain at that time and I was always impressed with the way she mounted her bike… by throwing her leg over the bars. Even when I was a raw youth, I could not manage that.
When we got to Macclesfield, we stopped at Granelli’s, which was on the opposite side of the road to ‘The Swan with Two Necks’. When I became more of a fixture in the club, I used to nip over there with Alan Little and a few others for a quick pint after toast and cappuccino at Granelli’s.
At Granelli’s we used to observe each other to see how much brown sugar we spilt trying to get it into the coffee. Seeing who had the shakes after all the sprinting for Primes etc.
I don’t recall actually going to Rainow on that day, however, I do recall the stop at Pexhill Cottage, and the lone ride in the dark back to Middlewich.
I must admit to being fagged out by the time I got home, but by the following Sunday I was raring to go again.
In later rides, going up the Cat for instance, we considered it good sport to ride behind one of our mates, then, as quietly as possible, change up a gear and blast past while at the same time whistling a tune. Of course, this did tend to take it out of one, so it was always the case to slow down further up the road (pretending to be a gentleman waiting for the rider you had just dropped, while all the time gasping for breath). Well, if you were fit enough, by the time your clubmate caught up you were once again as fresh as a daisy and ready for a pint of ale at the pub at the top.
In those days, maybe not so much now, the best bike was reserved for time trials and road races. A bike such as a Mercian, Harry Hall, Harry Quinn etc. equipped with all Campag equipment would rush you (as we used to say) around seventy pounds, which was maybe a month’s wages. Mavic GP4’s were the sprint rim of choice, I think that even the pro’s rode them. A Brookes Professional saddle was also a must. Cycling shorts were made of wool and had a chamois insert for padding. If you didn’t have a best bike then you most certainly would have a best set of wheels, which were likely a pair of sprints with Mavic GP4 rims. These would only be installed in the bike for road races or time trials. Wheel carriers for your best wheels, mounted to the front axle, were a common sight in those days. I know that I had a pair.
If you weren’t so well off you could bend a couple of those flat bicycle multi-spanners and use them. For this you would need a vise, a nicely weighted hammer and access to an oxy/acetylene torch… such as were available at Foden’s.
Entering time trials and road races in those days was all done by postal orders and mail. The first-time trial I rode in was an interclub ten hosted by the Crewe Clarion Wheelers. Their ten course was on Nantwich Road and designated J33, as I recall. It was a fast course, about a minute faster than the course used for the Guardian Cup, which was designated J36, again as far as I recall. The J36 course had a few more hilly sections than J33 and rumour had it that J33 was a bit short. I never believed the latter though.
Every fourth Wednesday the Crewe Clarion held a ‘25’, which started at the Middlewich end of Nantwich Road and went round by Church Minshull. I can’t remember his full name, but an older rider… Mister Waddilove of the Crewe… would always give encouragement as he powered by.
The Crewe always favoured pushing big gears where the Weaver Valley tended to favour spinning.
A few photos of yesteryear courtesy of my old bellows camera.
Well, I hope that you have all enjoyed this trip down memory lane. These days dress codes are different and the bikes are more high tech., but I am glad to say that the comradery and spirit of cycling endures.