Bicycle Days – Part One
Adapted from a post originally on Jonathan Houston Classic Racing Facebook page.
I started bicycle racing at 15 years of age in 1978 with the (NSW) Central Coast Youth Club Cycling Club, later to become the Central Coast Cycling Club. I remained in the club for my entire cycling career, also serving as Secretary and Treasurer for a while. I think my first race was a club road handicap. They had no idea what mark to put me off, but I think I started second and ended up winning with the fastest time. That was about as good as it got until 1985 or so.
While overseas on our honeymoon my wife and I managed to see a couple of stages of the Tour de France. It was very exciting to watch Phil Anderson, Sean Kelly, Robert Miller, Bernard Hinault, Greg Lemond and co rush past in the individual time trial, within reach of where we were standing.
When we returned to Australia after three months Lee-Anne and I decided I should give this bike racing thing a proper go. I had already updated the (way) too big Reynolds 531 John Abeni frame for a Frank Paino 531, then a Vitus 979 and Ken Evans 531 Professional track frame.
One day while cleaning the Paino for a periodic overhaul I suddenly thought “I could make one of these, doesn’t look that hard”. I mentioned it at club racing shortly after and immediately had 2 guys order frames!
A few days later I was off to my local bike shop – Rod Martin Cycles in Gosford to organize a tube set and lugs et cetera. I set about making some basic jigging to hold the bottom bracket shell and tubes in place for tack brazing and got started, figuring it out as I went along. I researched various brazing alloys and concluded that 45% silver brazing alloy was the best material to use for lugged joints and 30% for fillets such as for drop outs, seat stay attachment et cetera.
The first frame was completed in April 1986 from Columbus SLX tubing, which was new on the market. This frame was, however, numbered 002 as the other guy put his hand up first, but wasn’t ready to order and so no 001 was the 7th frame I built.
I initially registered the name “Vitesse”, but in the end never used it and let the registration expire. At that time I intended that all my frames would have two colour paint schemes with the transition being in ever widening/narrowing stripes of the two colours. However, only the first 2 frames were done this way and I decided that I would paint whatever the customer wanted.
By this time for various reasons, I was becoming unhappy at Vintage Motor Garage where I had recently completed my Fitting and Machining apprenticeship and Mechanical Engineering Certificate, even though I had negotiated with dad to start and finish late so I could go training in the mornings. I came to another arrangement with Dad to work part time and use the workshop to build frames. He wasn’t too happy about it and the arrangement only lasted a few weeks, as some time during the production of the first few frames we had a major argument and I left VMG to work for Rod Martin Cycles building the next few frames in my father in law’s dirt floored garage. This I did for about 5 years; training and racing full time, working part time and building frames in between, while also sharing parenting duties of our 2 children when my wife went back to work as a nurse on night shift to help pay the bills and fund the racing.