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Barry Davies – Colourful Cyclocross Star of the 70’s and 80’s

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These last few winters we’ve tracked down some of those colourful British cyclo-cross stars of the 70’s and 80’s – Keith Mernickle, Eric Stone and Chris Wreghitt have all told their stories to VeloVeritas.

But perhaps the most colourful of them all was the man with the ‘George Best Look’ and the lightest of bikes – Barry Davies.

Barry recently gave of his time to remind us about a time when it all seemed like so much more of an adventure – and more fun…

Barry Davies
Barry Davies.

You were a runner, originally Barry – how did you get into cyclo-cross?

“It’s true that when I started cyclo-cross I was known as a runner – but I had a background of cycling too. I was good at cross country running at both school and club level from the age of 13 so it was cross country in the winter months and track running in the summer. Then as an experiment we had two lady teachers at our boys only school.

“One of the ladies was a keen cyclist with the Apollo Wheelers in Manchester. She started to run weekly cycling rides on Saturdays which I started to go on as we all had bikes and used to ride the four miles to school and back.

“Although I was a good at cross country I was never fast enough at 800/1500m so cycling took over during the summer months. This consisted of riding time trials and schoolboy road races in the Manchester area.

“I then discovered that although I was not fast enough for 800/1500m I was fast enough for the 1500/2000m steeplechase race and so my cycling took a back seat.

“I won every title in the UK in 1965 both at schools and club level and was short listed for the Commonwealth Games in 1966 at the 3000 steeplechase.

“Following various training programs issued by AAA coaches did not produce the required results – only injuries. This was the time when running 12 miles a day was the norm.

“I started to ride my bike to see if I could recover from injuries and purely by chance I ended up working with the Shuttleworth brothers – who are still riding cross in the North West Races – they suggested that I ride cyclo-cross.

“So in 1967 I rode the opening race at Flixton – I punctured and did not finish – the next race I was in the top 10 and progressed from there.”

Tell us about ‘the look’, with the hair and the beard.

“As it seems now that every top cyclist has a beard – this was not the case in the 70’s. It was not planned I just hated shaving and having my hair cut! But having a beard and long hair certainly helped especially when racing abroad as it was unheard of – a bit like the bearded lady at the circus!

“I think I was known as ‘the Bearded Englishman’ when contracts were being sorted for ‘cross races.”

You were professional ’68 to ’82 but why the break in the 70’s?

“I rode full time as a pro from 1971 to the end of the 75/76 season and during the winter decided to move from Yorkshire to North Wales where I had spent all of my school holidays. Also my contract was not renewed with Ron Kitching as he did not have a team in 1976 and it was difficult to find a proper pro contract.

“I did not race in 1977 or 1978 as was busy settling down to life in the mountains of North Wales where I still live.

“I returned in 1979 and got in touch with Harry Quinn Cycles, who used to build all my cyclo-cross frames for Ron Kitching. Harry had sold the company and moved to North Wales but I agreed to ride for a team called San Marco Harry Quinn.

“I rode the first race and was second and then third in the Three Peaks so was back to a good level.

“I arranged to go over and get all my bikes and clothing and equipment as agreed, but when I got there – nothing! Not even the guy who I arranged the contract with.

“I rang the BCF the next day and they cancelled the contract.

“I won a big race the next weekend in London and it was all reported in the Cycling Magazine – the race and the contract problems – and I received a phone call from Mr Jack Fletcher of Trumanns Steel to come and ride for his club Team Manchester Wheelers.

“There were no rules under BCCA rules to stop this so I rode the rest of the cross season for Manchester Wheelers Trumanns Steel. The BCF were not happy about this as they did not want pro riders riding for amateur teams – so we ended up changing the team name to Trumanns Steel with Been Bag Clothing as another sponsor for all the clothing.

“I rode till the end of the 1982 season when sponsored clubs took over.”

Barry Davies
The beard and long hair wasn’t common in the pro’ ranks.

You had a few sponsors in that time – which was best?

“They were all very different – the first, Sports Motors Manchester was where I worked and my boss kept seeing my name in the paper winning races.

“He was interested in cycling having ridden on the track at Fallowfield and was also running the works Brabham Formula 3 racing car in the UK championship which we had won; so he agreed to sponsor me for a year – I think I got £100 for the year.

“But wages were about £18 per week at the time.

“I ended up at Ron Kitching via Harry Quinn – I had ridden for Tower Cycles with Eric Stone for a year but thanks to Harry ended up with bikes built by him with Jacques Anquetil transfers applied via Ron and all the Ron Kitching Milremo equipment on them.

“I rode with a plain jersey with some small Milremo badges on. Some pictures appeared in Cycling Weekly and the BCF threatened to ban me for advertising.

“I spoke to Mr Kitching and he said ‘OK, we better have a team’ which was how the famous ‘Green and Blacks’ Ron Kitching team was formed. Everybody was great up in the HQ at Harrogate with all the best equipment available.

“I rode for Mr Fletcher at Trumann’s for four years but had very little contact with him – he left all the clothing and equipment up to me to sort out; he just enjoyed seeing the results in the papers and magazines.”

Barry Davies
Barry was an early adopter of skinsuits and lightweight gear in cyclocross.

You were the first to get into the superlite equipment – and the first to use a titanium frame – tell us about that.

“When I was first to meet Harry Quinn he told me to bring my existing cross bike with me. It was a 24 inch Carlton as in those days you rode with very little seat pin out. He took one look at it and said ‘I see you like riding on a farmers gate size frame!’

“He then told me to go and ride a 22.5 inch road bike up and down the street – the difference was incredible. So he built the bike like a road frame but slightly longer forks around the fork crown and slightly longer rear end.

“People talk about Colnago in Italy but more top riders rode Harry’s bikes I’m sure – like me – with other builder’s transfers on. He used to love to do the impossible.

“Ron did not really have a good cantilever brake set and I was using Zeus equipment which was great, so he came up with the idea of stripping the callipers down to the two arms and fitting them direct onto bosses on the frame, which worked great – the USA frame builders did the same thing on MTB bikes years later.

“He also weighed the tubing and used a real mixture to build me some light frames – Reynolds 531SL with 531 double butted down tube whilst the back end was a mixture of Columbus/Ishiwata/Vitus whichever was lightest.

“At Ron Kitching I used to weigh everything before building the bike. One of the major things to save weight with was the Zeus 2000 freewheels – made in alloy and like a Swiss Watch inside. I think my racing bikes were something like 19 lbs in weight.

“In 1975 Ron Kitching took on the sales side of Speedwell Titanium framesets that were being made in Birmingham. It was decided that to get some publicity I would use one on my attempt to set a cycling record for the 270 mile Pennine Way here in the UK.

“It all went well till the last 10 miles when the frame broke whilst on the Cheviot Hills. I was very lucky that it was a mile from the only access to the Pennine Way but still had to do a four mile detour and an extra hour to get my spare Speedwell and onto the finish and set the record.”