Meet the couple who seek out British steel frames from yesteryear.
“I got fed up of seeing these really good bikes getting trashed,” said William Alves, surrounded by a lavish collection of Mercians, Carltons, Vernon Barkers, Claud Butlers, Freddie Grubbs, JF Wilsons and around 40 other steel framed ‘hero’ bicycles with beautiful metalwork, but dodgy 1970s and 80s graphics.
“So I started recycling them,” he said.
“It’s now a lifestyle business,” said Carol Parsons, fellow coordinator of their Glory Days retro and vintage bike company.
“Or a hobby that got out of hand,” added William happily.
The couple were in at the start of Eroica Britannia, the now massive Peak District cycling jamboree launched by Sheffielders Gian Bohan, Nick Cotton, Tim Hubbard and Marco Mori in 2013.
Lifelong cyclists Carol and William work for the Peak District National Park and Derbyshire Dales councils respectively, and helped design the original local Eroica route on tracks and roads, aiming to replicate the famous bumpy ‘white roads’ of Tuscany used by Italian Eroica, or ‘heroic’ cycling festival.
Only pre 1987 steel framed bicycles can be used at the popular Eroica events, which now attract many people outside the host country, who prefer not to risk transporting their own bicycles from home on an aeroplane.
“We went over to an Eroica in Gaiole in Tuscany and paid a lot of money to hire bikes for the event, and it made us wonder if we could do the same thing here?” said Carol.
And so Glory Days was born. William and Carol collect or buy old steel-framed bicycles from local recycling companies like Recycle Bikes or via internet sellers, or are given them by family members who’d rather their mum or dad’s old treasured steed be ridden than hang rusting in the garage.
“A steel bike is often handbuilt, comfortable and will give the right amount of spring on the road,” said William. “And wherever you are in the world, steel can always be repaired.”
They seek out British – built frames only, in particularly ones made locally, such as JF Wilsons (Sheffield), M&B and Vernon Barker (Dronfield), Carlton and Dave Marsh (Rotherham) and Peak Cycles (Matlock) among others. The art is seeing a resurgence, with Field Cycles established in Sheffield and the Birmingham Holdsworth brand now taken up by Rotherham’s Planet X.
Once they have a veteran steel frame, William and Carol often rebuild with new wheels, components and decals (stickers) to make the bike close to the original. As collectors items, the ‘head badges’ can be more expensive, with some costing more than the bikes, said Carol.
A deal with Brooks of Birmingham means that Glory Days bikes are often fitted with their classic leather bike saddles and saddle bags, which contain for the hirer an inner tube, tyre levers, a mini pump and the cyclist’s staple tool, a rag. “Which might be one of William’s old socks,” noted Carol.
The couple will be hiring out most of their stock (and old socks) for this year’s Eroica Brittannia, with just a few remaining for last minute hire at the event from June 15-17 at Newhaven, near Hartington. Customers travel from as far as Australia and Singapore, said William.
Tourists attracted to riding in the Peak District are now hiring Glory Days machines for a weekend of elegant cycling – for around £40 a day, William and Carol will deliver bike and kit to anywhere within around 10 miles of Bakewell, and also lead tours visiting attractions like cream tea venues.
Neither a hip replacement nor a heart operation is holding William back, and he still cycles to work in the Derbyshire Dales and joins wife Carol in rides across the world’s mountain ranges.
“A bike is a form of transport,” he says, adding that the latest trend for drop handlebar ‘gravel bikes’ (partly following the popularity of gravelly cycling on Eroica’s unpaved roads) works just as well for everyday but picturesque travel locally.
You can do fashionable gritty commuting on local trails, like the bridleways of Ecclesall Woods, the Transpennine Trail or via byways and farm tracks on the edge of the Outdoor City, he says.
But on a gleaming Vernon Barker or Freddie Grubb, it’s just that little bit more heroic.
More info: Glory Days