From the Beechworth bunch: Ross



Related interviews: John • Paul • Charlie • Peter


The bike: “It’s a Malvern Star Oppy Racer from 1936. The bike was found in a council rubbish drive. I was looking for a gear changer because I was building up a recumbent bike and I wanted to do it cheaply. All I saw from a heap of junk was a gear changer and the diamond-head stem. I retrieved it and immediately knew it was worth restoring.

“A few weeks later I thought I’d better go back to the house where I found it and get a bit of history about the bike, but unfortunately the people had moved and that’s why it was being thrown out. I think it must have been hanging in the shed for about 40 years. One side of the bike has deteriorated with time and yet the other side is in good condition. The bike was complete when I found it and all I had to do was remove some surface rust and regrease the bearings. Also, this bike has 28 inch wheels but by 1937 they had gone to 27 inch.

“The saddle was a genuine full-grain hide and I went to a leather shop in Melbourne and the guy behind the counter knew exactly what I was looking for. He suggested the next best thing would be kangaroo hide, so I got a cut of that and had it stitched up for this bike.

“Apparently, Oppy was a fan of mattress style saddles with long springs underneath. I’ve heard that he used that sort of saddle on all his long distance rides.”


The groupset: “All the lugs, the chainring, the pedals, both front and rear hubs, the bearing cups… they’re all original BSA. It has three-speed Cyclo gears that were made in Birmingham in 1934 but they were banned from races for two years when they first arrived in Australia.”


Kilometre count: “In an average week, I’d probably ride about 30km or something like that. I try not to use my car and I go on a lot of organised events like the Great Victorian Bike Ride because I like the social side of it; there’s no competition and you can just ride along at your own pace.

“L’Eroica had riders with various levels of ability and because there was a common theme, we had a great time.”


Good points: “The shape of the handlebars allows you to stand up and pedal uphill and I believe it’s a more comfortable position than with modern bikes. The gearing that is supplied with bikes from this era means it was quite common to need to get out of the saddle. I don’t stay down in the drops all that long, I find that I move around quite a bit.

“The Bowden brakes are excellent and have a return spring that keep the pads clear of the rim when the brake is not applied. Also, there are keepers near the pads and the callipers just don’t flex… consequently they are quite effective.”


Bad points: “Probably the worst thing is the racing pedals which came with the bike. They are very narrow and I’ve got a large foot so I had to bend the cage a fraction. I suppose in those days people had smaller feet but it is one thing I had to modify a little bit.”


Miscellaneous: “I was aware of what Oppy had done but since I got the bike, I’ve looked up a bit of his history.

“My grandfather lived in Sale and he used to race. He went in one race from Melbourne to Sale and his story was that they did it in 17 hours. I don’t know how true that was, but he had a few bikes hanging in his shed and I suppose that’s where my interest in bikes stems from.”

Author: rob@ride

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