Street Legal – a tribute to Brian Finlay
Brian passed away in January 2021. His family kindly have given his beloved Beryl Burton bike on loan to the OldVelos.
This is the story:
Gentlemen, he said
I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either getting ready for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards
– Changing of the Guards, Bob Dylan
Brian Finlay was not, as far as I know, a religious man. Nor, for that matter, do I know if his friend, Beryl Burton, was religious either. But the devotion of both of them has left their mark. Theirs is an absence felt in love and in time. Dylan’ spiritual song on Street Legal speaks both of weariness and wisdom, Brian I expect had time to digest many truths based on years of experience in the months of illness before he died. Beryl Burton, who died on her bike, never had that chance.
Where do these lives intertwine? Both had a working class upbringing, one in the North of Ireland and the other in the North of England. Brian had had a keen interest in cycling from an early age. Beryl, who reputedly took up cycling age 17 after meeting her soon to be husband Charlie, had to be coaxed to cycle in the first year, what happened after that year is the stuff of legends.
Beryl Burton was soon racing around the roads and streets of England, and farther afield. Creating memories and crushing others dreams. Her star was ascending, and she accumulated results and defeated all opposition both, male and female. She took local, national, international and world championship honours. She won seven gold medals between 1959 and 1966 and numerous silver and bronze medals up to 1973. It didn’t stop there. Her last national road title was in 1974, and she took silver to her daughter Denise’s gold in 1976 and yet she was still the British Best All Rounder right up to 1983. That’s a while since her continuous record began in 1959, when 14 out of 25 times she was faster than a man.
Brian, with his wife Kay & daughters Donna & Melanie, moved to England in 1972. It was in 1981 when Beryl and Brian’s paths crossed. Brian, a keen amateur cyclist, joined the local cycling club, the ‘Wensleydale Wheelers’. He started doing time trials with Beryl Burton. Like every other cyclist, Brian was known to covet a bike or two, but there was this one Raleigh bike he really liked.
He had seen Beryl ride it at a few of the club rides and he knew if Beryl rode it, well it had to be good. It had been built specifically for Beryl by Ti Raleigh’s racing division in 1981 with the lightest steel tubing then available (Reynolds 753 for the aficionados).
It was one of a number of bikes that Raleigh provided to ‘BB’, one of their sponsored riders. This one was number ‘3’, and looks similar to the one featured on the cover of her autobiography.
I can only imagine, but there must have been some tug at the heart when Brian saw Beryl was selling it at the local Pickering fair. Between the jigs and the reels, and on another day, Beryl approached Brian knowing how he wanted that bike, and a deal was done. What he paid for it is irrelevant, what was important was that the bike was now his and it will always have the provenance of being been one of Beryl’s. Those must have been Brian’s feelings on the 5th of May 1996, when her light went out.
Brian returned to Ireland with the bike numbered “BB 3 1981”. In the winter months, he would use his home trainer, turning the pedals as he could not get out on the roads. Brian battled through his cancer treatment, but like so many others in January 2021, his ill-health succumbed to Covid.
OldVelos’ contact with Brian came through happenstance some years earlier. His sister, Gerardine, was visiting relations and met one of the OldVelos . During the conversation she asked could she come to see his collection of bikes ‘for her brother’. Vintage racing bikes were pulled out for photos, and between the ‘he’d love this’ and ‘he’d surely know this’ she became quite emotional. Brian was very sick she explained. Gifts and good wishes were exchanged, and from a shared love of cycling, and from the love of a sister for her brother correspondence ensued. Oldvelos’ on-line cycling exploits and tales of daring-do were printed out in a large font and sent to his lovely Leitrim. All we knew of Brian then was his love of cycling.
In time, word came to Cork that Brian had thought OldVelos would be fitting custodians for this precious bike. Now, on long term loan, we have restored the bike, buffing paint that had not long shone, and accepting that time can also throw a shadow. When we asked the family how they would feel about the bike not only being displayed but also being raced, they gave whole-hearted permission.
While the bike is actually a track bike, designed to be used in a velodrome, it was adapted for road use, to use in an event that would have been grist to Beryl’s mill.
Oldvelos had entered a team in the 24 hour Mondello challenge, all we needed was a rider. The symmetry of a women’s champion made sense, but unfortunately Cork’s Nessa Rochford had to cry off, but we thank her for giving up a morning to build the bike with vintage road parts in preparation for the race. We turned to her club mate John Aherne, an also worthy choice, John being the fastest man to fit in our part of East Cork. Changes made, including jerry-rigging a back brake, it was true to the spirit of Beryl that John asked for a 53 tooth chainring 20 minutes before the race. Just like Beryl, he needed speed. At an average speed of 22.5mph John was 2 mph faster than the best of his teammates, or put another way, just 3 mph slower than Beryl was riding on this bike 40 years earlier.
Today, on his anniversary, we remember Brian Finlay, we remember his wife Kay, daughters Mel and Donna, sisters Gerardine & Anne (who started Brian on his cycling journey), grand-children, great grandchildren, friends and neighbours and we tell them…
Peace will come
With tranquility and splendor on the wheels of fire….
OldVelos would like to thank the Finlay Family for the kind permission to use their family photos. Likewise John Pierce for permission to use Bernard Thompson’s (RIP) pictures of Beryl Burton. All other pictures are copyright OldVelos.
We would also like to thank Neil McGowran of https://raleigh-sb4059.com/ for providing some interesting detail on Beryl’s Ti-Raleigh bikes. A future blog will delve further into the technical details of the bike.