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Dave Marsh – 42 Years Running his Universal Cycle Centre

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If, like me, you spend too much time on social media then you’ll be aware of the name, ‘Dave Marsh.’

His Universal Cycle Centre page keeps popping up with beautiful renovation jobs on ‘retro’ gems – with Raleigh in particular a marque they’ve made a science of.

High time we had a word with Retro Royalty…

Dave Marsh
Dave Marsh and his Universal Cycling Centre. Photo©supplied

How did you get into cycling, Dave?

“I’m a third generation cyclist, my grandad was a cyclist and my dad ran a cycling club in Dinnington, the club had been started way back in the 20’s but folded in 1955; my dad revived it in 1959.

“I was nine-years-old and every Sunday I’d pester my dad to be allowed to go out on the club runs.

“I was 10 years-old when I went on my first run, we did 60 miles, I had to be pushed some of the way and punctured three time.”

You seem to have a special connection with Raleigh?

“I left school at 15 years-of-age and went to work at Carlton Cycles, my dad was a miner but was a friend of Gerald O’Donovan who owned Carlton Cycles – Gerald went on to run the Raleigh SBDU [Specialist Bicycle Development Unit] where Peter Post’s TI Raleigh team frames were built. 

“Gerald gave me a job at Carlton and took me under his wing, he was always very good to me – he eventually sold Carlton to the Raleigh company.”

Dave Marsh
Dave Marsh produces beautiful renovations. Photo©supplied

And you were team mechanic for the 60’s/70’s Carlton professional racing team?

“Yes, I was still in my teens and Gerald gave me the job of building the bikes up for the pro team. Initially it was the Carlton BMB team with riders like Bob Addy, Bernard Burns, Wes Mason and Arthur Metcalfe then it went on to become TI Carlton with riders like John Atkins, Tony Gowland and Derek Harrison.

“Tony liked everything to be ‘just so,’ he always wanted the bottom bracket taken out of the bike for thorough cleaning, not just a spin of the cranks to make sure it was running freely.  

“I didn’t do all the races with them but I remember my first one – that was the Tour of the South West, a big race in those days.”

I believe you have a couple of Carlton ‘Campag stories.’

“Gerald used to get prototype equipment from Campagnolo and I was the first in the country to ride a Campag Nuovo Record, light alloy rear gear mechanism in 1967.

“Gerald said that if anyone asked about it I had to say I bought it on holiday in Italy!

“Then there was the day I was working away in the factory and I saw Gerald showing these two well-dressed guys around, I overheard him speaking Italian to them.

“He brought them over and introduced me; ‘this is young David,’ we shook hands – Tulio and Valentino Campagnolo, I froze; it was like meeting Royalty.” 

Dave Marsh
Photo©supplied

Why leave Carlton?

“As the business expanded they had to take on more workers, the pits were beginning to close at that time and there were a lot of miners in the labour pool – the company recruited a number of them.

“The thing was that they all came from a highly unionised background and would down tools at the slightest provocation, I got sick of it and left.”

And you started Universal Cycle Centre?

“It was something I thought about in the 70’s but I enjoyed my job and it paid well.

“I went OK riding road races and was actually offered a pro contract but the wage was only £20/week – I was making £60 or £70 at my job and I was enjoying my racing too – I raced on hard and grass track and on the road, I was never much into time trials.

“It was the constant strikes which I mentioned that nudged me into starting the shop; that was in 1980, so we’ve been going for 42 years.”

Dave Marsh
Dave Marsh in his fantastic shop. Photo©Andy Jones

You sponsored the Dinnington Racing Club as I recall?

“Yes, it was a decision I made to promote the shop and the frames we sold.

“The name Universal came from sponsorship from the building firm my brother worked for, Universal Contractors. At that time the British Cycling Federation only allowed two lines of advertising on clothing so we put ‘Universal’ on the top line, with ‘cycle centre’ in little letters after it, and ‘Contractors’ directly underneath ‘Universal’.

“We won 37 national titles if you include those awarded by the TLI and LVRC as well as British Cycling Federation.

“Wayne Randle, John Tanner, Matthew Charity, Alistair Wood, Julian Ramsbottom, Stuart Morris, Dean and Russell Downing and Chris Walker, were all members of Dinnington RC at one time or another. 

“Five Dinnington club members were selected to ride in the Commonwealth Games, while Neil Miller and Rob Coull were both to represent Team GB at the 1988 Seoul Olympics but a crash put Miller out, Coull made the trip though.”

Dave Marsh
Chris Walker (left) worked for Dave Marsh in the shop for a bit. Photo©supplied

But you weren’t a bad rider yourself, Dave?

“As I said, I was offered a pro contract in my younger days, all told I won somewhere in the region of 120/125 races in my career – I finished racing but I came back in my 30’s and raced up until I was into my 50’s, winning British titles in LVRC, TLI and VCRA races.”

Tell us about those Dave Marsh frames, a lot of races were won on them.

“I can design frames but I’m not a frame builder, my frames were built by Rik Powell who worked at Carlton.

“Paul Blower also built frames for me – he built one of the very first 753 frames, Reynolds wouldn’t sell that tubing to just anyone, you had to build a ‘test’ frame for them and send it back for them to scrutinise and approve you as a 753 builder.

“We sold a lot of frames and a lot of races were won on them, it’s true.” 

Dave Marsh
Dave Marsh has been running the Universal Cycle Centre for 42 years. Photo©supplied

How did the ‘retro’ focus come about?

“In the 80’s when Shimano really began to take off and people would bring in their bikes to get them ‘up-spec’d,’ the old equipment which was replaced, I’d keep, clean up and sell at cycle jumbles.

“I realised that there was a market for the retro equipment – it really took off when I was on a trip to Belgium and I visited bike shops and asked about their ‘new, old stock.’

“They were delighted to get the stuff away and we’d go round all the little shops and snap up their unwanted old stock; they were glad to get rid of it.

“I bought 700 pumps on one occasion and 500 pairs of Campag toe clips on another.

“The retro trade kept the shop alive at a time when you had those big mail order adverts in the Cycling Weekly from the likes of Parker, Ribble and Graham Weigh – and now, of course, you have Wiggle and Chain Reaction.”

Dave Marsh
Dave Marsh can still sell you Campag Super Record toe clips if you need them. Photo©supplied

I believe that the USA and Taiwan are the big markets for retro?

“Yes, and Japan too, but we post stuff off to Australia and New Zealand, all over the world – it’s a huge market. I’m learning all the time and the rewards can be good.

“I bought a set of unusual Campag ‘phosphor bronze’ gear levers for £1:00, they sold to a collector for £775 on eBay.”

How do you source those wonderful old decals and head badges?

“When Carlton closed down they had a massive filing cabinet full of decals, I bought the lot – and I also bought a batch of 1,000 Raleigh head badges.

“But there must have been so much great stuff just thrown out when Raleigh finished up…”

I could hear the sadness in Dave’s voice when he thought about all those retro goodies going to waste. And I must get up to my hut and get that old Campag stuff cleaned up…

With thanks to Dave and looking forward to seeing the fruits of his next renovation.

Check out Dave’s Classic Cycles and Memorabilia web site if you’re looking for anything vintage.

Ed Hood
Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 47 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, a team manager, and a sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days for some of the world's top riders. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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