Excel Cycles - Dan Genner
Posted: Sunday 07th June 2020
Dan Genner had set up his business at Colliers Wood by 1948. He was also President of the Tooting BC in the 1950s and many of the older members of the club were riding Genners.
Sarah Gould, Heritage Officer – London Borough Merton told John that:
A Mrs. Emily Genner, Cycle Manufacturer, is listed at 90, High St. Colliers Wood from 1915/16. There is no listing prior to that date. Unfortunately, there are gaps in our collection of Mitcham trade directories, so I am unable to say when the firm changed its name to Excel. Certainly from 1951/53 onwards the business was known as Excel Cycles Ltd and was occupying 90-2, High Street. The firm remained in situ until 1960. It still appears to have been operating from the same premises during that year but by 1961, the site was vacant.
John Barringer tells us about his days as a ‘Saturday Boy’ at Genners:
My interest in Excel is that in the mid 1950’s I worked in Dan’s cycle shop in Colliers Wood, South London, on a Saturday morning, running errands for Mrs Genner.
Dan was by now in his late 50’s and was an absolute wreck of a man. He chain smoked Capstan full strength cigarettes, getting through about 60 a day. On the counter was an ashtray overflowing with wet dog ends: the smell of them pervaded the shop. He also spent most of his time seemingly coughing his lungs up, to no avail, his face becoming redder and redder, the more he coughed. On one wall of the shop customers would pin up photos of themselves on their Dan Genner bikes. In the middle was a large framed picture of Dan, taken at a cycle race meeting just before the First World War. I vaguely remember that it was taken when he had set some record for a race. The man in the photo was very handsome, very slim, upright and athletic, with sleeked back hair, a far cry from what he was like now.
Although the shop was known by all and sundry as “Dan Genners”, in fact the name of the business was the XL Cycle Co, and the company logo was “XLCR”, a play on the word “Excelsior”, meaning very superior. The shop, at 90/92, High Street Colliers Wood, was in fact two shops, with a short passageway between them. Above the shop were two flats, with their own front doors. The cycle side of the business was mainly carried out in the right hand shop, viewed from the road, and the glass topped counters displayed all sorts of accessories. At the back was a workshop, where the hand built bikes were assembled; A Dan Jenner Bike was a much-coveted item in those days. What set them apart were the very thin chain and seat stays and also the angle of the end of the seat stay where it met the saddle tube – it was very oblique. I don’t know why, they just looked fast, even when they were stationary. The down tube had a “Dan Genner” logo in script style (i.e. not block capitals but “joined up writing”). I seem to remember that this was hand painted on. The headstock had a metal badge on it with the XL logo. They were made with Reynolds 531 tubing and then custom built. Gear options were Simplex, Cyclo-Benelux, Huret or Campagnolo. Shimano was a word unheard of then. Anything could be under construction and seen in the shop: track bikes with fixed wheels, sports bikes and touring bikes with up to, but no more, than 10 gears, and occasionally a tandem.
In one corner of the shop window was a vertical tube about 7 foot high, with every type of handlebar displayed that the shop sold, about 15 different types. Some frames would be on display in the window, work in progress ones, and occasionally a finished bike would be displayed in the window awaiting collection by a customer. What you never saw for sale was a complete new bike with a price ticket on it; they were all strictly made to measure and made to order. I also had to bring in half a pound of Quality Street sweets every Saturday morning from my dad’s shop. Mrs Genner paid me the two shillings and sixpence (twelve and a half pence) for these, to give to my dad, and she would then start to work her way through them.
Saturday mornings were very busy in the shop with enthusiasts dropping in for a chat, cup of tea, or to purchase some new goodies for their bike. On one occasion about 8 of us, with Dan, went to Herne Hill cycle track, about 6 miles away by train, and watched the racing.
I went to look at the track recently, unfortunately it was closed, but is due to open at Easter for a Good Friday meeting. Its future is uncertain, for more very interesting information about Herne Hill, have a look at www.londonvelodrome.org and www.goodfridaymeeting.org.uk.
Richard, at Walklings another cycle shop, was a Saturday boy there back in the Mid fifties, (as I was At Genner’s). He told me that Genner’s frames were made by a Ted Gibbons, who also made frames for Wakefields and Ernie Chambers.
From: Cycling dated October 1st 1947 an advert states:
‘EXCEL frames and forks, built to order to any specification, from £7 5s.. complete with head and bracket interiors, seat pin, rustproofed and enamelled. less chainwheel and cranks; complete machines from £19 4s 5d., including purchase tax. Tandem frames from £16 10s; complete tandems from £38 11s 11d, including purchase tax. Inquiries invited. Only address. Excel Cycle Co. Ltd. 90-92 High Street, Colliers Wood, Merton, London, S.W.19’
Note the ‘only address’ signifying and emphasising the separation from Woolwich