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Soens, Jim

Posted: Friday 05th June 2020

Author: Paul Gittins

Jim Soens shop was later taken over by Pete Matthews and run successfully by him for some time. This is my ‘Eddie Soens’ which was light blue with a dark claret d/tube panel for the name, again in C&G sign writing.

Mafac centre/pulls with Balilla levers, GB bars and Pivo stem, cranks Stronglight 49D with TA Adaptor rings 52/44, Prestige rear and Record front gears.

Odd wheels, the front is a LF Record 32, the rear a SF Record 28.  I think I rode out carrying the rear wheel.

Bill Soens adds the following information:

I refer to the input of some of your readers regarding the bikes that I built some fifty years ago and more. My name is Bill Soens and I built all the Eddie Soens bikes (Eddie being my late father). Keith Butler refers to Jim Soens and Tommy Soens as being bike builders. Jim (my uncle) certainly built his own bikes from either 1936 or 1934. Tommy Soens, along with his youngest brother Dougie opened Soens Bros  Ltd in the early 60’s. They were both painters and decorators and never built a bike in their lives – they did what most did, they bought in the rough from people like Holdsworth and Bob Jackson and had them painted with their name on.

The famous photo of Tommy Simpson is quite probably riding a Bob Jackson by the look of the fork blades, irrespective of what it says on the down tube.I built roughly 800 Eddie Soens frames. They were not called SoenSport, as Mr Butler says. This was a second logo I used for other things, but did have a small transfer on the left chainstay to this effect. I bought less than 20 frames in the rough when I was overwhelmed with orders. Geoff Magnay’s input is welcome but he got the dates wrong.   I took over the shop from Aussie Hurlen in late 1957 after completing National Service and ran it for about eight or more years.

Mick Butler adds to the story:

There were four Soens Brothers: Eddie, Jimmy, Dougie & Tommy.  Eddie was the more famous as he coached Tony Doyle, Gordon Singleton, Norman Sheil, Beryl Burton, Dave Lloyd and many more.  Jim Soens made his own frames and I believe Tommy did as well. Jim was also a cycling coach and he coached Willie Moore.Eddie Soens, the surname is probably Flemish in origin, was one of the four surviving sons of James Soens born in 1872. James Soens is reputed to have started the first racing bike building business in Liverpool just prior to the turn of the twentieth century. The business closed when he volunteered for service during the Great War at the age of 42.
He survived the war unscathed and lived to the age of 84. His four sons were James,Thomas, Edward (Eddie) and Douglas.

The eldest son James opened a cycling shop in 1936 building hand-built bicycles still trading today under the name of Pete Matthews. James built a standard and a non-whip frame. Tommy was a very good track rider as was Eddie, but Eddie Soens is best remembered as one of the greatest British cycling coaches of all time. Due to his influential training methods he helped win more British, Worlds and Olympic titles than any other British coach.

Eddie Soens had a bike shop in Liverpool for several years and this was called SoenSport. Their address was 110 Boaler Street, Liverpool, 6.  During the early 60’s their frames were extremely popular especially the track models. The models produced at the time were the Campionissimo road frame, ’55’ Time Trial Special, Vigorelli Sprinters Frame and the Roma Pursuit light track frame.  Ron Spencer of the Warrington CC who was a very good timetrialist in the 60’s rode an Eddie Soens bike.   There is an Eddie Soens memorable race run every year to honour his memory.

Other famous Merseyside builders: Walvale who sponsored Bill Nickinson, Quinn Brothers and H M Dickinson of 184 Tunnel Rd, Liverpool.   B.W. Bentley built standard and “K” frames?  Harold Dickinson built good frames and did a lot of tandem-to-triplet conversions. Jim Fothergill built mostly for the trade and is said to have pionneered the inch-and-one-eigth diameter top tubes.  Aussie Hurlen specialised in fancy lugwork which was said to be equal to Hetchins. Jack Quinn was the brother of Harry Quinn. Harry made wonderful frames and also trained Terry Dolan and Billy Whitfield. On losing sight in one eye he sold out to Falcon Cycles (Ernie Clements) but later started building again in Tenby with son Peter. When Reg Harris’s Macclesfield business closed Harry purchased his Campag frame jigs. One of his employees, Billy Whitfield, is said to have emigrated to the USA.

Bill Twiddle was, of course, famous for the Lancaster Specials and Wally Watkins had a business close to Harry Quinn’s and built mostly track frames. Paul Gittens remembers this, one of the last shots taken of Tommy Simpson racing in the UK at the New Brighton Promenade Criteriums in 1967 (June?). The continental pros came over for this and the Vaux GP next day but their plane was late and their bikes got lost so Tommy borrowed a Team Peugeot look-a-like from a young lad in the crowd and rode that. As luck would have it it was a Tommy Soens, clearly seen in the photo taken from the February 1968  ‘Sporting Cyclist’. I don’t remember that many Tommy Soens bikes around, mainly Jim’s and Eddie’s.

Richard Lyon recalls:

My recollection of the time – I was at the event on the prom – is that the bike Simpson borrowed belonged to Grahame Owen. Grahame, nicknamed the ‘Train’ was a member of the Kirkby CC at the time, though he moved over to the Liverpool Mercury. He also rode the Milk Race and other prestige events.

I think also Norman Roberts, Jim Soens mechanic, deserves a mention. Norman was team mechanic on the Tour l’Avenir as well as Peace Race. Though Norman considers his crowning glory was building the frame Bill Nickson used to win the Milk Race. As well as frames for other great riders.

Geoff Magnay adds:

I have just been reading your words about some of the Liverpool makers.  A bit more info for you. Although Eddie Soens had the bike shop at 110 Boaler Street it was run by his son Billy, and the premises were also their home, Eddie and family, that is his wife Mima, daughter also called Mima, and Billy who was a good bit older than Mima junior.  Eddie and Mima moved to a bigger house on the outskirts of Liverpool.
The shop in Boaler St used to be Aussie Hurlen’s shop, presumably he had lived there too.  Billy had learned frame building from Aussie and inherited his tools and equipment, possibly when Aussie retired, around 1960 (1957 according to Bill Soens).  When the shop finally closed, some time around 1966, I bought some of the tools which I still use. Mima jnr lives in Norfolk and Billy was in Great Crosby when I last heard of him a few years ago. I hope that’s useful.  I was in the Kirkby CC and had a number of Eddie Soens bikes, road, track and TT between 1962 and 67.  I only recently sold the 1962 road bike which the new owner has restored and sent me pictures of.

Thanks for reading

Posted: Friday 05th June 2020

Author: Paul Gittins

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