PEZ Goes to the Movies: The Super Collectors

Our world of cycling offers so much variety, from commuting to work, racing at the local industrial park, singletracking mountains, bikepacking through the Gobi Desert or, if you have an amazing sense of balance, you can impress by riding indoors in circles during the UCI Art Cycling Championships. If you are a sports fan, there are all kinds of different cycling events to watch and, as a new documentary on GCN+ reveals, you can be a bicycle collector in a completely unique style.

“The Super Collectors,” hosted by GCN’s Jon Cannings, presents five subjects, located in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, and one is struck by the diversity of their interests as reflected in their collections. In his recent book on the preservation of historic motorcars, Miles Collier differentiates a “collection” from an “accumulation,” with the former having a distinct goal with a clear thread connecting the items, with the potential to advance the state of the art in a hobby, while the latter is, well, what I suspect most of us have, with some of this and some of that, as strikes our fancy.

Sebastian Fischer collector in Germany

One has to admit that the first collector, Sebastian Fischer in Germany, may have created the ultimate in collections, housed in a glass penthouse above his residence. Having competed in some triathlons on a Softride bicycle, he grew interested in the enormous flowering of creativity in modern bicycle design. This began four decades ago and ran until 1996, when the UCI drafted the Lugano Charter, ratified in 2000. Although recumbent bikes had been banned from UCI-sanctioned competitions starting in 1934, the organization had not been too troubled to set rules for conventional racing bicycles until designers began to experiment with new materials and new shapes in the late 1980s. The resulting flights of engineering fancy, seen on the road in the form of exotic time trial bikes, such as Miguel Indurain’s Pinarello Espada, or on the track with the brilliant Lotus 110, upset the status quo. Mr. Fischer speaks of how visitors look around and ask if his place is a bike shop but no bike shop on earth stocks what he has. Among the treasures are one of only six Espadas ever made, Italian and German track bicycles used by the respective national teams at the 1994 World Championships and, of course, some Softrides, with their monocoque fuselages and lack of seat tubes. But even the unity of theme of this extraordinary collection is disturbed by a purchase Mr. Fischer makes from a French family–although they are in the business of vintage bikes, with 300 they look a bit like accumulators! This is a bike ridden by Eddy Merckx to victory at Paris-Nice in 1969, looking a bit weatherbeaten and scruffy in contrast to the immaculate specimens in the rest of the collection. But Mr. Fisher does say that he believes there are two kinds of collectors—the healthy ones who stop with two or three or four bikes, and then the others, who can’t stop—like him. In spite of the differences among this group of collectors, every single one of them says something to the effect that no collection is complete.

Fischer and Eddy Merckx bike

Dave Marsh runs a bicycle shop in the UK and has been collecting memorabilia for four decades, someone who seeks a link to his idols, with relics from Beryl Burton, Laurent Fignon, Tom Simpson and many others. His treasures are displayed in his bike shop, which visitors have likened to a museum, and he has the true collector’s love for his possessions, a passion triggered by nostalgia, or memories of a personal contact, or some deeper meaning. His particularly proud of a beautiful Raleigh, constructed at the company’s Special Bicycle Development Unit in Ilkeston, for Beryl Burton in 1981, bearing the serial number BB1/81. It was advertised in a British cycling publication and as soon as Marsh saw the ad he called at 7 in the morning and soon after was in possession. He is equally proud of a rainbow jersey that belonged to British legend Tom Simpson.

Beryl Burtion SBDU bike

Dave Marsh and Tom Simpson rainbow jersey

Another owner of a bicycle shop has collected in a very different way. James Lynn’s focus is on mountain bikes, a category that is comparatively recent but has seen astonishingly rapid technology change in only a few decades, with more than a few ideas shifting over to the conservative world of road racing. Mr. Lynn’s collection takes up a great deal of space in what looks like an attic and the back room of the shop, with boxes piled up, to the amusement of his staff, who think that perhaps the passion has gotten a bit out of control. But it is clear that the bicycles and parts, some quite rare, some forerunners of greater things with others being tech dead ends, give him enormous pleasure and this is first and foremost the goal of any collection.

James Lynn and mountain bikes

Two mountain bikes

The third British example is the collection belonging to Michael Sodeau, co-owner of a European-style London cafe called Vermuteria. Mr. Sodeau’s interest is very much focused on aesthetics rather than technology and his collection of memorabilia reflects the Golden Age of Bicycle Racing, the period from the 1950s until the mid-1970s,when Giants of the Road ruled the peloton. Of particular interest to Mr. Sodeau, whose cafe is named for and features a wide variety of vermouths, is material related to G.S. Carpano, a powerful Italian cycling team sponsored by a Milanese vermouth company and famous for its black-and-white striped kit. The look of everything is what matters here—the old photos, the signage, even the fonts that were used. There is a frame from the workshop of Dario Pegoretti, famed for his artistic painting, with references to the history of the Giro d’Italia.

