In recent years collecting old bicycles has caught on more than ever. Events like L’Eroica and many copycat versions have fuelled the desire for steel vintage bicycles. Combine this with the popularity that cycling has recently gained, bike riders are now seeking out rare steel bikes to squeeze or sneak into their growing collections. Amongst us though are the rare few, the veteran collectors who’ve been at their game of collecting vintage bikes for decades. These collectors have the knowledge and possess bikes that some of us will never see, that’s unless you’re lucky enough to get a private viewing into one of these collectors sheds. There’s usually plenty of vintage paraphernalia also stashed away alongside these collections of retro machines, all of unlimited historic value. Greg Softley is one of these outstanding collectors and he was in Brisbane last Friday night to show off a very small number of his hard to come by bicycles.
Almost anyone who’s re-painted an old bicycle will have bought a decal set from Greg Softley. If you’ve delved deep into Greg’s Cyclomondo bicycle restoration decal site, some of you will also have found a link to Greg’s Flickr pages, chock full of pictures of some of Greg’s highly collectable old bicycles. Apart from a few avid bike aficionado’s who track Greg down and are fortunate enough pay him a visit, no one else gets see Greg’s amazing collection of old bicycles. That all changed when the Pushies Galore team had a word in Greg’s ear. So last Friday night a few lucky Brisbane bike enthusiasts got to see a small number of Greg’s rare old race bikes. It all started with Pushies – Gavin Bannerman, Richard Butler & Co encouraging Greg to pack some bikes, load them in a truck and run them up to Brisbane for a mid year viewing. No mean feat, I helped unpack, and re-pack some of these bikes, a privilege, but that task alone was considerable work, requiring a few hands on deck. Each of Greg’s bikes had been carefully wrapped and travelled in boxes, this required a fair amount of work on the spanners. With barely a tool stamped “Campagnolo” in sight, (no disrespect to the well equipped Crankstar Bespoke workshop, it just doesn’t seem right working on these bikes with modern tools) we got the job done with an hour to spare, before the punters arrived at Crankstar Bespoke for an evening with Greg Softley and his bikes.
Over the Pushies Galore weekend I spent enough time with Greg and two other bike collector’s to realise how lucky we were to see Greg’s bikes close up and listen to him speak about them first hand. One collector who will remain anonymous and has a collection on par with Greg’s, dropped in for a five minute chat with Greg. You won’t ever see this collector’s bikes on show anywhere, that’s just how it is, a private hobby. I got the impression that perhaps in years gone by, Greg may have been the same and not wished to show his bikes in public, that’s until the Pushies Galore guys coaxed him out into the spotlight. The other obvious collector is Ben Smith who’s ICS bike we’ll be featuring very soon. I’d asked Greg if it was okay for Ben to come along and help assemble the bikes, I knew he’d enjoy it and I needed space to take the pictures, as it turned out I had to down the camera anyway and help on the spanners for a while, it was that frantic. So Ben had a couple of bikes on our Velo Aficionado stand at Pushies Galore on Sunday. Ben said that unless I’d asked him to bring along his ICS and Eddy Merckx Motorola, that he would not have come to show anyone these bikes at all. As it turned out Ben’s ICS bike won best road bike in the Pushies Galore show. I reckon all it took was a nudge out the door, just like Greg, for Ben to have a great weekend talking bikes. It was obvious watching Greg and Ben chatting that they were enjoying swapping notes that only collectors could swap. Bike collectors may be private people but when we get a chance like this, to see rare bikes and equipment of that ilk, you’ve got to count yourself one lucky velo aficionado. Thanks Pushies Galore for bringing Mr. Softley to town.
Once the evening got under way, Greg took us through a journey of the evolution of bike technology and racing stories about important races won on some of his bikes. The collection on show was jam packed with significant racing bicycles, both track and road. Greg Softley has a knack and the tenacity to track down equipment which others simply would not find. Greg’s techniques for finding old bikes are numerous, suffice to say it’s underpinned by networking, an extensive knowledge of bikes and a little bit of luck.
There was more than enough glinting gold plated frames and components to horrify a Swiss friend of mine, who muttered something about Nazi gold while pointing to an Ital Cicli Systems Zurich “Carriage Market” bike. Ben and Greg debated the origins of the gold plated finishes on the Colnago C-35, Ben reckoned the plating was done at a place near Lourdes in France, confirmed on our Instagram feed by someone who’s used the services of the same plater. No Italian gold plating in sight then? As Greg reckons some of the Italian work was done by a religious artefact manufacturer, and not necessarily the C-35?
