Wednesday, September 10, 2014


It's been some time since the last post on the CYCLING SCRAPBOOK. Since starting the Facebook page of the same name, things got busy and so I've decided to occasionally invite guest writers to the Blog. Our guest writer's marvelous collection has been shown on Facebook but here one of his bikes is studied in further detail with a story behind the purchase. The writer goes by the title of "the Mysterious Collector".

Anyone else out there have a good story to spin?
Contact me by FaceBook message if you have.

I was at a swap meet organised by the Vintage Cycle Club of Victoria. One of the pioneers of bicycle collecting was there, as always. Harry Clarke had been collecting for years, racing for many more with the Richmond club and was also pretty damn handy on a penny farthing. Before I was “in the know” he apparently had a huge garage sale/clear out (including one of Mocka’s Healings) yet at each swap meet there was always some treasure that he extracted from his endless box of tricks.
This day it was a locally made Glen Eira track frame raced by Ken Croft. It was too big for me and I have always lived the other side of the Yarra so why did I buy it? Initially it was nothing to do with the great Russell Mockridge it was the beautiful hand cut lugs, track geometry and angles as well as overall condition that were the selling points. Harry told me his asking price (no haggling with Harry as he is always fair and it would be an insult to him not to mention I couldn’t live with myself).

I paid the money and asked him to tuck it away while I looked at other stalls and ways to spend more money. Upon return I was told that I got in at the right time as there had been others interested as it was still visible. While it was never in doubt with Harry’s integrity that it would be sold to anyone else I was lucky to get there first.

The frame is in very good original condition for its age. I suspect that Harry being much smaller than Ken he never used it and it was tucked away in a dry place. One notable aspect is what appears to be sand blasting of the paint from the down tube no doubt due to the racing on outdoor tracks at speed with debris flying up from the front wheel.
As was the norm in the 50’s the riders name was on the top tube. Ken Croft was a good friend of Harry’s and he noted that he had won the Bendigo Golden Mile on it. While I didn’t take a lot of notice (I was still in hunting for more rust mood) it was put in the memory bank.

The frame hung in my garage for some time while I attended to other projects. When it came to the top of the list I needed to do some research. The first port of call was of course Harry. Could he remember what components Ken used? Although his body is not as strong as it used to be and the shaking hands due to Parkinsons make it near on impossible to put ball bearing in a race he promptly rattled off Airlite high flange hubs, Fiamme rims, 6 ¼ inch BSA fluted cranks, Brooks B17 saddle, Williams chain ring using inch pitch/block chain running about a 92 inch gear.

I had a RHS crank and a Brooks B17 Sprinter saddle (although road not track) some inch pitch cogs and the frame. Harry could not recall the type of stem however I noted that I had a Cinelli Milano badged stem and he reckoned Ken “would be happy with that”. The hunt commenced.
I had recently purchased a job lot of parts that included a set of Airlite hubs however these had been on-sold to a friend in order to recoup some of the initial outlay (and there were some rarer hubs in the lot). These were bought back. Another friend had a LHS crank and combined they had spare Fiamme rims in which I was able to make a set.
The seller of the hubs is a very handy wheel builder and this time he fortunately managed to damage one of the rims so the chase re-commenced. After a few calls I was able to acquire a more appropriate set of Fiamme sprint rims. Perhaps feeling guilty (but more likely just wanting to do the job properly) had decided that given Ken was a “big bastard” (he may have put fat in there but as we never knew him it was just two fat middle aged blokes laughing at others to cover our own insecurities) he decided he must tie and solder the wheels. A fantastic job was done and common practice in the 50’s.
An old Victoria Police bike (also purchased from Harry) was used as collateral for an inch pitch chain from my provider of the LHS crank. As it transpired when the replacement rims were purchased a more appropriate chain was purchased but the police bike/chain will be used on another project.
I had a nickel plated set of bars that were OK but later swapped for a set of Cinelli bars that matched the stem.
Prior to another swap meet I had been talking to Harry and told him I was just about ready to “put the pieces together”. When we met a few days later pleasantries were exchanged and he reached to his bag of tricks and handed me a set of pedals with strap and toe clips. With a smile and shaking hand he said “put these on Ken’s bike they came off it, I know as I used them for a while”.
I was ready to build.
The finished product was taken to Harry for his opinion and input. He was very pleased but noted that I didn’t have the correct track wheel nuts and the cotter pins were the wrong (American) way. I replaced the nuts but decided to leave the cotter pins as is to save on the sometimes violent force required to remove (and they seemed to fit the cranks nicely and without too much grinding of pins or force to insert).
In my search for information on Ken and the 1958 golden Mile I found a number of articles on trove, including a wedding photo in which the best man was Jack Green. As noted with the frame size Ken was a genuine 6 footer (or more) and a fireman so probably fit, healthy, tall and strong.  I am yet to obtain any information on the race from a local paper but I believe the Bendigo library has copies of old papers so I need to pay them a visit.
The best information came from the May 1958 issue of Australian Cyclist magazine (the creator of this site has previously written about Australian Cyclist). This gave a detailed description of the race.  The following month included a photo of Ken with his wife Lois. If you are reading this you most likely know the great Russell Mockridge. Unfortunately he was killed 5 months later in a racing accident. Ken is also no longer with us. I’m sure that if both Ken and Russell were with us they could tell much more exciting stories than a bloke rebuilding a bike however it is very fortunate I was able to pick Harry’s brain for information.
While there are more valuable bikes and others with much greater provenance around Melbourne (including one of Russell’s bikes) the luck of buying the frame, the thrill of the chase, the ability to meet Harry’s standards and the joy of owning such a beautiful bike that is in great condition has made this one of my favourites.

Pity I’m not a trackie or a six footer.


Anonymous said...

Leon does a great job with this site however I think his mind is on his upcoming trip. Russell passed away 6 months later and it was the May 1958 Australian Cyclist

Anonymous said...

Oh wow nice article! I am Ken Crofts grandson. I remember looking at these articles when I would go over to his house when he'd look after me. All the bike stories were great. He sadly passed in 2008. A great bike rider and golfer.

Angela Navejas said...

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