Just back from another long break in France during which I came across s ome more stunning but very little known French bikes...and on my first visi t back to the CR site what do I find but Tod's equally rare and stunning St ratos bike.
Your bike takes me a long way back, Tod, way back to the 50s when, on a good day when I needed to get in some hilly training miles, I would ride ov er the western Pennine hills - the northern back-bone of the the UK - leavi ng behind me as I went the White Rose County of Yorkshire, to enter the Red Rose County of Lancashire. And that ride was no mean feat either in cyclin g terms or sociological ones either. Your history lessons about the War of the Roses will have told of the tensions between the neighbouring cla ns..and they still exist to some extent even these days.
Anyway back to bikes...Harry Skidmore's bikeshop was on the north side o f Union Street in Oldham..at No38, I think. His shop was what we called a " ..."gen" shop, as it had all the best gear in it..and great atmosphere..a c lubman's shop. He even sold Jack Hateley frames made in Wolverhampton. Thes e days Oldham, formerly a hardworking mill and textile town, now a suburb o f Greater Manchester, is better known for its race riots between the local Lancastrians and the large Asian community.
Tod's bike is just about as original as you could get a bike dating from the late 40s/early 50s..and it is almost a cycling museum in itself. It re ally should be sent back to Oldham and displayed in the collection of,Gordo n Blaikie, an acquaintance of mine, who is diligently chronicling the histo ry of the cycle industry in the Manchester area. To date he has amassed a w ealth of information that already fills a shelf-ful of lever-arch files.He has managed to root out many of the old timers who built frames for both th e large manufacturers such as the CWS as well as individual builders such a s Johnny Berry.
About two days before set off on my latest jaunt to Franc e, at the start of October, I spent some time reminiscing with Gordon about the "good old days". Gordon, a Mancunian born and bred..and a lifetime spe nt in the city, is a mine of detailed information...and he knows that I hav e have the only known set of "Stenton Glider" transfers in existence and he is determined to get his hands on them sooner or later. Harry Skidmore's s hop came into our conversation..as we both knew it well..visited it regular ly..BUT neither of us have ever heard of a STRATOS frame originating from i t..or from anywhere else for that matter.
However..I brought up the subject of STRATA accessories..a range of loca lly made products that were widely used in the 50s. Obviously Gordon knew o f the products but has never seen a catalogue..and I happen to have two dif ferent editions..copies of which are due to be sent over to him to add even more detail to his research. Although an owner of the catalogues and also of quite a lot of Strata accessories, I did not know, until Gordon told me, that Harry Skidmore actually owned the manfacturing company that made them. Probably STRATA was best known for its very wide ranhe of handlebar shapes such as Dernier, Pelissier,..and its "to kill for " model the South of France bend, so beloved by the members of the British League of Racing C yclists.
So... Tod's bike is an incredible piece of history..bringing together ma ny of Harry Skidmore's products on the one bikem- STRATOS plus STRATA. As for the byuilder of the frames..well, of course it is possible that Har ry had a builder working down in the mill where his accessories were made. However, having had a really good look at Tod's photos, I am just about cer tain that the frame is the work of another Manchester-based company, that o f Bill Cusworth, who was well-known for his lugless bronze-welded frames. N ow all that remains is for me to ask Gordon what he really knows about Bill ..
Norris LOckley, Settle..in the White Rose County of Yorkshire, England.
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