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The adventures of a little Rivetts bike

Posted: Friday 21st August 2020

Author: Ken Plowman

A light hearted account of the life of a Rivetts frame.

Some 55  years ago (Circa 1952) a keen young lad, embarking on the threshold of a cycling career, instilled into him by his father, walked into Rivetts cycle shop in Leytonstone High Road to buy his first brand-new lightweight road frame.

It was hanging on the wall, a 20½” gun metal grey road racing frame, emblazoned with the name “Rivetts” on the down tube. This was not the name of the craftsman who built it, that honour went to Denis (Slash) Beals, a member of the Comet C.C. who I got to know very well during my life. I eventually joined the Comet C.C. and stayed with them until they amalgamated with the Crescent Wheelers and we became the “Lea Valley Road Club” recently changed to the “Lea Valley Cycling Club”, which I am still a member of.

So handing over my hard earned pocket money, this fabulous little Rivetts frame with the delicately cut Nervex lugs which could have been made to measure just for me became mine. I don’t know how, but I also managed to afford Campag equipment, so the next few days were spent fitting all this gleaming jewellery.

So our great adventure together was about to start with gentle rides at first round the Essex lanes to let her get the feel of the road. Eventually she would thrill to the excitement of road racing, swept along with the tide of the bunch going as fast as my legs could make her go. Then there was just the two of us alone battling against the clock in time trials on the E1 course. Nothing outstanding was achieved, rides below average even, but still fighting our own personal battle with time.

This little Rivetts bike was to get know the E1 course very well during her life, not just racing but on the many rides round the lanes that branched off this very famous course.

So the years and the miles went by. Then one day a buff coloured envelope fell through the letter box. My country was calling for me. I was old enough to do National Service. So with great sadness I gave her a protective covering of oil and gently placed her in the cellar, not knowing when we would hear the wind whistling through the trees or feel the rain beating down upon us. Fortunately, it was only to be about seven or eight weeks. After basic training at Blandford I was transferred to Taunton in Somerset where I was to spend six months on a vehicle mechanics course. I soon found out that we were allowed to have our bikes on the camp, so at the first available 48 hr pass I was home to retrieve her from the cellar and restore the elegant shine to her 531 tubing.  The next six months, every Wednesday afternoon, which was reserved for sports, we would pass together through the camp gates to lose ourselves amongst the rolling Somerset countryside and for a few hours forget the spit and polish of army life.

The six months soon sped by and when the postings went up I discovered I was going to Germany. Once again it was the parting of the ways. We returned home together on embarkation leave and my little Rivetts with all her shiny fittings was again made comfortable in the cellar with the knowledge that she was going to have at least eighteen months rest.

They passed quickly by and demob day arrived. On arrival home the Rivetts was soon retrieved from the cellar to greet the warm rays of the sun, none the worse for her long stay underground. With a few hours spent on her, cleaning and oiling she was soon restored to her original splendour.

Now plans were afoot for our next great adventure together – a trip across the channel for a tour of Austria and Italy. On arrival at the French port we boarded the “Arlberg Express” one of the great continental trains which would eventually finish its journey at Istanbul. It was with great reluctance that I let a railway porter take my “Rivetts” away from me and deposit her in the luggage van, but he assured me she would be in safe hands. Soon the train was rolling through the French countryside, rather uninteresting at this point, but as we approached the Alps so the majestic scenery began to unfold, through Switzerland it became breathtaking.

Some thirty six hours later the express rolled into the Austrian station of Spittal where I was quickly reunited with my beloved “Rivetts”. We looked forward to the next fourteen days with great excitement, together we would be discovering the delights of a new country.

From Spittal we set off, travelling through quaint little villages, negotiating  the forbidden mountain passes, eventually arriving at the foot of the Gross Glockner, the highest mountain in Austria, and probably the hardest climb of the tour. We eventually made it to the top where we rested and gazed in awe at the view which lay before us and the peaks above where the snow never seems to melt. The descent down the other side of the Glockner to the chocolate box village of Heiligenblut was exhilarating to say the least. The Rivetts revelling in the speed in which we hurtled round the hairpin bends without a thought of danger, her sturdy joints taking the bumps in her stride.

