Monday 1 October 2012

Bicycles up Kilimanjaro...

Rewind to 1985. I was in 2nd year at High School. I was nuts on riding BMX and anything else with a pair of wheels.
Down at North Berwick High Street one lunch break and i was thumbing through bicycle magazines in John Menzies Newsagents and on the back cover of Bicycle Action Magazine was a picture of a bike with big wheels, chunky tyres like our BMX bikes, wide handlebars that had thumb operated gear shifters, a triple chain set and multiple low ratio gears at the back, cantilever brakes, and it looked amazing...

They had arrived...

This was the first Mountain bike i had seen a picture of and i was in awe at it...

A few evenings later there was a feature on Blue Peter about two adventurers who had just been up Kilimanjaro - Africa's highest Mountain, at  Twenty two thousand feet on these new Saracen bikes
and there was a book out about the adventure.
The next visit to Craigielaw farm where we stayed by the Library Van i asked if they could get the book, two weeks later it arrived...

I read that book about four times during the fortnight i had it and i found the Adventure of Nick Crane and his cousin Richard amazing.
Also amazing was the All Terrain Bikes they used and what they could ride up and over.
I knew i wanted/had to get one but it would be a couple of years until i could afford one.
In that time a Saracen Pathfinder appeared at school and a friend bought a Dawes Ranger...

This was one of only two of a first batch sold at one of Edinburgh's most famous shops; Sandy Gilchrist who just got two in as thought they would not catch on... -:)

A third All Terrain Bicycle appeared at School - the new Raleigh Maverick, this one was a Maverick SE which had a more bling spec with Suntour A stem and (now very rare) Suntour large flange hubs...
I have never found a pic on line of this model but here is the standard Maverick as featured in Bicycle Action...

Well by Autumn 1987 a late friend Clarke acquired that bike and i swapped a Raleigh Team Replica racer for it and i was rolling on a bike with 15 gears, a Brooks saddle, big wide bars and powerful Cantilever brakes.
The winter of 1987/1988 was spent riding off road with friend Max who had bought the new Specialized Rockhopper and we rode across the salt marshes, Nature Reserve and the woods of the local Estates of Luffness and Gosford discovering where these bikes would go with there low gearing...
We even rode on the hard beach at low tide and once rode out to the WW2 submarine wrecks in Aberlady Bay, that felt quite an achievement getting out there on bicycles... -:)

Happy days, with not a care in the world...

A Muddyfox Courier MTB was next, similar to one that hangs in my lean - to today
It too is an early model made that were then made in Japan at the Tange Factory.
It is an original spec bike which i still ride. A relic of those first generation of All Terain Bicycles (ATB) with its Moosebars, Suntour thumbies and drive chain, Bear trap pedals, Araya 1.75 wide rims and Dia Compe canti brakes. It still has its 1.95 tyres.
I grin like a dafty when out on it and get all nostalgic...

After a Diamondback i was distracted a bit by motorcycles and then returned to offroad cycling big time...
By 1992 i had my first Cannondale, then they were the Piste - de - Resistance in mountain bikes and finally with a car i was having my own cycling adventures further afield from home if a little less modest than the Cranes In the Highlands and down the road in the Borders Cheviot Hills. I remember the first day ride over 50 miles and the first time i emptied the 3 litre water bladder in my Karrimor back pack. I still have that blue pack to this day, should have kept that Dale though...

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and chatting with a friend on Facebook i mentioned that book and i then googled it,

3 days later it flopped through the letter box via Amazon... -:)

I have pretty much given up watching TV and only watch films or programmes on BBC channels as i cannot stand Adverts every 20 minutes. Rather have Natures TV blazing away, listen to  Classic FM Digital Radio and have a nice cup of tea or a cider and read a good book.
Reading this book has reminded me that i still find riding bicycles very rewarding. Bicycles have changed quite a bit since the 1980s but the essence is still the same - riding your bike places where you feel at home and new places to explore or see just where you can get on that bike...

Interestingly these old early mountain bikes, or All terrain Bicycles as they were first known look a lot different to those featured in High Street cycling magazines of today, and so do the bicycles i now ride off road.
With the exception of Singletrack Magazine  which caters for all types of offroadable bikes most magazines do not feature steel framed ridged bicycles esp with fat tyres fitted. In my eyes the bikes i ride are All Terrain Bicycles and the essence of going on an adventure be it local or further afield seems to be getting lost as more and more people find and think that riding UK Trail Centres is mountain biking - well it is and it isn`t but it is still fun and a convenient fix for folk and great for families.

