Back in the days when having 5 gears on your bike was aspirational, I suddenly found myself in possession of a 3-speed Ladies Triumph Tourer. I was 11 and it took me a year to grow into it, but during that time, I started to understand that although my old bike looked a whole lot better, the Triumph Tourer was like riding a spirited colt. It just wanted to be ridden; hard and fast, up hill and down dale, particularly down dale!
The particular dale I am thinking of, is a dip on the A5 just outside Shrewsbury. I would put the bike in the hardest gear at the top of the hill and pedal like fury, out of the saddle, and if I gained enough speed, I would have enough momentum to roll up the other side without pedaling, with the added bonus of sitting on the saddle. Although it was born out of necessity, because initially my legs weren’t long enough to pedal efficiently with my bum on the seat, riding that particular stretch of the A5 became a regular test of my strength and judgement way beyond those years.
There was just one problem with my new best friend, and that was its totally shabby appearance. It let me down. Nobody could see its fine qualities but me, and I hated that. The blue frame was chipped down to it’s silvery undercoat and the wheel rims where so rusty that no amount of wire wool would restore their steel shine. I had to somehow make it’s appearance match it’s indomitable spirit!
I discussed my restoration plans with my Dad, and decided that there were going to be no half measures. The plan was to re-spray the frame and replace the rims. This involved totally disassembling the bike & wheels; every component was unscrewed, dismantled and either cleaned or thrown away for replacement at a later date. I was to be bike-less for as long as it took, and it was funded with pocket money and Birthday and Christmas presents. It took just over a year. Would I have embarked on it had I known the hardships and frustrations that lay ahead?!
Disassembling the bike and re-spraying the frame was relatively straight forward. The re-spray involved a huge amount of preparation, and I still remember the frame dangling by a piece of string from the ceiling of the ‘scullery’ (an unused room at the bottom of the rambling, slightly dilapidated Victorian house we had recently moved to). I gutted the room so it was just me (togged up in overalls and a face-mask), my bike and a can of spray. The process lasted weeks with base layers, a couple of colour layers and final lacquers and sealants all needing to be dried and rubbed down. At this stage the project was on time, on budget and fun, but it wasn’t to last.
Nowadays the idea of replacing the rims seems ridiculous, but back then it was a simple case of economics. There was no way I could afford to replace a whole set of wheels, particularly as the rear wheel included the Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub, so I bought a spoke key and dissembled the wheels into rim, spokes and hub. I toured various bike shops for an affordable pair of 26″ rims and finally found a little shop on the ‘wrong’ side of town which sold me a pair.
The Deal was that I would work out the spoke pattern and lace the spokes, and my Dad would ‘true’ the wheel. As I was nearing the end of the ‘lacing’ process, I realised to my horror that the number of spoke holes left on the hub were more than the number left on the rim, so I ended up with a couple of spokes dangling from the hub with no where to go. Apparently spoke numbers and wheel design change with the same regularity as gear ratios, and things had moved on since the creation of the Ladies Triumph Tourer. I was gutted, but hoped that the man in the shop would understand, and either allow me to exchange the rims for a pair with the right number of spoke holes, or give me my money back. He did neither, claiming that he had seen me drop the rims after I had left the shop when I bought them. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I didn’t drop them and they were as ‘true’ as the day they left the shop.
My Dad, who is normally very quiet and mild mannered, marched to the shop in a rage and argued my case, but the shop-owner dug his heels in. So my dream was in tatters. I can’t remember exactly how long we debated our options, but in the end we threatened to take him to court, and he grudgingly gave us some money back, but not the full amount. The whole thing left me out of pocket and way behind schedule. The new rims, which we ordered from another bike shop were more expensive and took an age to arrive, but arrive they did!
With the wheels and frame finished, it was just a case of re-building the bike. Cranks with cotter pins, and unsealed bottom brackets, that could be opened with a six-inch nail and a hammer; it was fantastically unsophisticated, but woe betide me if I chipped my newly sprayed frame! I replaced all the cables as well as the pedals, mud-gaurds (with massive mud-flap on the front), chain-guard, pump, saddle & rack all the highest specifications that my money could buy and all colour co-ordinated, of course.
It was, at last ready to be revealed to an unsuspecting public. People who had once scoffed at its peeling exterior would gasp in wonder as it zoomed by in a whirl of shiny blue and silver. It would take me across continents and over undiscovered mountain ranges. Really? It had taken over 2 years from dream to reality, because the dreaming bit was at least a year, and over that period I had learnt a lot about bikes, so much in fact, that what I really wanted was a 27″ wheeled, 10- speed, Reynolds 531 framed bike with Bluemels mud-gaurds and a top end of the range Campagnola group-set. It felt disloyal even thinking about such a thing after all that work. I was torn, but it wasn’t an option anyway.
My Ladies Triumph Tourer took me on one tour, before I was to leave it in the shed for a 5-speed Royal Enfield Ladies racing bike, which I got for my 15th birthday.
Here are a couple of pictures of the Meole Wheelers first tour in 1980. Pictured left; final preparations! Pictured right; I was 14 and sitting on my beloved Ladies Triumph Tourer (on the right).
There is a story within this story that I feel strangely compelled to share. I was a child that found fitting in at school really tough and, at the time, I couldn’t express how that made me feel; I was lucky if my credibility rating was neutral, but when I was 11 it was at an all-time low. What was really behind my ambitions to turn something that nobody noticed, into something that people would admire? Me, of course. I am the bike.