A Real Steel bike shop.
The bike shop is generally where the first seeds are planted and in some cases that is also where they are nurtured and grow. Of course here I am talking about ‘Real’ bike shops not shops that sell you a generic off the shelf bike, take your money and don’t really want to see you again.
I still love going into old bike shops on my travels. You know the type, the ones with the faded photographs of old racing teams or maybe a well-used old, once state of the art bike displayed. If there are photographs displayed I sometimes play a game, I scan the young lithe faces in the photograph and try to figure out which one resembles the rotund owner of the shop. Of course not always is the owner in the foreground of the photo, they may be on the side-lines and are the one who made the club team successful. They are the manager, soigneur and most likely the driver and mechanic! The shop owners are always wealthy men, rarely in financial terms but in terms of still being able to enjoy their passion.
I had a conversation about bike shops with a German OldVelo (Günter Rottler) in Berlin when I was there for the Six Day race earlier this year and he told me about his local shop, run by Herr Rolf Wolfshohl. I asked him if he would do an article for this website. He agreed and here it is:
Yes it´s French for wolf but a German racing cyclist was given this nick- name by the French Tour de France fans in the 1960s. Rolf Wolfshohl was born in 1938 he won an incredible 12 Cyclocross World Champion medals in the period 1957-1973, three of which were Gold! He was 14 times German National Cyclocross Champion, he was the winner of the 1965 Vuelta d´Espana, won the 1968 Paris Nice, wore the Maillot Jaune twice in the 1968 Tour de France.
I met him for the first time the way some bicycle collectors find their way into these magic bike shops, where pictures, trophies and racing jersey from days long gone adorn the walls.
For me it all started when a local bike mechanic told me about his friend´s bike that had been hanging in his garage for years, unused and now unloved and looking for a new home.
It turned out to be a Rowona , in short standing for Rolf Wolfshohl Nackhausen, an abbreviation of our champions name and place of birth.
Google research revealed that he was still running his own shop in a suburb of Cologne , opened in 1973 when he finished his professional career. I read that he started out selling Mercier bikes but found them to be to poorly assembled. They required too much additional work before he could was happy to sell them. He made an brave decision and decided to sell bikes under his own brand name. Today they range from handmade frames made from Reynolds 953 steel tubing to ‘State of the Art’ carbon fibre racing bikes.
I had to go and see him a couple of weeks back with my newly acquired 1975 pink Mercier. It was originally sold in his shop and it came to me with the original invoice! The invoice read like a snap-shot of what was ‘State of the Art’ in those days: Reynolds 531 frame and fork, Stronglight chainset, Simplex derailleur, Mafac centre pull brakes. All that I required was a period 3ttt handle bar. I decided a visit to the shop was necessary and I brought a book with me when I called to the shop. It had of pictures of Merciers and of course his former competitors. ‘Le Loup’ was delighted to relive it all again and it didn’t take long to plunge into a reminiscence of his racing history.
Stories about his idol in the 1950s Charly Gaul from Luxembourg ( he moved there in 1957 to be able to compete against him!), his Mercier teammate (the eternal second) Raymond Poulidor or his first meetings with Tullio Campagnolo who still came to the racing circuits in his Fiat 500!.
He told me of his three Masi frames custom made for him. He was not allowed to use them as a re-badged Peugeot bike while racing for Peugeot BP Dunlop in 1961 for some reason.
If it would not have been for other customers coming into the shop our conversation have continued for hours. It was unbelievable to see a man of almost 80 years with such a glow and passion in his eyes.
Believe me,no matter how many books you read about this period, there is just nothing to equal what you will experience from speaking to someone who had actually been there and done it all!
Before l left the shop he went to his storage room and came returned with his very own Mercier that took him to victory in the 1965 Vuelta d´Espana. What an experience, the bike almost had a life of its own and its own stories to tell !!!
Getting back to the book we both had gone through he became very sentimental, most of his friends such as the great German racers from the time Rudi Altig and Karl Heinz Kunde (called the ‘Mountain Flea’ because of his height …1,59 meter!) have gone forever.
Outside in his showroom window is a picture of Mr. Wolfshohl and Tom Simpson, they were good friends and it became clear that he really liked him very much. When he spoke about him it was like poetry “as we started on that hot July morning in Marseille in 1967 it was already hot ( 35 degrees celsius) and it was like cycling in a frying pan. Anyone could have died of a heart attack on that day, going up the Mont Ventoux.”….but that’s another story to tell.
If you are in Cologne be sure to visit him at his shop www.rowona.de, I am sure you won’t regret it.
When Günter returned to Cologne after our meeting he went to the shop in Cologne to get the ‘photos for this article. Sadly he discovered that Rolf Wolfshohl’s former Peugeot Team Mate Karl-Heinz Kunde (the mountain flea) had recently passed away. Maybe there was a reason why we had a chance meeting at a table in ‘Steel Vintage’ bike shop in Berlin…..
RIP Karl-Heinz Kunde