It's Christmas 1978, and things are getting more serious for me on the cycling front as a budding young racer. I’d rapidly outgrown my Raleigh Europa, so it was time to go large (literally) with a brand spanking new 24-inch frame Falcon Professional.
Boney M. and bobble hats, those were my Christmas Day trimmings in 1978. ‘Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord’ was top of the pops that year, and my much-negotiated main present was a glittering blue Falcon Professional, all 24 inches of it (the frame that is, not the wheels!)
The Christmas before, or perhaps the one before that, I’d got a Raleigh Europa for Christmas. This bike was to transform my former youthful ‘Chopperhood’, and led me to chase curly-barred, toe-strapped dreams; but I’d ridden the hell out of it, and had really sprouted upwards in that year. Not only was the spec below par for my growing cycling dreams and intensions, it was a 21.5-inch frame, and so was now way too small for a budding 6-footer.
I’d gone all in with shorts and braces for my newfound love of cycling, but having had one of those bizarre and uninvited introductions to a club time trial earlier that year, racing was not on my radar. I just wanted to get out there and escape the world around me on two wheels - and to do it in more style - which is where the Falcon Professional entered the fray.
A new cycling club had been formed locally to me, and over an undertaker’s storeroom at an inaugural meeting I’d pledged my allegiance to the new club. Opposite the undertakers was the main local bike shop, which was run by a former national champion and Falcon pro rider, who was also a Falcon dealer.
I can still remember going down the steps into the bottom showroom with him and my dad, and seeing this huge blue gate of a bike on the wall. It was a Falcon Professional, of course, the bike that would soon be mine.
Cocking my leg over the top tube, I can remember thinking it was way too big. But he insisted it wasn’t, and that I would grow into it. I never did grow into it, much like many of the other locals who rode bikes two sizes too big during that era. It was all character building, I suppose...
The bike was made up from all sorts of strangely branded parts from the Far East, a place that was then a bit mystical and didn’t have a great reputation for making bikes. Ironically it’s a region that was to become the future of all things bike, unbeknownst to us back then.
Beneath its shiny pale blue exterior were tubes of CroMo, a material I’d never heard of at the time. It had aluminium cranks and parts branded SR and perhaps even Sugino adorned the bike, with a Tange headset holding the forks on and Shimano gears; although if memory serves me well, the shifters may have been Suntour. It’s all stuff that I’d never heard of back then, but would come to know all too well in the years that followed.
My old Europa was chopped in as part exchange, and I would see the beast again on Christmas day. I was a little dubious of the stature and size of my new ride, but hey, who knows. Maybe I’d be 6”6 by next Christmas?
Needless to say it was a chilly old Christmas, and I couldn’t wait to get out and ride my new giant of a CroMo Falcon. Keeping me warm was a new bobble hat and a short-sleeved crew neck jersey, all knitted on my mom’s new knitting machine. Way ahead of the times, as always!
I can’t remember much of the very first ride or two, but a week later and it was the annual local New Year’s Day 10-mile time trial, which was sponsored by Cinzano (they had a bottling plant locally). Despite my past initial time trial trauma, I somehow found myself lining up for my first ever 10-mile TT. As was the norm back then, it also meant an eight-mile ride to the start line and back home again after the TT.
Due to it being my first real time trial I must have had a good handicap, and so ended up second on handicap. The prize for the New Year and new start in cycling? Two 1.5 litre bottles of Cinzano, one Bianco and one Rosso naturally.
What would a young 13-year-old do with such prizes? Well, I guess many would have swigged them and stashed them behind the bike shed before the adults found out, but not me. Plus I still had to get them home. With one bottle in each side of my new hand-knitted jersey pockets, the ride home begun which included a long drawn out drag of a climb.
I can still remember struggling up that climb, with two huge bottles of grog stretching my jersey halfway down my thighs and swinging around like a chicken on crack.
That bright blue dream machine did indeed take my cycling up a notch or two. I did my first races on it, and my first 100-mile ride. However, sadly we just didn’t mesh in the size department, and after a year of sitting just above the crossbar it was time to downsize and upgrade once more.
I still look back with a grin and a cringe at this bike, simply because of the sizing. The following Christmas it was banished to the land of the giants, although later on I did also soon get hold of a smaller second-hand Falcon Professional. What a great bike it was…
Happy Christmas folks.