A Visit to Witcomb Cycles

9.2.04

When I arrived at Witcomb Cycles I was greeted by Barrie Witcomb. It is Barrie who does all of the frame building at Witcomb Cyles and I was shown through into the workshop area at the rear of the shop. Ernie, Barrie’s father and founder of Witcomb cycles, was busy sorting out some paperwork in the shop office. This was a traditional bike shop steeped in history and I admired the open brazing hearth and the racks of lugs and tubing on the wall. On the floor were some old Witcomb frames, some awaiting repair after a crash and some just in for restoration with the inclusion of some additional braze-on’s. On one of the walls of the shop were some old photos of various Witcomb bikes in action. I pointed to a photo of the Fausto Coppi and we had a chuckle over whether he was riding a Witcomb or not! Barrie had to leave the shop for a short while so Ernie and I talked about builders from the old days and it soon became apparent that Ernie, who is now 85 years young, knew just about everyone connected with the cycle trade over the last 60-odd years. Names such as Claude Butler, Alf Hetchin, Gerry Burgess, Harry Healy, Bill Hurlow, Tom Board and anyone else I could mention from the London area and beyond, Ernie knew them all, personally. Ernie had a story to tell about everyone he knew and it was fascinating to hear about the builders of yesteryear, most of whom, if not all, have now retired. Barrie started to work on a frame which had been severely damaged in a crash, the whole front triangle had to be replaced and I watch as Barrie lit the brazing torch and then skillfully heated up the seat lug to remove the damaged top-tube. After a while a man, who used to be a circus performer but now did cabaret work arrived to pick up his bike, it was a custom-made circus trick bike, with steep angles and straight forks, that Barrie had made to a French design from a catalogue article supplied by the customer. Barrie explained that he had made all sorts of frames over the years including trikes and tandems, but circus bikes were few and far between! I was then treated to an impromptu performance outside the shop. As usual, time flew by and so I said goodbye to my hosts for the afternoon and I thanked them for giving me an insight into the workings of a traditional London bicycle manufacturer. Great stuff.

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