My neighbour recently had her bike stolen. She wisely decided to replace it with a 2nd hand bike (there are more bicycles than people in the UK, and most of those are in people’s sheds or garages). Her only criterion was that the bike should be red. Being Hackney born and bred, she did not wish to purchase another stolen bike, thus rewarding a thief for theft, so she went to Bike Works in Bethnal Green.
Bike Works sold her this beauty for the absolutely astonishing price of £295. Not only did the lady get a piece of British bicycle history, she also got a bike which was in perfect working order. Bike Works only sell bicycles which they have first refurbished. In this case, that meant new tyres, tubes and cables and not a great deal else apart from a lot of love. I suspect that this bike must have been kept somewhere warm and dry for the past 40 years, given the condition of the gear mechanisms, which are more than serviceable.
The frame wasn’t made by Claud Butler himself, it was made by Holdsworth (who bought the name in 1960) sometime between 1965 and 1976. The frame is branded ‘Electron’, and according to this excellent page on Claud Butler frames and bicycles, this model was only offered between these years.
The Claud Butler name still has some residual glamour associated to it, even though the man whose stardust rubbed off is long dead, and the exact nature of his remarkable exploits are hazy at best even for confirmed bikies under the age of 60. Reg Harris was the first British racing cyclist to capture the public imagination, and was a household name more than a decade before Tom Simpson. Despite not achieving the goals expected of him, 3 Olympic gold medals, he was nevertheless an immensely popular figure, occasionally eclipsing even the football stars of the day.
Reg rode a Claud Butler, and for this reason the CB head-badge features the Olympic rings, decades after Reg won his two silver medals at the 1948 Olympics. Even at a distance of 60 years, his lustre is still bright. He is very much from the golden era of cycle sport, the late 40s and 50s, the era of Bobet, Coppi and later Anquetil, when the sometimes brutal heroism of the black-smiths’ and farmers’ sons of the early years of the sport gave way to the burnished charisma of the motion picture era. Reg was a real star. I don’t know whether he kept a comb in his jersey pocket like Koblet, or wiped his face with a cologne-scented handkerchief like Bobet, but he certainly looked every bit as polished.
My favourite of all of his exploits is his come-back at the age of 54 to win the National Match Sprint Championship. I read somewhere that he only did it to graphically illustrate his disgust at the contemporary state of British match-sprinting. It doesn’t really say much for the competition that they could be beaten by a man 20 years past his best, no matter whether he had been the best in the world.
Reg Harris’ obituary.