It is nice to go on a ride without signs pointing the way everywhere. on a path or not...

I love to sit with a map and plan a route, Google Earth is great but will not show you contours and all the other features that help you work out a plan for an exploring ride...
Mountain bikes have become one of the most marketed outdoor lifestyles with the industry constantly creating new ideas and `must have` latest technological advantages in frame design and suspension technology.
It is starting to happen even in fatbikes in only 6 years since the first production fatbike - The Surly Pugsley
How far you want to take it is up to you...and your wallet -:)

I also found and bought another epic book by the Cranes - Journey to the Centre of the Earth...

Nick Crane is a favourite TV presenter of mine with his excellent BBC series `Map Man` and `Great British Journeys` where often he takes to a bicycle to explore our British Isles  and its history using old journals and maps. Most of you will know him from my favourite TV programme - the award winning BBC series Coast - but he has been exploring all his life...
Along with a pile of maps to look over, WW2 and local history books i have plenty reading to do in front of the fire this winter...


  1. A ha! I had a copy of Journey To The Centre of The Earth. I learnt to "wear" a sleeping bag upside down from that book. You'll understand when you read it. Great memories!

  2. Oh i read it too back in the day!, also the 1 spare sock trick -:)

  3. great story ! It really brought back memories of my first MTB. I got a little later start than you, I think I'm younger by a few years. My first ride was a Trek 950 in 1990. I worked all winter at a fast food restaurant to get it. Once I had it i quit the job and rode all summer, I was 17 with out a care in the world, I wish I could go back.
    Later DR

  4. I remember those Treks, good bikes!
    Yeah, not a care in the world at that age!
    We need a time machine!

  5. Hey that’s the presenter with the umbrella!!
    I know him from the series Coast.
    Love that programe.

    Maybe a great idea for a new TV serie.
    "Around the Coast on a bicycle"
    Colonel Dick Strawbridge on a rebuild Mud fox.
    Neil Oliver( with bag )on a Penny Farthing.
    Nick Crane on one of his old Kilimanjaro ATB
    And Alice Roberts as stoker on my tandem!

    Coastkid and Microadventures as technical advisors!!


  6. Totally agree with your comments, Coastkid. Rigid bikes have become a bit of a niche nowadays but I still think they are the best tool for 'door to door' biking in my area, involving tarmac, hardpack, woodsy singletrack and a bit of rocky gritstone all in one ride. More people should ride them!

    Inspired by your muddy fox restoration I fixed up a 1987 Explorer (second model down after the Courier I think) as a kind of all terrain tourer-cum-grocery bike, and its really versatile - all day rides in the Peak District have been just as successful as my trips to Morrisons!

    Keep up the good work, your perspective on cycle culture is always great to read :O)

  7. Tommy; will give you a shout if i canmake it happen -:)

    castle dave; it is great to get an old bike running again and use them, esp for nostalgic reasons!

  8. I still have the issue of Footloose magazine that featured the Cranes and a special mountain bike pull out. Funny how a magazine article can change your life eh?

  9. Hi Sanny, thanks for posting, indeed it did... -:)

  10. Yup, for some people, getting the first bike is an experience like no other. Thank you for bringing back good memories and for sharing such an informative post.

  11. I just picked up a copy of the book from Amazon. It's an ex Library book and still has the stamped label and reference card in it. Your post prompted me to seek it out. it's a brilliant read. It brings back memories of days spent in Williamson's in Stockbridge looking wistfully at the latest mountain bikes and kit just in from the States and marvelling at Rock Shox RS1s......ooooh! I still have their 1987 shop catalogue somewhere in the house. Aye, retro isn't what it used to be!

  12. A documentary featuring Nick Crane alsl exists called Blazijg Pedals, about his trip up the Atlas mountains. Trying to trace it down with no luck. Any leads anyone. Lovin the retro rides, and my 1st gen Kona Fire Mountain still makes me grin like no other of the 20 bikes I own!

  13. If you like the Cranes and their rugged, stylish bikes of yesteryear, you'll love Stanforth Bikes:!inspiration/ckiy .

  14. Hi, I got my hands on a stunning Saracen ATB circa 1984 the other day . Ordered this book , I didn't realise it was Nick Crane.. really looking forward to getting it.