I saw a thing of beauty recently. I was on my morning commute, riding down Talbot Road in Old Trafford, Manchester. I stood on the pedals and pushed hard. I had to check it out.

As I got nearer I knew I was right. It was a classic 80s road bike. Newly refurbished, spangly, shiny, pillar box red, polished and looking as good as new. Look at that!

Since my teenage years, I’ve loved steel road bikes. Even though frame materials and design have progressed hugely since those days, the aesthetics of these bikes have never been matched. The thin tubes, paralllel top tube and comparatively large frame by today’s compact standards give them a class that is truly unrivalled. In my opinion they are the e-type of bikes, the little black dress equivalent or perhaps a peer of Concorde in the classic design stakes – superseded but never bettered.

Why do I like them so much? Perhaps I’m harking back to my childhood? The bike that gave me my first real taste of freedom was a steel framed Dawes Jaguar. It was everything to me, my paper-round work horse, my social life, my access to sports and girlfriends. It was the thing that gave me access to to my formative years, got me into trouble and sometimes even out of trouble. We went everywhere together.

My love affair with the Dawes continues to this day. I’ve never had the heart to sell it and despite it languishing in my loft for well over a decade it is now back, pride of place, in my bike stable. After a renovation of sorts it’s looking careworn but still runs like a dream. I’ve written previously about my planned renovations in the veloplan and this is why.

The inevitable march of progress has, however, seen steel frames retire from the local bike shop. The main reason for this is its demise in the pro-peloton. This in turn has been caused by the replacement of steel by lighter aluminium and then carbon materials. The introduction of new materials has consequently enabled the use of oversized tubes and compact geometry and before you can even say Eddy Merckx the whole bike has changed for good. Call me a Luddite but I like the look of the old bikes and it seems I’m not the only one.

CycleThe appeal of steel as a material has waned but never disappeared completely. In fact, the Madison-Genesis team are riding the steel Genesis Volare 953 this year. Technology is a funny thing though. Despite the massive progress in carbon technology the team will be riding a frame only a couple of hundred grams heavier than most carbon frames this year. Steel is not dead.

Back to Talbot Road. Of course I had to stop the unfortunate guy riding it. He was on his way to the shops poor fella but he was cheery enough. I was expecting him the a steel bike enthusiast, perhaps even the guy who’d restored it. Maybe he has dozens of them? ‘Those lovely folk at Northern Soul deserve to read about this collection,’ I thought to myself. ‘Perhaps he’ll give me tips on the pending renovation projects in my basement, awaiting my attention?’ I mused.

The bike was an early 80s Dawes Galaxy. The restorer was Garry Jones. The rider his son-in-law. I had to meet Garry.

Roll the clock forward a few weeks and I had tracked him down, exchanged emails, established he lived round the corner from me and was stood in his back garden as he brought both completed and current projects from the shed. It seemed I’d discovered a veritable Pandora’s box in my own neighbourhood. Love it.

BikesGarry is a man who likes to tinker. A retired mechanical engineer, he got his first road bike at age 11. He was never a racer but has always “pootled around”. He renovated his first bike around four years ago having moved on from the motorbikes he’d worked on for 20 years. His first bike was a Viking Hosteller and since then he has completed the restoration of a Dawes Eschelon (pictured), a Diamant Clubman 14 speed time trial bike and of course the Dawes Galaxy. Current and future projects include a Carlton Corsair and a Continental, followed by an old Sun frame “to put all the spares on”.

That he is currently working on a Carlton Corsair is a big co-incidence as it is exactly the same as the bike that I found in my basement when I moved in – and is my main winter bike project. Two identical 1970s bikes within half a mile – what are the odds? Meeting Garry gave me the perfect opportunity to make progress safe in the knowledge that I can always phone a friend if I get stuck.

Where does he get the parts? “It’s a mix of shopping around online and going to bike jumbles” he replies. Well bike jumble sales are a sizeable enough sub-culture to warrant an article all of their own but, take it from me, if you’ve never been to one just go. You’ll walk around open-mouthed either with incredulity or amazement. They have to be seen to be believed.

So what advice can Garry give to Northern Soul readers?

Garry’s top tips

  • Have a go – it’s not hard but can be time consuming.
  • Find a friend in the know – to bounce ideas and questions off.
  • Go to bike jumbles – apart from being a source of parts and a fascinating day out, stall holders are a font of knowledge and very willing to share it.
  • Check price of parts online.
  • Strip bike down completely and clean components with paraffin and diesel.
  • Always get new cables, cable outers, tyres, chain and often new chain.
  • Respray poor condition paintwork – you get what you pay for and complicated paint jobs can be quite expensive.

I ask Garry what his wife thinks of all this.

“Don’t ask,” he replies with a rueful grin.

So that’s it. The impetus to commence my own renovation projects. I’ll be visiting the bike jumble at The National Cycling Centre on January 12 and keeping you all informed (or you can contact me via twitter to meet up there). Most of all though I’ll be asking Garry when I get stuck.

By Andy Groves

You can follow Andy via twitter and instagram @riding_north