It was the Tour of Ara that got Las hooked. Up until then, he’d done some commuting in London and would regularly do the Cycle Tour after he and his wife emigrated to Cape Town in 2007.
But it was something altogether tougher that started his passion for vintage bicycles.
The brainchild of Stan Engelbrecht, the Tour of Ara was held between 2014-2018. A grueling six-day race through the dirt roads of the Karoo, it was a homage to those early Italian stage races and had to be ridden on a vintage South African-made steel bike. It’s quite way to get hooked on collecting bikes, but there Las was at the start line of the 2014 race.
“Anyone privileged enough to have been there will tell you it was life changing,” says Las. “Totally by accident I heard about this event three days beforehand and was drawn in by Stan’s aesthetic and passion for cycling history and the prospect of seeing the Karoo.”
“I borrowed a Le Jeune from a friend and got the last place (Rider #35) because of a late withdrawal. The ride broke me at times but it was an adventure one rarely experiences in modern life, setting out not knowing if it can be done at all.”
“Out there, in the wild and in the elements unsupported, a bond was formed between riders and their bicycles. I found my tribe, and I knew from that point that my ‘collecting gene’ would now focus on steel bicycles.”
It didn’t take our new-found vintage bike enthusiast much time to go from zero to a collection that now numbers ‘around 40’. And they don’t all spend time hanging on the wall either.
“I ride all my vintage bicycles, all the time. I find more enjoyment from riding vintage bicycles and they are still very much fit for purpose to this day. I am constantly amazed at how well these bicycles have aged, how smooth they ride, and how much care went into their design and manufacture.”
“The bicycle was perfected half a century ago, in my opinion. Innovations such as tubeless tyres, disc brakes, wide range cassettes and electronic groupsets provide marginal gains no doubt but they don’t add any more magic for me.”
1. Peter Allan, 1980s
“It is a pretty standard entry level, manufactured for retail sale rather than those custom by Francois Du Toit for Peter Allan Haubt / Kriel and Binneman Cycles in Bellville. It’s relatively early, stamped A571 and with a handpainted signature.”
Frame: Reynolds 501
Group set: Mixed Shimano and Weinmann
Wheels: Mavic MA2 rims, Mavic hubs
Sourced: “I looked on Gumtree from the day I got back from the first Tour of Ara and found this for R1 000 or so. The lady was selling on behalf of some family members, twin boys who had raced identical bicycles in their youth so there were actually two to choose from!”
What makes it special: “It was my first steel bicycle but also because of the experiences we’ve shared. I completed two more Tour of Ara on it, along with many hard kilometres improving me as a rider.”
2. Le Jeune 1990s
“It’s pure class, unusually for local frame, built with Columbus tubing and fitted with sublime Shimano 600 Tricolour (my favourite groupset of all time). Though sadly showing quite a bit if surface rust now, the classic navy blue paint scheme with white decals and trim is refined and elegant.”
Frame: Columbus SLX
Groupset: Complete Shimano 600 Tricolour
Wheels: Wolber TX Profil, Shimano 600 Tricolour hubs
Sourced: “At this point I was looking on Gumtree quite regularly, I recall clearly seeing this ad less than a minute old on my phone whilst I was waiting in my local chip shop. The gent selling it had recently retired from a lifetime of service at Groote Schuur Hospital; he told me it had belonged to 'a tall European doctor' and he had gifted it to him for his son, but he was selling it to fund a mountain bike. Its 58cm, way too big for my 170cm height I was told, but it fits me perfectly and I’ve only looked for bigger frames since.”
What makes it special: “It’s that sweet spot of functional vintage – it’s both of its time and as good as anything you can get today. It's so light, so smooth, never given any trouble, and a joy to ride all day. We’ve ridden a Double Century, my fastest Cycle Tour and Eroica South Africa all in the same year.”