So, what is/was Retro-Bike Underground?
In a small North Yorkshire village hall in the UK, a group of like-minded cycling aficionados, who mostly hadn’t ever met before, came together one April evening to share their story about a specific bike that they had brought along. Each person had time to do a brief story about their bike and to take any questions. All free. No charge. Free tea, coffee and biscuits. There were empty beer and wine glasses should people bring their own alcohol or drinks. Simple concept huh?
Why do it?
Good question. Social media, magazines and even blogs like this, rarely capture the real person, their enthusiasm, and special personally animated stories about their bike, as well as never getting to share what special projects are hidden in their sheds, or on their project succession plan. A lot of people don’t want to join a cycling club, have the formality, the governance and structure of a cycling club. However, people really do like to share their pride and joy cycles and their stories, but only if the environment is right.
Retro-Bike Underground set out to provide the platform, environment, open invitation, and opportunity for cycling aficionados to come together to do all of the above, just like an Open Mic’ music night in a pub. The other reason to do it was to create a new ‘human’ cycling related network as opposed to just another ‘social media’ network. The last two years have closed down the human networks, so this went some way to revitalise the situation.
Finally, you’re reading this post as it is also an outcome, record and benefit of the evening😉
So, what actually happened?
When I came up with this concept, I was prepared that in the worst case, it would be just me looking at my bike in an empty village hall, with too many biscuits to eat and down a few quid on the hall rent for the evening. The other extreme would be that we exceeded the number of people allowed in the building and had bikes everywhere. My role was organiser, car park attendant, coffee and tea boy, facilitator and participant. A few people had indicated interest in attending and a couple said they were committed to be there, but you don’t know until the night. I put out the village hall sign and cable tied an old 1940s wheel to it, just to give direction to people new to the village. Remember, this was an underground session, so minimal advertising was used.
What actually happened was that we had exactly the right mix of attendees, which included 6 presenters, with the addition of my wife, the son of one of the presenters, and two people from the village that were mildly interested in cycling. 6 presenters and 4 others doesn’t sound like a sell out, but it was the perfect, intimate ‘live lounge’ evening. As I hadn’t been too specific about anything by design, like what types of bikes were required, we ended up with 3 great and different road bikes, and 4 very special mountain bikes.
The presentations were all slightly different, some done from pre-made notes and some who just busked it. What was clear, was that very quickly, there was a confidence to engage with each other to ask any questions from a basic to technical level, and to have the freedom to just be yourself. Presentations were done in an MTB-ROAD-MTB-ROAD sequence, so it mixed things up really well.
Whilst everyone shared the passion, enthusiasm and knowledge about their bike and the cycling subject, we were really lucky to see 7 very special bikes, some very rare, some very quirky, and some that had huge emotional attachment. There’s no way I could do justice to recording the different presentations, and also, this would have gone against one of the key principles of the evening, which was to ‘just be there to experience it’. This means that if you weren’t there, you’re not going to find out what went on😉.
What I can do though, is provide some images below of the presenters and their bikes. Take a close look at them and you’ll see why each one is special.
And finally, what were the outcomes?
The 19th century village hall was built as a one-room village school originally and has just been renovated. It provided a great location, being not to big or too small. It also had all of the amenities required for a great night. It is a building that has a lot of soul and was a great choice, so outcome 1 is; a great location.
Another key outcome of the evening is that people increased their network and had new access to experience, knowledge and the very special capabilities that people have in the group. I was flattered that a group of people trusted my concept by giving up a night of their own and by bringing along some bikes, so it’s a huge thanks to Gil for bringing his ‘99 Ibis Bow Ti, to Simon for bringing his 93’ Lotus Monocoque, to Gordon for bringing his ’69 Sun Snipe Plus, to Phil for bringing his ’69 Raleigh 653 Super U, to Chris for bringing his ’95 Claud Butler Titanius. For the record, I showed up with a ’94 Swiss Cilo Ranger with ATZ forks and a ’48 Swiss Helvetic gearbox bike. Below is the finale photo.
What next then?
The feedback from all attendees was great and that these sessions need to happen quarterly. Feedback from my non-cycling wife was that it was a nice and relaxed, educational, show and tell event. A quote from one of the village supporters and attendees was that the evening was ‘much better than pilates’. Praise indeed! I’ve since had a couple of people reach out since this first evening with requests to attend the next one, which by the way, is 7th July at 7pm, same location.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to this idea of an underground evening dedicated to the people and their bikes and stories. In hindsight, if 60 people had turned up, it would have been a squeeze and the atmosphere very different. If none had turned up, I would’ve been riding my bike around the village hall whilst eating biscuits. As it turned out, it was the perfect, soulful, biking evening.
All photos by the Author