You don’t have to be an ‘Old Fellow’ – a lady among the OldVelos.

‘Shur, I was thinking I might throw out that old Raleigh bike hanging in the garage and upgrade to a new one like yours’….?

What?? No way, it’s great, with the steel frame, those silly gear levers and swingy toe-clips. What would you get anyway..€100 ? I’ll use it.’

So begins my research into vintage cycles…leading me to reading Robert Penn ‘It’s all about the bike; The pursuit of Happiness’.  Next to L’Eroica (careful spelling required!) at the ‘Mecca’ Gaiole in Italy and the recent version in Bakewell (UK).  Finally I discovered that all boreens lead to ‘Old Velos’ in Kerry.

Prepared as ever I rocked up to Randles Bros Nissan Dealership in Killarney with my Dad’s 29 year old ‘Raleigh’ with its large (24″ or 60cms in new money) frame, front and rear mudguards and the dreaded toe-clips; I neglected to bring my spare tube (most likely the wrong size anyway!), multi-tool and of course my bottle was in the bottle cage on my other bike back at home. Hey ! what are pockets for? The old Raleigh hasn’t seen the grey of tarmac in about 20 years but off we went. And Golly Gosh, it was splendid!!

My first impression  of this motley group were their bikes. The bikes on display in the showroom was just mesmerising. Every single one of them just called for your attention. It was impossible to have a coherent conversation with anyone when you were spotting something old and shiny out of the corner of your eye. The morning sunlight was catching every bit of shiny chrome from wheel rims to gear leavers. I spotted Brendan’s immaculate deep burnt orange 1949 Holdsworth Cyclone straight away. He was trying to hide it under a casually displayed wool  vintage yellow jersey. Forget it- I was going to have it. I managed a bit of morning shopping also buying a very rare beautiful green vintage ‘OldVelos’ jersey .. no fear, it has gone to a good home!

There was a safety briefing where we were warned of potential hazards on the route. This was followed by a prize giving for the hotly contested ‘Concurs D’Elegance’. This competition was based on all sorts of detailed criteria – I’m sure it was a hard one to call with all those bike beauties on display but the first prize for ‘Best Bike Restoration’ went to………..Nial Darragh of his heavily pantographed ‘Pinarello’. Bravo! (His brother was one of the judges … interesting!)

With all this behind us we rolled out through Killarney with a Garda escort. The route ahead sounded beautiful. The first climb took us up the Gap of Dunloe …. plenty of sweating and changing of gears along the way along with conversations of subjects such as:  timber soles in bike shoes, old cleats and gear ratios. This was enough to distract us before the climbing started! Soon enough the chat stopped and on and up we went with shouts to avoid the horse droppings .. ahhh the sweet smell of Kerry! There were beautiful black bog-water lakeside views and derelict houses and up and up and up. How many more switchbacks? I was missing my cleats and bottle cage. Never the less with a bit of concentration we reached the top  and then ZOOM ! Hang on, all the way down taking in the views. I wasn’t too sure what the brakes were like so took it easy. Then the 1st water stop. Bananas galore, a few photos, tweaking of the bikes and then for me, the nicest part of the day along that tiny country road with grass up the middle. Watching all those colourful bikes meandering along with bright vintage jerseys against the autumn heather and gorse was magnifique!  No camera can do justice to that view.

I drifted in and out of groups all day .. happy to be on my own and happy to chat. Peter and I discussed doing the Wicklow 200 on Dublin bikes .. how bad, I thought! A water basket would be great! Then all set for the ‘Hors catégorie’ Bealach Béime .. a hard, slow, head-down climb with everyone in their own world of slow revolutions. But we made it …. I blasted on down the other side immediately as I love to have an open road on a fast switchback descent.

We clipped along until the main food stop ‘The Rowan Tree’ – a great spot altogether. Delicious sandwiches, Barry’s tea (I checked!) and lovely warm hospitality. I’ll be back. Most people were planning on doing the shorter loop …. given the day that was in it I think it’s the right choice for me … I was delighted to wander outside and look at the bikes and have the chat instead of a few extra Kms notched on my belt;. Some of the hard core guys got stuck in and did it  Well done all.

I got chatting to Brendan Hennessey and Michael (white Peaugot bike) from Dalkey on the way back. After all the staring at the immaculate orange Holdsworth Cyclone Brendan suggested that I take a spin on it .. how could I resist, and what a dream machine. Orange is most definitely the new black!  It was so different to my armchair comfy Raleigh .. racer style. It’s just amazing that a bike that old is tipping along so beautifully…the bar end shifters were a great novelty. I’ve lots to learn.

We all stopped for a re-group and photo outside the petrol station in was nice to see all the vintage bikes lined up like something like the Folies Bergère on Tour!! Then back to the finish, lots of handshakes, backslapping and see y’all next year. I could see there were plenty ‘Buoni amici’ (good friends) after the day.

It was a great day out for me being both inspirational and educational along a superb route. Personally, I was delighted to get out on my Dad’s bike after all these years of him keeping it in good working order. I’ll definitely be back next year and am already thinking about building my own bike. I have pressurised Ray into buying me some daft bike parts book when he heads to Italy. Maybe I’ll take up learning Italian after reading it…nah, it really is just for the pictures! Thanks again to everyone who organised the day.

A great group of people who just love old bikes. Life is simple at times.

– Jacqueline Howard

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