Michael Sodeau and Pegoretti frame

Carpano memorabilia

Vermuteria signs

The final segment is perhaps the most intriguing. Amy Danger lives in Portland, Oregon, and became enthused by fixed gear bicycles, beginning with a 1993 Cannondale. As waves of novelty have swept through the bicycle world over the decades—from hickory frames to experiments in suspension to titanium bolts and extra-large jockey wheels to mountain bikes to gravel bikes—in the 1990s there was a surprising surge in interest in fixed gear bikes. Once upon a time these were either track bikes for the velodrome or track bikes used by Old School diehard racers to train on the roads early in the season but their low cost and simplicity made them attractive for bicycle messengers who had no fear of lack of brakes or freewheels. Ms. Danger has what she describes as a collection that is “small but mighty” and as she learned more about the bikes and entered into the community of the like-minded she discovered other branches of the fixie tree. She is perhaps the most focused of the collectors in the program and her bicycles are lovingly displayed in a fashion that does not overwhelm. Although Ms. Danger does admit that no collection is over complete…

Amy Danger collection

The Takhion

Her new-found knowledge brought her to bikes from the Soviet Union and her example is a Takhion, made in Ukraine. Other bikes have more familiar brand names, such as Rossin, Cinelli, and Colnago. She says that when she obtained a Cinelli Laser track bike that was the ultimate but she was to eventually find what is clearly the pearl of the collection. This is another Cinelli Laser, a 1987 Rivoluzione, and it appears to be unique, a design with no seat tube.

Amy Danger with Cinelli

One of the pleasures of collecting is the stories that attach to the bicycles and her account of how she got this odd bicycle is wonderful, the thrill of the hunt. It seems to have left Italy and made its way to Brazil, where the owner used it pretty hard. After his death, the family had no idea what it was and the beat-up frame ended up for garbage collection and was salvaged, then making its way on further travels to Europe and then the United States. Its owner in Florida planned to restore it but was overwhelmed by the prospect and so it came to Amy Danger. The restoration process took 2 1/2 years and the result is a wild 35 year old track bike that looks brand new. Ms. Danger’s interest in bicycles has extended to another hobby, that of photography as she wanted to show her machines with the background being Portland, a city she loves.

Cinelli Rivoluzione

Cinelli Rivoluzione

Ms. Danger stands out in this video for two particular reasons: she is a woman and the distaff side is supremely underrepresented in the world of collectors but even more astonishing is the fact that she actually rides her bicycles. For all the other collectors, the bicycle represents something—a link with childhood idols, an aesthetic period, new advances in technology for better or worse, a very serious investment—but none of them talk about the pleasures of riding. A track bike is as basic as a bike can be and Ms. Danger enthuses about the joys of riding through her city and we see her en route, riding through the rain and using her foot against the rear wheel to brake.

Amy Danger riding in Portland

“The Super Collectors” is an entertaining window into the diverse world of bicycle collectors. There is far more out there for people interested in this world. Some collect antique high-wheelers, or signed jerseys or photos or literature, like Grand Tour roadbooks. And in some sense all these collectors are just custodians as eventually these objects will move on to other owners (even if they end up on a trash pile in Sao Paulo). Some years ago I went to a museum near Buffalo, New York whose owner had amassed over 400 antique bicycles and an amazing amount of paraphernalia and we spent a few hours together talking about what was on display. There was a plan to relocate the museum to new quarters near the Erie Canal but this never happened. Rather, after his death the collection was broken up and auctioned, scattered across the country. This is the fate of many collections where those inheriting do not share or even understand the passion of the collector. But I would have loved to have his bicycle motif beer steins!

Beer stein collection

On a personal note, my own very modest collection/accumulation began with acquisition of a rather beaten-up lugged steel frame on E-Bay. It was thought to have been built by Giuseppe Marinoni in Montreal but painted up as a Raleigh Racing USA item, one of 25 bicycles so done. One of those was ridden by Connie Carpenter to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. I had the pleasure of diving into research and was even able to contact the manager of the team, who passed on my inquiry to a team mechanic, who was pretty sure my frame was not one of theirs and probably wasn’t worth anything. As well, Marinoni confirmed this was not one of the bikes they made. However, I did discover that the frame was indeed a pro-level one made by the Special Bicycle Development Unit of Raleigh, a 12 man “Skunk Works” whose bicycles are much sought-after today.

Raleigh SBDU

I obtained the corect decals from California, Campagnolo parts from the USA, Europe, Japan, and Australia, had a set of wheels made in Virginia, and the bike was refinished by Cycles Marinoni, with the now-retired Giuseppe making a new fork. Shipping the E-Bay frame from the US to Canada had cost more than the frame itself and my wife was horrified when it arrived, wondering why I wanted an old piece of junk, but she thinks it is beautiful post-restoration. It rides superbly, even with those stupid toe clip pedals, and it has the kind of history no modern bike from the shop floor has. So watch “The Super Collectors” and gain an understanding of the pleasures of collecting and—who knows?–it might kindle your own “accumulation!”

“The Super Collectors”, hosted by Jon Cannings, 57 minutes
It was released on April 12 on GCN+ and subscribers can view it here:

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