Me, Andy Capp and some bikes I knew
1.12.05 by Buffalo Bill
I was sold my first fixed wheel bike by Andy Capp. At the time (1988) I had been working as a messenger for about a year and a half, and I thought I was hot stuff. The truth is that I knew nothing about anything, least of all how to ride a bike, which is why I was riding a Dawes 501 frame with cut down cow horn style bars and wearing tights that were fluoro pink and orange. Capp was one of the fastest messengers in London. He was well on his way to becoming the best messenger mechanic in London, and he was already a legend.
One day he said, ‘Bill, have I got a bike for you!’ It wasn’t a question. I meekly handed over £250 for a 531c frame that Andy had made for him by a frame shop called Renegade. It was red: not bright red, fast red and it said ‘RENEGADE’ on the down tube in big white letters. Andy got them to put on mudguard braze-ons and canti bosses, which was unusual on a frame that had backward facing drop-outs, spaced for a track hub. It had the first pair of lightweight wheels (built by Andy) that I had ever ridden, and Modolo top pull brake levers on Cinelli crit (65-42) bars. The Renegade had smooth curves, shiny paint and it was only a little heavier than my coffee maker.
Andy asked me what I thought of riding it shortly after I had bought it, and I remember saying to him that everything came towards me so quick. The next winter, a guy in a car went through a red light and broke my ankle. I didn’t work for 5 months. I was broke so I sold the Renegade back to Andy, and it was stolen shortly after.
I was getting back on my feet when Andy came to my house raving about this track frame he had just seen down in Camden market. ‘It’s wicked, it’s only £70, you gotta have it, Bill’, he said. I was still broke but Andy couldn’t bear the idea of not having this frame ‘in the family’ so he went and bought it anyway. It was a Bob Jackson, it was red and it was tight. He built it up to a similar spec to the Renegade, except it had a Dura Ace side pull and maybe the hubs were Record Strada high flange (re-spaced on the rear) and I bought it from him in installments.
It went round the turn from Hyde Park Corner into Grosvenor Place like it was on rails. Over the next 7 years Capp and I sold the ‘Bob’ to each other a couple of times (we swapped bikes all the time, even hours before riding heats of the Cycle Messenger World Championships) and rode it until it was scrap.
I had Helmut Burns put bottle cage bosses on the down tube, which Andy declared an offence against good taste, and when he broke the down tube, he was happy because he lost the hated bosses with the broken tube.
We both had our illusions shattered by that frame. Bob Jackson has a big name, but when the head tube broke, Andy and Helmut discovered that the top tube had been mitred around 0.5c short, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but that is pretty sloppy work. Around this time, I realized that I didn’t have Capp’s brute strength (he did weights and broke handle-bars and cranks as well as receptionists’ hearts), and geared down from a head-banging 52X18 to an altogether far more sensible 43X16.
After being indoors for year or so doing other things, I needed a bike to work as a messenger again. All I had was an old steel Rockhopper Comp frame, a wheel set and a few parts. I could not afford to put gears on it, I had lost some of the parts from the U brake that had been on the back and it didn’t fit me well with straight bars. I built it fixed wheel with drops. It was ugly, slow in a straight line and even slower round corners. But it rolled and I made money riding it. I actually ‘fixed’ a couple of other bikes that I abused for work, including a ‘fast-tourer’ Condor 531.
My current fixie is yet another Cappa production. He found an old Bridgestone RB-1 and had track-ends put on. He filed and filled the rear brake bridge, found an expander bolt seat pin cos the seat cluster is knackered and gave it to me. He’s my oldest and best friend, and we stopped keeping score about 10 years ago. It’s not the best looking bike, but it gets me to the office and I can lock it in Soho without worrying too much about losing it. It is often mistaken for a rubbish bin, which is probably fair comment on its looks and performance.
When Andy and I were first riding fixed wheel, there were 2 other guys (Ian Cleverly, now a Lewis Day controller, was one of them) in the whole of London on them. Old men would come up to me in the street and tell me stories about the fixed wheels they had ridden in the 40s and 50s, and everyone our age said we were crazy, and that our knees-caps would blow off, that we couldn’t get through gaps, that the cross-over between foot and front wheel was dangerous and so forth.
Capp and I went to the first messenger championships in Berlin 1993. Riding fixed wheel were 2 guys from DC, Eric Baylis & Steve Harlvel, Erik Zo Bags, me and a Berliner called Bob Schiele that no one talked to because he was so ‘weird’ and a couple of Boston guys (Andy was riding my geared bike). Now there are special races and prizes including ‘King and Queen of Fixed’ at messenger championships and certain sections of the international messenger community consider anyone who is not riding a track bike, fixed wheel, no f***ing front brake, not to be a ‘real’ messenger. Cappy and me mostly ride geared bikes now (he lives and works in SF).
In another 20 years we’ll be going up to young messengers in the street and boring the pants off them with stories about fixies we rode in the 80s and 90s.
An edited version of this article appeared in Cycling Plus 2004
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