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Shorter, Alan

Posted: Friday 05th June 2020

Author: Peter Underwood

There is a lot more to come on this story and we would appreciate your input if you are able to add to it. More on Alan Shorter’s time, especially when joined by the Rochfords.

Alan Shorter seen hill-climbing
Alan Shorter seen hill-climbing

Alan Shorter (seen hill-climbing on left) was North London’s Mr Racing. His shop at North Finchley in London served as club meeting place for riders from all over the area as well as those from his Barnet CC. His batchelor flat at Whetstone was used as a cafe and lodgings by many riders. In 1957 his 20-year old racing career came to an abrupt end when he broke his thigh. He had been in the Barnet since 1937 and decided to look for a promising youngster to train and help. Luckily he chose a young 14-year old lad who worked at a nearby bakers in Upper Holloway – his name was Alf Engers! Alf was quite small and had lost a kneecap in a street-corner punch-up.  Within four years Alf had gone from young tearaway to competition record holder at 25-miles.  Meanwhile Alan had started a tubular tyre repair business in a room above the bakers and this would develop into a full-scale cycle business along the road, and of course the name of Shorter became inexplicably linked to Alf Engers during his (very contentious at times) racing career.  It sometimes seemed as if the establishment was determined to try to undermine Alf in some way rather than give him the due credit he deserved.  Amongst cyclists, however, Alf was known as ‘The King’ or ‘King Alf’.

Along with Alf’s success a formidable team was formed at the Barnet CC and Alan was heavily involved with transport to take the team to all the big events. This of course involved travel to all corners of the UK.

Within the Barnet it was widely recognised that the credit for this success lay mainly with Alan Shorter who was born in 1917 and in the immediate post-war years had led the Barnet CC team to wins in the NCU-organised massed start races on closed circuits such as Dunmow, Stapleford Tawney, and Blenheim Park.

Alf on his Shorter time-trial machine when riding for Luton Wheelers in the National "25" Champs 3rd. June 1973. He was famous for his drilled components, here you can see seat pin, bars, brake levers and chainset drilled along with the rear ends on the frame. Alf even cut off the stirrups below the brake block securing nut. Such drilling is very hard to achieve without it looking a mess - was it done at Shorter's workshop?

Mention Barnet and the chances are that anyone who has followed cycle racing will conjure up visions of the all-conquering members of the club of that name. This is not surprising as since the mid-fifties no other club hit the headlines for such a period with many star riders under the banner of Barnet CC.  On the road there was Ted Garrard (see images below) in the seniors, Alf Engers in the juniors, and John Harvey as an independent.  In the short distance time trials they held both individual and team records at 25-miles. Three club members held the competition record since Alf Engers 55-11 ride in 1959.  In 1962 Chris Munford held the 50-mile record for a short while at 1-55-38.

Two photographs of Ted Gerrard racing - dates not known. (Images: Mike Scott)

In 1961 John Woodburn won the 25-mile championship and Barnet took the team prize along with Alf Engers and John Harvey. The club also won team prize in the 1963 50-mile championship race.

In 1962 Alf became an ‘Independent’ rider for Ted Gerrard.  Independent was a status falling between amateur and professional. The timing was bad as Alf had set up his own business as a baker just before turning independent. This adventure lasted for one season only as Alf had to carry on working as well as cycling and then the NCU banned him from competing in the amateur ranks for some five years.

In 1963 Alan Shorter gave a lot of assistance to Doug Meekins of the Barnet who, although only a teenager, was to finish third in the BAR for that year.

Alan Shorter handing up a drink to Doug Meekins in the 1963 Bath Road 100

1965 was a great year for the Barnet, nine club members won a total of 48 time trials, 34 team wins and 11 road races. Alan was also bringing on the Rochford brothers who would later join the company when its name would change to Shorter Rochford.

Strangely the club was badly equipped in several ways, no specific coaching regime, no club runs and more strangely no organised training rides. Members did not make much use of the clubroom, only meeting up at races. On top of this the club was struggling to make ends meet. Malcolm Jasper. their road racing champion stated, “There is a common misconception that  the Barnet is a super efficient miniature continental-style training camp. The reverse is true: few of us even know where the clubroom is and there are no amenities. But it’s a great club all the same.”

Harold Peters was the frame builder for Alan Shorter until the mid-60s. He is not too sure when Vic Edwards took over as the frame builder. He thinks it was in 1965 but could have been a bit before then.  Barry Chick builds the frames now.

Alan Steer

Alan Steer adds some more to the story of Alf’s early life:

My name is Alan Steer and I lived at 96 Elthorne Road. My first bike was a 42-ton Armstrong mass produced sports with a 3-speed Sturmy-Archer hub gear. As a group of lads we went out for rides and generally mixed together most of the time. Alf Enger’s Father had a bakers shop opposite and we invited Alf to come out riding with us, thus started the glittering career we all know.

I can’t quite remember how we came to join the Barnet, but as is well known it was just a room above a pub in Barnet high street where we would meet, and the competitions secretary would hand out regs: for time trials and massed start events. The boundary of the then LCC finished under the Archway bridge (where Islington met  Hornsey i.e. Hertfordshire) causing a straight line where two different types of tarmac met. It became a mark of honour among our group of lads to be the first one to sprint over the line when returning from club night. Probably my only claim to fame is being one of the few people to beat Alf in a sprint!!!

When Alan Shorter opened his shop at 71 Elthorne I was one of the first to purchase a bike, it was a classic long distance road frame with sloping angles and curled front forks. It had hand-filed ornamental lugs and was finished in pale orange with a green head upon which is Alan’s logo of intertwined AAS and 71 Elthorne Rd.  Upper Holloway.  It was all Campag equipped with 10-speed gears, I estimate it to be 1952/3.

With help from Barry Adams (Ruxley Wheelers) we believe that, some time later, Alan moved from his room in the bakery which he had rented from about 1958 to a proper cycle shop at 71 Elthorne Road, London N19. Barry purchased a frame (see image below of bike which is now to be restored to its original glory) in late 1963 or early 64 which had  transfers showing the Elthorne Road address. He explains that although that is the address on the frame which was built for him, he actually purchased it at 65-67 Woodhouse Road, Finchley N12 with the old transfers. This is the address of the ex-Gerrard shop which Alan took over in 1962 when Gerrard’s business collapsed in a spectactular way. Shorter Rochford still trade from this address.

Thanks for reading

Posted: Friday 05th June 2020

Author: Peter Underwood

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