When I was building frames in England back in the mid 1970s I recorded frame numbers in a little hardcover note book; I still have that book.
The book contains little information, just a customer name and a number. It is a miracle the book has survived to this day; the only reason for keeping it in the first place was to keep track of how many frames I built, and to make sure the serial numbers stayed in sequence and I didn’t miss any.
At the time as I stamped a number on a newly built frame and wrote it down in my little book; probably the last thought in my mind was that I would be corresponding with people about these very same frames more than 30 years later. And I don’t think anyone living at that time could have envisioned the Internet and email.
Last week I got an email from Bill Danson who now lives in Yorkshire, England. He wrote about a frame I built for him back in 1978. He gave me the frame number M8293; I opened up my numbers book and sure enough there is Bill’s name; W. Danson
He mentioned that I broke my collar bone soon after he had placed the order, and as I read his email my hand immediately went to feel my left clavicle which healed with the two broken pieces side by side, because I was forced for financial reasons to keep on building frames with my arm in a sling.
I had broken my collar bone while helping a local coach train some junior riders. We were doing interval training, short bursts of flat out sprints, followed by easy riding. It was dark and the coach was following in a car, his headlights lighting up the road ahead.
We rounded a bend in the road and were temporarily in the dark, even though we had battery lights. An inexperienced rider forced me off the road onto the grass verge, and I fell breaking my collar bone.
Bill eventually took delivery of his frame; he had ordered it in April or May of 1978 but due to my accident I didn’t finish it until late summer or autumn of that year. A few months later in January 1979 I left England for the United States.
I find it interesting that two strangers came together briefly; in this instance a framebuilder and a customer. We go our separate ways for 33 years, then reconnect via the Internet and email. All that has happened to me in the interim is well documented here in these blog pages; but Bill Danson’s story also is out of the ordinary.
In 1975 Bill then in his early 30s started riding a bike 13 miles from his home in Romford, Essex to his job in London; he did so for a less than conventional reason. He was training to ride a six-seater bike (Picture below.) with other members of his local Round Table Club, on a charity ride from London to Hamburg in Germany.
After the ride Bill continued riding to work and he found that guys on racing bikes were no longer leaving him behind. He became friendly with a few of his fellow commuters and they encouraged him to join their local club (Hainault RC.) and start racing. To do this Bill needed a proper bike, and that was when he and I came together.
The frame I built for Bill would turn out to be the only race bike he owned. He told me:
“The frame has travelled a bit and I took it with me when I was sent to work in Houston in 1980 for a few months. I had lots of incidents with cars and trucks as the Texans didn't seem to accept a bicycle as a legitimate vehicle. Maybe they've changed a bit since Lance Armstrong's exploits.”
In 1988 Bill and his wife emigrated to Spain where he said cycling is part of the way of life; not as in Holland and Belgium where most people ride a bike, but as a sport to be appreciated and admired. In nearly twenty years riding there I had three traffic incidents; riding into London to work I'd have three each way every day.
Admittedly the traffic density didn't compare but even so. Racing there is different again, with closed roads and police escorts and applause from the public for even the most amateur of races. I somehow won various trophies over the years as a vet on that frame which was by now in its second repaint.
He went on, “If there is anything I miss about living in Spain, apart from the friends I made, it's the cycling on traffic-free roads. Although the racing is better organized than in the UK, there was much less of it where I lived, in Alicante Province, and it involved travelling long distances to race more than twice a month (as a vet).”
The top tube on the frame I built for Bill all those years ago is badly rusted from all the sweat while racing and training in the hot Spanish weather. Bill no longer rides it on the road but has it mounted on a trainer in his garden shed.
The frames I built in the UK were for racing bikes that were used for racing. They did not have the finish and aesthetics of those I would later build in the USA. It is nice to hear a story of a frame that was used for the purpose it was built, and has served its owner well.