Question: In addition to everything that is on the Brex-list that will be (maybe or eventually…) used to negotiate the North Sea Island of the UK out of Europe, what specifically does it mean for us British & European cyclists, and what are some of the differences that we managed with over the years?  Well, its worth knowing some stuff of differentiation first, because its not until you start playing with old or vintage, British bicycles, and those from ‘The Continent’, that you realise just how different the engineering thinking actually is, and just to create the same two wheeled ‘thing’. Prior to what we now know as global cycling standardisation, its almost like people were challenged to do it differently. Here’s my non-biased view offew of the differences:

Thread size – British threads (there were several types) versus Metric, which Napoleon introduced, plus all of the special derivative versions from bottom bracket uses through to headsets and pedal spindles, and that’s without the left and right hand thread approaches. Its very, VERY complicated. Be careful if you’re hunting for old parts on the internet for your project……….Buying old pedals on the internet auction sites that a) have the right thread and b) that have straight axles, is a bit ‘pot luck’. The only other European country that used British threads was Portugal, because most of the their bikes came from the UK, and because the weather is better, they aren’t rusty either.

Mudguard stays – The British had the pointy ends of the mudguards stays sticking out above the actual mudguard, and then put a rubber bung over the end, which always came off, leaving a sharp, pointy end, which would snag your cycling shorts. The Continentals, all of them, wrapped the seat stay around the actual mudguard and had the pointy ends attached neatly to the frame and down by the axle – brilliant!

Front and back brake levers – The British have the front brake lever on the right of the handlebars, just like every motorcycle in the world. The Continentals, all of them again, put the front brake lever on the left side of the handlebar, AND they still do! If you’re on holiday on the other side of the channel, just be careful when you hire a bicycle……..

Light bulb colour – The British have always had white light bulbs. The French however, thought differently and had yellow bulbs. They believed that a yellow bulb reduced glare. It didn’t, and they changed to white in 1993. You can only have yellow bulbs in France, if your bike, car, motorcycle etc is pre-’93.

Wheel sizes – Life’s to short to a) list them and b) actually read about them. Just take care when you’re buying a new tyre for your old bike via mail order….

Gears – The British came up with the Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub in 1936 and stuck with it for decades, and without really pushing the boundaries of gear changing on a successful, commercial scale. The French and the Italians went on to perfect the derailleur, which the Japanese then moved on to another level, but never as sexily as the stuff Campagnolo turned out. Actually, Japan is not on the other side of the Channel, so they are excluded from this comparison and the Italians win.

Fashion – Two things drive differentiation here; the weather and the style. The wet & windy weather of the UK requires different capabilities of the cycling garments to the other side of the Channel. The UK requires clothing that works first and looks good/OK second. The southern Europeans, like the Italians for example, just require good looks.

Taps – The British had, and in some cases, still have, a hot and a cold tap. The Continentals had the sexiest mixer taps ever. Fact!

Showers and duvets – no contest. The Continent 2 – GB 0.

Bread – The British have manufactured, white sliced ‘stuff’, and some of it is even brown as well. The French make the best bread in the world, ever!

Car mats example – A British expatriate is buying a new car in the French Alps region, and prior to sealing the deal, asks the dealer if interior car mats are included in the package. The car dealer looks at the buyer in front of him and is amazed that such a stupid question would be asked. Of course car mats are included! They’re the things that soak up the rain, melted snow, mud and dust and stop the base of the car being wet. Why do UK car dealers have car mats as optional and negotiation items in a country that is mostly wet???

Music – The British made up for the slow levels of change in gear changing technology by becoming a powerhouse of world-class music. Charles Aznavour kept the French happy for decades………..

Mudguard and BSA bicycle photos by Rodrigo Macip

All other photos by the author

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.