A 1946 yellow Stucchi equipped with Tulio Campagnolo’s Cambio Corsa was a standout. Plus a demo unit to help illustrate how the Cambio Corsa gear shift works, was passed around. The next day while we were packing up I got to have a pedal on the Stucchi, I’ll do a full write up on how the Cambio Corsa works on this bike soon, it was a fun bike to ride. This answers a couple of questions, Greg doesn’t just leave his bikes sitting in boxes, some of them are ridden, he still handles them with extreme care though. Greg’s main question for me was how the Stucchi frame is to ride compared with modern bikes. The answer is simple and the one Greg had expected, all there was to know about how to build a sweet ride was already known by the end of the 19th
century (as Darrell McCulloch says, you can build a nice bike, that handles well, out of any material if you know what you are doing), so by 1946 the Stucchi wasn’t far removed from say steel bikes I’d raced on in the 1980’s. The other question Greg had about the Stucchi was how easy it was to shift using the Cambio Corsa and how that impacted on racing. I fumbled the first shift, got the second one right and from there you’d repeat it a million times over, so with a small number of gears available, and bugger all experience to get used to the gear change, it’s business as usual. Select the appropriate gear and keep pedalling hard. Another standout on the Stucchi was it’s beautiful and rare Fisea leather saddle.
There were two beautiful 1960’s track bikes an early Cinelli pista and a very early Colnago. The Colnago pista had apparently stirred up a storm in the forums when Greg first published images of it a while back. Some reckoned it was a fake. I checked the machine out close up and you just can’t fake that patina. Greg told us about another earlier Colnago which he’d got his hands on, a ladies bike, one of the first ever to come out of Ernesto’s workshop.
Each of Greg’s bikes had a story, you’ll see a nice vintage Malvern Star track bike raced by a Toowoomba racer, complete with wood rims. Then there’s a beautiful dark blue Molteni Arcore road bike, that was ridden to a stage win in the Giro d’ Italia, the race winner stripped of his credentials as the first pro rider to be drug tested in 1968 when new rulings were brought in. Apparently there was a fair degree of shock about how a pro rider could be done for such a thing. Before that pro riders were never tested, there’s a well known incident from the era where Jacques Anquetil organised a riders protest against the introduction of the new ruling. The idea being that pro riders raced on the gear and it was not fair to test them for something that they needed to race on and get their job done.
The Benotto road time trial bike was a show stopper complete with 3ttt stem and Moser’s 51.151 engraved into the 3 ttt handlebars, celebrating Moser’s world hour record of January 23 1984. This bike was first shown when the Gen 2 Campagnolo C – Record groupset was released, an American importer had the Benotto bike built specially to show off the new groupset. After the Benotto was shown at Anaheim it was spirited off into the hands of a collector and remains in pristine condition today.
Greg uses the Bob Jackson as his daily ride, the only British machine on show. One of the gold plated bikes was a 1988 ICS Magni from the design and engineering firm out of Zurich, Ital Cicli Systems. The ICS has a dark blue veil coat of paint over a gold plated frame, hung with Campagnolo second Gen, gold plated components. Greg also had on display ICS gold plated Super Record Campagnolo cranks, inlaid with Swarovski crystals. There’s a full post coming up on the ICS bikes including the catalogues.
Colnago was represented with a mint Arabesque, and gold plated Super Record era frame and more gold components on the Carbon C-35 Campagnolo 35th anniversary version. The room was gleaming with gold everywhere, when some collectors mention bicycle components in the same sentence as “jewel like” they’re not far off, especially when talking about the 1980’s and 90’s.
Rounding out the set was a Gal Mozzi in a greenish celeste and the pièce de résistance was Greg’s Cinelli Laser road time trial bike, circa 1982, a 20th century design icon.
Spending time with Greg Softley you begin to notice how many small details go into maintaining a bike collection as important and rare as Greg’s. For example, the two track bikes were kitted out with early A. Dugast singles. I asked if they were more recent as they looked to be in perfect condition, Greg reassured me that the secret to keeping these old tyres in working order, not perished and still capable of holding air, was NOT to have them mounted on rims. So for each bike we removed the A. Dugast tyres from their storage bags and installed them on the bikes. The next day the process repeated, this time tyres removed from the rims, all of the air released and the tyres stored in an almost vacuum state, for utmost preservation. So a tip from Greg, if you want your old singles (tubulars) to keep holding air, don’t expose them to air unless you are showing the bike, and even then only pump them up with the bare minimum of pressure.
Without the help of Pushies Galore, Crankstar Bespoke and Greg Softley himself, this post would not have been possible, a big thanks to all. All photos by Robert Cobcroft