From Austria we rode into Italy through the grandeur of the Dolomites, to have cheese roll lunches in lush green fields, to Cortina where we rested in the shadow of the crystal mountain under an an azure Italian sky, on to Venice where from the “Bridge of Sighs” the little “Rivetts” would gaze down on the elegant gondolas passing below.

Only too soon, the the tour seemed to end, from Venice we caught a local train back to Austria to board the “Arlberg Express” for the journey home. On arrival at Victoria, disaster, when I went to collect her from the luggage van there was no sign of her. A porter informed me she would be arriving on a later train, the thought of her stranded all alone was appalling. She did arrive at Victoria the following morning none the worse for her little escapade.

Together we were to go on many more tours, the West Highlands of Scotland, Devon and Cornwall and regular tours over the Easter holidays to Wales, where the little Rivetts travelled over some of the toughest forest tracks that she has ever had to negotiate. Eventually my little Rivetts was showing signs of wear and tear, so I took her to that kindly gentleman and superb frame builder Dick Morris (H.R.Morris) at his shop in Walthamstow. He filled in some minor bumps and had her re-sprayed to her original gun metal grey. Dick, who is now into his nineties and well retired, is still a member of my club, the Lea Valley C.C. With this new lease of life she was ready for a few more years of taking me on some more very enjoyable rides.

So we come to 1983, 23rd October, some thirty one years on from the day when I first set eyes on this lovely little frame and has been with me through thick and thin. It is the day of the Gordon Atwell map-reading competition over a distance of thirty miles. A fitting event for what was to happen later in the day.

On a beautiful sunny morning at 9am we signed on, and after checking our clues, a small group of us set off with one of the club’s long distance exponents leading. He set such a scorching pace down the road, he must have thought he was riding a 24-hour – the screams of protest coming from the little Rivetts seemed to be in unison with the screams of pain coming from my knees. Eventually the pace settled down to a speed more befitting an event of this nature. I am sure I heard sighs of relief coming from her now feeble joints.

Then came the cross country section where a public footpath which ran through  overgrown shrubbery had to be negotiated, I dismounted and gently urged my little Rivetts through the densely overgrown brambles, but the branches seemed to part as if they knew she was now fighting for her very life. We soon came to the end of the path where the track widened and led down to Duck End Farm, a beautiful restored farm house. After a brief rest the little Rivetts seemed to recover and we pressed on to Dovehouse Farm the next check.

This was where our downfall started. In our enthusiasm over our excellent progress so far, we misinterpreted the instructions. We set off the first few yards correctly but missed the turn we should have taken and were now heading into oblivion. After some miles we decided we were completely off course, so we about-turned to head back for Dunmow. For us the competition was over.

At this point my beloved little Rivetts must have realised that she had lost her final race, for she just stopped dead in her tracks and with a final lurch heaved me over the handle bars as if to say “farewell old friend, I’m afraid this is the end of the road for me” even her Nervex lugs could not stop her frail tubes from folding up. It was as though she was punishing me for all the rough treament she’d had over the years, but in her death throes she must have felt kindness for me as she made sure I was surrounded by club mates who would be on hand to help me if I hit the ground with a bang. She finally succumbed travelling over the roads she new and loved so well. This little Rivetts frame which had served me so well over the years will not be thrown on the scrap heap with a lot of other twisted metal. She will once again be laid to rest in the cellar where she so often had to wait for my return.

The frame was recovered from the cellar some years later and once again taken into the care of Dick Morris, who fitted new 531 tubing for the top tube and down tube and used the existing Nervex lugs and we had it sprayed a lovely maroon. As you can see from the photos, still more years on, it is now back to its former glory, and at the age of 72 I am still riding it on special occasions. My regular bike is a Brian Wilkins which I bought from Brian after he had taken over the running of Frank Lipscome’s shop in Markhouse Road, Walthamstow. My father new Frank very well. While I was still at school dad bought a second hand 19″ Selbach from Frank for me, a lovely little bike but I just cannot remember what happened to it.

Frame Rivetts road. No. 25512 20½"
Wheels Mavic 700s on Campag small flange hubs
Gears Rear Campag 5speed
Front Sachs Huret
PedalsNo name, made in France
Toe clipsChristophe Brevete
Brakes Weinmann
Saddle Brooks B17
Thanks for reading

Posted: Friday 21st August 2020

Author: Ken Plowman

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