Scott, Craig And Gavin's 1934 Oppy LeJog Recreation Attempt Continues.
Sir Hubert Opperman getting the knots in. Photo bicyclehistory.com.au
Scott Dickson will be known to regular readers of the Brooks Blog as one of a trio of Tasmanian tourers who like doing things the hard way. In 2011 they tackled Paris-Brest-Paris on machines which in their overall build largely pre-dated the Second World War.
Since that time we have heard from Scott in regard to their next project. A Land’s End to John O’ Groats ride in 2014, featuring the three once again on period machinery to mark the 80th anniversary of the 1934 LeJog record finishing time set by Sir Hubert Opperman (“Oppy”). We let Scott take up the story…
What exactly do you choose to pedal when planning to ride Land’s End to John O’Groats in celebration of Sir Hubert Opperman’s 1934 record? A modern carbon-fibre ‘Oppy’ with electronic shifting, or something more familiar to the man – 30’s steel with three closely spaced gear ratios?
When setting out to ride the 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris on 1930’s bikes, we discovered to our surprise that Oppy did not ride PBP on a Malvern Star – opting for a special lightweight custom constructed for him in Paris. Rather than create replicas with newly made frames, for that daunting event we settled (by some coincidence, and expedience) on a hybrid of modern rims, spokes and tyres, new handlebars, brake blocks, and thoroughly modern lighting systems, matched to 1930’s frames, brakes and drive-train.
The Peters Ice Cream van provided Oppy with excellent drafting lines as well as ice cream.
At first it had seemed amazing enough to have chanced upon three battered but classy frames from the era – and a real thrill to ride an 80 year old locally made product. Over time we discovered a dedicated vintage following worldwide, and it turns out that it is very possible to assemble machines authentic in every detail, given time, luck and resources.
And this dilemma of historical authenticity was hit squarely upon with our last update – following a comment referencing catalogue endorsement of saddle type. Oppy certainly appears in period images, posing in regulation itchy black tights and dark woollen jersey, beside a BSA fitted with what looks like a ‘mattress’ saddle. The marketing inference is clear but product endorsements are one thing, what exactly did Oppy perch upon in the heat of competition?
We began to wonder just how close we could, or even should, try to replicate Oppy’s record-setting mount. Available images reveal some interesting contradictions, and at this range of 80 years, we would love to see any authenticated photographs of the record attempt in order to spot for clues.
A 30’s interest in record setting in the UK was marked by an intense rivalry between the hub gear camp and derailleur set. The visiting Australian, Hubert Opperman, made use of three cogs deftly selected with a Cyclo ‘standard’ mechanism – that much is consistent in all images of Oppy on his machine in 1934.
Decisions, decisions. Oppy would have had several derailleur options in the 1930′s
Exactly what it is that separates the wheels and supports the rider is not quite so obvious. Looking at these twin images you will see that the down-tube proclaims either BSA or Malvern Star, while in both cases, the branding looks suspiciously dodged in. Look a little closer, however, and it is just possible to make out a pair of stars in the head-lugs of the frame. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some professional badge engineering may be at play – Oppy piloting a familiar Malvern Star, painted up with his sponsor’s logo ?
With the sweeping assumption that these images are of the actual record machine, an ‘Oppy model’ or ‘Tour de France model’ from 1934-5, fitted with best quality BSA components and Cyclo derailleur, would seem the closest option. Now, is that a Malvern Star with ‘French’ ends or Osgear dropouts, 90 degree stem or diamond adjustable, Brooks B17 (as sold on both BSA’s and Oppy’s) or springy mattress? I know which I’d prefer. All of this is, of course, a little historical hair-splitting… but fascinating to my inner bike-nerd.
There’s more in store, as we begin to pester a local collector and authority to raid his shed, and make some decisions based on what we can actually get our grubby hands on…