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31 Mar, 2016

Trip Down Memory (Bike) Lane

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Imagine stepping into a treasure cove where everything you see is gold, from floor to ceiling. Well, for a bike enthusiast, stepping into classic bike collector Vic Cockcroft’s home in Plettenberg Bay is exactly that. With classic bicycles from wall to wall, it’s a dream for any bike enthusiast, and the only way to describe it is to liken it to being a gob-smacked Charlie in Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory!
 
When Vic Cockcroft decided 10 years ago to get back into cycling, the professor of marine mammals took his red Tommasini into a local bike shop, looking to trade it in for a more modern carbon model. However, he was met with blank stares as the bike shop told him, “We don’t want your old bike.” Vic couldn’t understand their lack of appreciation for something that was considered a true classic in cycling history, so he left the shop that day, not with a newer carbon model, but still with his old bike, and an idea brewing in the back of his mind.
 
“It started as a hobby, then became a passion, and now it is an obsession,” says Vic about his collection of classic and vintage bicycles. He now has 27 ride-ready bikes, with enough parts and spares to build another 40 bikes at least… but what you need to understand is that for Vic it’s not simply a case of going down to his local bike store to buy what he needs, because they don’t make these spares anymore. “I bought a lot of stuff on ebay, but now with the falling Rand, I go with what I have,” he says.
 
This is a true labour of love, with each bike taking close on 100 hours to restore. “I like to get it to look as close to pristine as possible,” says Vic. It’s about taking the time, it’s not something you can rush, and when you look around the workshop, you see just what a master of his craft Vic truly is. “It’s very exciting, looking at the different histories of how bikes have changed over the years, and when you research as much as I have, the knowledge sticks, making it a lot easier to identify what I am looking at.” He isn’t joking – he has file upon file, all loaded with bike history, and a diary carefully lists what each box contains, which in itself can be like a treasure hunt as he unpacks mint condition parts like Campagnolo C-Record brake levers, a rare find by today’s standards.
 
 
Mouth-watering Sight
Walking around Vic’s house, you have to remind yourself to keep your mouth closed as you gasp as frame after famous frame jumps out at you. Pinarello, Olmo, Concorde, Fantini, Eddie Merckx, Viner, Bianchi, Carrera and Battaglin are just some of the frames hanging on the wall. Basically, any bike that has done anything noteworthy in cycling history is in this astounding collection, includind several of the classic Tommasini Super Prestige, a bike with a rich history thanks to legendary frame builder Irio Tommasini, who built bikes to the size of the rider, and many an amateur and professional cyclist rode and won on these bikes!
 
Also in Vic’s collection is a 1989 Colnago Super with details like the original water bottle, toe-strap pedals and a complete 50th anniversary Campagnolo group set, something that you will probably only see once in your lifetime, as they are incredibly rare. Vic’s Super is in mint condition, barely used, and it shows the true craftsmanship of a time when everything was made by hand.
 
 
See You There
Looking ahead, Vic says he will definitely be at the first South African Eroica Festival in Montagu on 24 April, and he says it is a must-do, bucket list event for any cycling fanatic. This international festical originated in the UK and displays cycling history in all its glory, celebrating a golden era where bikes were handcrafted from steel, each one something special, and when riders wore wool, and drank beer at water points, and often rode on gravel roads. The festival celebrates all this and more and is finally coming to South Africa.
 
Vic was lucky enough to attend the Eroica festival in the UK, capped at 4000 entries, and says that a prerequisite of the festival is that what you ride and wear is period-correct, so steel bikes and wool kit are in abundance. He explains that the festival includes a relaxed ride on gravel routes, with no start times. “You start when you want to and get your card stamped at the checkpoints. When you finish there is a massive market, where the local breweries are in full force, selling their craft beers by the dozen to the thirsty riders, and there is a whole market with second-hand bikes and retro kit. It’s a spectacular sight to see all of the bikes in one place,” he reminisces.
 
While the festival in Montagu won’t be as big, it’s still planned to be something special, and collectors are receiving calls daily now for bikes to ride, while bike shops are seeing sales increase on those classic bikes displayed in the windows. If you are without a period correct bike, don’t worry, there are exemptions, which can be found on the Eroica website, www.eroicasouthafrica.com.
 
Vic says he will be riding a Le Jeune at the festival, a classic bike handcrafted in South Africa by Francois du Toit between 1987 and 1988, so look out for him and have a chat and a beer with him, because you will be talking bike history in no time – and you are in for a historical cycling treat!