This feature originally appeared in the 19 January 2023 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe now, and don’t miss an issue this year.
All good explorers know that same overused phrase, heard on many of Indiana Jones’ treasure hunting exploits. Although if you were a fedora wearing adventurer on the lookout for a one of a kind vintage Colnago available nowhere else in Britain, X really would mark the spot at one particular vintage bicycle shop, Golden Age Cycles (opens in new tab), in Oxfordshire.
The shop’s warehouse is a literal treasure trove, packed to the rafters with bikes from across the ages, all with their own little story to tell and unique piece of individuality. There are bikes from a bygone age, the sort you’d see being ridden in a costume drama as well as elite level machines that wouldn’t have looked out of place in some of cycle racing’s biggest moments in history.
All of this is the work of an Oxfordshire-based teacher, Brian Reid, who summed up his raft of experience in all things two-wheels perfectly when Cycling Weekly arrived on site. “I’m warning you! Once I get started on bikes I can’t stop!” he jokes, “you’ll have me here for hours!”
Five minutes with Reid shows you that he clearly knows his stuff, and no doubt Chris Hoy discovered that too when he got hold of a bike through the Golden Age Cycles owner last year. Reid explains that it was a 1959 Condor, belonging to his father, which first drew him to vintage bicycles in what would become a lifelong love affair.
“My father had this beautiful 1959 Condor, which lived in the hall. It had this superb lug work which I passed every day from the moment I was born,” Reid says. “I always thought it was lovely. I’ve been teaching now for 25 years and have always wondered whether there’s something else out there for me. So I thought why not? Took a year out of work, bought a few second hand bikes and went from there.”
“That was ten years ago now and I’m still going strong,” he adds. “So I must be doing something right I guess. When I started out the retro cycling movement was kind of taking off. One of my friends in Berlin helped set up some of the Eroica rides which take place around the world now, so talking to him I thought why not jump into this and give it a try. It’s not been as smooth as I’d have hoped at times but that’s business.”
“People love Italian steel frames with garish paintwork”
Nowadays Reid stocks a variety of iconic Italian bicycle makers including the big hitters, Colnago and Pinarello, but partly sparked by his father’s Condor, homegrown British brands played a central role when he opened the doors at Golden Age Cycles for the first time.
“When I first set this place up it was mainly classic British lightweights that we had in. Makers like Hetchins, Bates and Claud Butler. Then it just evolved since then and expanded out,” Reid explains. “I’ve got Penny Farthings now, Raleigh Choppers, Colnago’s and some of the early carbon monocoque frames before the UCI went on to ban them!”
“Generally the mantra is if it’s got two wheels, and there’s a profit to be made, I’m interested! So my life is just bikes bikes bikes,” he adds. “Although nobody buys tandems. People just aren’t interested!”
With the array of modern technology in the bike industry now, to some the attraction of a vintage bike may have dipped. However, Reid insists that there has always been a market for Italian steel frames, particularly amongst the older generations.
“There’s always been a market. People seem to want now what they couldn’t get hold of as kids,” Reid says. “So anything about 30-40 years old is popular. People love old British bikes with ornate lugs and Italian steel frames with garish paintwork.”
“My customer base is very diverse! It’s usually people that have a fair few bikes and have the disposable income to go after something different. Middle aged men like having a bike that they can show off and don’t need to be fast on!”
Even with customers being mad for British brands, Reid explains that the moment a Colnago Master comes through the door, he knows it will be gone again within days. Especially more so when he gets hold of a particular bike associated with a key moment in British cycling history.
“Colnago Master’s are the most popular we get in. The ones with the fluted tubing,” he says. “I cannot believe that the design of the tubing, which is so close to the Colnago motif, is the best mechanical shape but they are lovely.”
“I’ve just sold one of the Chris Boardman Lotus 110 bikes actually, to a guy from Texas who flew over for it,” Reid says. “ I also had a Giant TCR which went recently. Mike Burrows really was a genius.”
When discussing the appeal in his eyes behind owning a vintage bike “it’s simple” according to the part-time teacher, vintage bikes are just “pure jewellery on two-wheels.”
“Modern carbon bikes just don’t have the character and the romance of old bikes from a different era, and that time will never come back,” he says. “There are still a few people making handmade bikes. One maker in the States, Columbine bikes, their stuff is just pure jewellery on two-wheels, it’s gorgeous.”
Reid’s view is echoed by Alan Brenton, the man behind ‘Velo Retro’, a vintage cycling event held in the Lake District in the UK, who says that there is a real sense of romanticism to the scene.
“If you see a nicely restored Colnago or Hetchins, there’s very few people who won’t stop and admire them,” Brenton says. “They are works of art compared to modern bikes which are becoming more aggressive in their design, like stealth fighters.”
For anyone new to the scene looking to start a vintage bicycle collection of their own, Reid explains that there’s only one place to start, with bikes made by people who “took pride” in what they’re making.
“Claud Butler and Holdsworth’s are good solid makers that hold their value,” he says. “They’re both definitely ones to go for. They were made by people who took pride in what they’re making and are a good place to begin.”
Although Reid says that a particular Italian brand are the “ferraris” of the vintage world.
“Hetchins have always been like the Rolls-Royce of vintage bikes but Colnago are the ferraris. They’re just classic, they’re sporty and they’re pure bling,” he jokes. “Vintage Colnago is just the epitome of Italian style, speed, class and quality.”
In Reid’s line of work, there is a small element of risk. Once in a while a bike goes on the cheap before the painstaking realisation that it was worth far more. To balance that out, he occasionally comes into components or bikes which he got a lucky price on.
“It’s usually the old 1930’s gear systems that are worth far more than you realise. Campagnolo once made an old steel rear neck called a ‘Sport’ which is really valuable because they’re so rare and I’ve previously had one,” he says. “On the other hand I have occasionally under priced things or thrown stuff away by mistake. Hopefully I’m getting better nowadays!”
Keeping the vintage scene alive
Reid explains that once in a while he visits one of the many vintage fairs around Britain to catch up with like minded people who share his love for the nostalgia of the scene. Furthermore he believes that preserving the quality of past craftsmanship should continue for future generations to enjoy.
“Bikes can be lovely, but cyclists are just lovely people as well,” he says. “When people drop them off they can be crying because they’ve had this bike for 50 years and it’s got so many stories behind it. Bikes are personal things and the vintage bike community is great to be a part of. It’s important it continues”
“I don’t know whether it’s the fact that nice people ride bikes, or riding bikes makes you nice, but that’s what I enjoy most about all of this. Meeting new people and hearing all the stories behind where their bikes have taken them in their lives.”