The other day I was in Lichfield in the West Midlands when I walked past a charity shop, outside was a slightly tired BSA 531 tubed ‘Racer’ I was all over it like a rash checking its tyres, brakes, gears etc. the price was a bargain sixty quid, it’s not something that would sell for a massive profit on Ebay but would have been a nice thing to own.
I didn’t buy it for two reasons, firstly I have no room for it as we have five bikes between the three of us (Me and my son Ben have a road bike and an MTB each and my wife has a road bike.) Secondly, Laura was with me. If I’d been there on my own, I might be telling you about how I own a 1970’s bike… oh and how much I enjoy sleeping in the spare room.
Now if it had been a fifties or sixties Viking, that would have been a very different story, I’d have bought it due to my teenage link to the brand (see my original viking ) and rode out the inevitable shit storm. However it wasn’t, so I didn’t!
It did make think of my Viking again and a school friends bike from far too many years ago, a Holy Grail of classic bikes a ‘Curly’ Hetchins. Yep, you read that right when I was fourteen, a fellow school friend called Bod (a nickname but don’t ask, we never did!) owned a vintage Curly Hetchins.
Hyman Hetchin was Russian Jew who settled in London after escaping the Russian revolution in 1917, he started selling mass produced bikes from the big manufacturers but in the 1920’s he discovered the work of Jack Denny a frame builder already experimenting with curly rear stays. They teamed up and patented the style in 1934, sporting success came quickly with winning Olympic and world championship riders using Hetchins bikes. Another feature of the frames are hand-cut complex ornate lugs.
The brand has changed hands and location a few times over the years but are still made and are truly stunning bikes.
I sometimes look for a new bike on the internet, dreaming I often find myself drooling over Pinarello’s and thinking maybe next time… perhaps I can cash in part of my pension or sell a kidney etc…. Not the Dogma of course but the Prince or Gan models, still way out of my price range and far more capable than I would ever be riding it. When I view the Italian superbike range, I can’t help looking at their unusual styling and thinking there is more than a hint of the Hetchins in the design, even though the construction material and manufacturing process are both worlds apart from the hand-built bikes of Hetchins.
Bod is now living sixty miles away and through the power of Facebook I tracked him down to talk about his bike and after he got over the shock of me contacting him thirty years after we last spoke, he was happy to talk about it, and he how still owns it.
How did you end up with it?
Bod – I bought it from a friend of my dad’s for a tenner, it was in a bit of a state, my dad helped me restore it including a fresh coat of paint and new decals.
Could you you ride it straight away?
Bod – No even though it is a small man’s size I had to wait a while until I grew enough to ride it.
What year and type is it?
Bod – It’s a 1957 Experto Crede (authors note – meaning – Trust in me who knows).
Have you done any work on it since the original restoration?
Bod – I stripped it a few years ago and renewed the bearings in the crank and headset.
Do you ride it much?
Bod – No I haven’t actually rode it in years.
Would you ever sell it?
Bod – I remember the hours spent painstakingly working on it with my dad loving every minute and as he is no longer with us, no I would never sell it. I do in fact have a second Hetchins a non curly model that was my dads from when he was younger.
I thanked him for the chat and catch up and told him to look me up for a pint if he’s ever back in Burton on Trent. Then I wondered if that BSA would still be for sale in the charity shop at the weekend and whether a new Radley handbag might sweeten the deal with my wife…. Then figured probably not, but it would give her something to whack me with.