About three months ago, we moved back to Melbourne. Mostly because as our business (thankfully) gets busier, we need more family help with our five-year-old daughter. But another reason we came back was because my Dad, Jeff, needed to go into care because he has Alzheimer’s.
Aside from the complicated, eccentric and diverse man he is, Dad is first and foremost a cyclist. He began riding as a kid, and in the words of his mother, ‘the only time Jeff is happy, is when he’s on a bike’. It’s true. He’s a man with a multi-tracked-mind, rarely in the present moment, and whose thoughts have driven him to the brink of crazy.
The physical energy cycling requires means your minds can take a rest while you pedal. Along with riding to stay fit, he raced for over 40 years too, for local Melbourne clubs, all the way to racing through Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. He probably stopped racing locally about 10 years ago, in his 60s, but still trained every day, right up until he went into care this year.
When Jeff’s racing career was reaching its peak, he knew he needed to get to Europe, where the serious racing happens. He was living in Australia in the 1960s, when an around-the-world plane ticket was the equivalent to half a year’s salary. When Jeff arrived in Italy in 1967, it was like a homecoming, not least for the mutual love of cycling. From that moment onwards, Dad would only ride with Italian brands, like Campagnolo, Bianchi and Colnago.
Growing up with these brands (literally, all of Dad’s bikes lived in our house, never in the garage), I never even knew there were other bike brands, with the exception of the pink Malvern Star I had.
Since moving back to Melbourne, we’ve begun the huge undertaking of dismantling and selling his various collections. Like I said, he was a diverse character, and he loved everything from 1970s Fords, to motorbikes, American memorabilia and, of course, push bikes. As we slowly uncover, unpack and consolidate his vast collections, it’s the bike stuff I dread selling the most.
The 1950s Seeburg jukebox (and the 1975 one), the antique fridges, the motorbike gear and the car stuff, has all been relatively easier to move on. As long as the price is right, I don’t really care where the stuff goes and who it goes to. But the bike stuff is a different level. Part of the reason is because of the beauty of the products themselves. This gear is old, it’s imported, it’s rare and it’s beautifully made.
Most of the gear is Campagnolo, and for the uninitiated, Campagnolo is the gold standard of good, trusted quality, with a decent whack of Italian flair designed into it. Any racer worth their salt knows the brand and respects it.
Without knowing anything about the brand, or its history, you can feel the level of its quality by holding the parts themselves. They feel well-weighted. Their finish is polished and satin-smooth. They’re packaged with care, often wrapped in tissue paper, then boxed. Each piece is either engraved or stamped with the Campagnolo brand. Each piece is ergonomic and built for optimal slipstream.
How I feel when I handle the gear is more subjective. With each part I pick up to evaluate, it reminds me of my Dad’s love affair with cycling and how he was a better person when he was on the bike. It reminds me of the man who was brave and adventurous enough in the 1960s, in his 20s, to travel from Australia to Europe, following his passion.
Now it’s time to break apart his collection and sell it off, and I’m ashamed to say, I’ve become a pesky seller. If a buyer starts to haggle, I recoil in horror. If a buyer tells me they don’t even care about labels, I find myself talking them out of buying it altogether. One guy asked if he could bring his bike over to our house to try on some Campagnolo wheels. I declined his offer, telling him the potential of damage was too risky. He asked if I meant damage to his bike? I told him no, it was too risky for our beautiful wheels!
It’s not all bad though. This process has brought out people from the past, long forgotten, or never met. Cyclists who knew Dad from a different lifetime and bring with them stories about Dad and the cycling fraternity I never knew. These beautifully crafted, purpose built, machines, are bringing life back to a dying past.