FOR bicycle restorer Tim Hrambo, a recent vintage bike restoration brought with it an unexpected twist that has left him feeling humbled and curious.
Hrambo had “rescued” an old, rusty bicycle from the tip seven months ago and while scraping off some paint was fascinated to discover the clearly printed name Len Sloman.
He could also see that the bike – thought to be around 60 years old – had been sold from a Blackburn bike shop, making Hrambo curious to know if he could return it to the original owner or at least discover its history.
After posting on social media, he received a message from a woman who knew a Len Sloman and, on further investigation, was able to track down the now 70-year-old original owner.
“I found out that Leonard was given the bike as a Christmas present in 1964, but lost track of it in 1969 while he was away from home doing his war service,” he said.
Hrambo, who admits to owning about 80 vintage bikes, sent Sloman a picture of the now “restored” bicycle, cleaned up and with a new lease on life.
“He hadn’t seen it since, and was rapt to see it again back up and running,” he said.
Sloman said the bike was from Rob’s Cycles in Blackburn “just over the railway line adjacent to the library, where there were hand operated gates at the railway crossing when I was a young boy”.
“We lived in Blackburn South and the bike was a Christmas present in 1964, it was to be my mode of transport as I was starting secondary school at Nunawading High which was opposite Forest Hills Shopping Centre across Mahoneys Road.”
The bike was a “Rob’s special”. It was a semi-racer with 27 inch wheels and chain gears, which made it unusual as all of the bikes in the rack at school had hub gears.
“That bike and I covered a lot of miles, not only to school and back every day but to Box Hill, Laburnum, Templestowe, Burwood and even up to Belgrave to watch Puffing Billy,” Sloman said.
Many of the areas he visited were “mostly orchards, and the roads, if they existed, were no wider than a strap of liquorice”. “It was just bush all the way to Hawthorn Road and in among the bush was an area we called the forest. If you followed the dirt track through the forest you came to a velodrome, no cover, it was like it grew out of the ground, dirt banks built up, covered with long grass and the inside the embankment was lined with concrete.
“In the four years that I used it on a regular basis I don’t recall seeing anyone else there, that bike and I did countless laps and no doubt countless miles.”
Sloman said that during the Christmas holidays he would strip the bike down to replace the old grease from the bearings.
He had never replaced bearings or parts, “only brake pads and tyres … a different time when things were made last”.
“When I look at the photos, this bike is testament to the workmanship of George Robinson. After 58 years I’m so glad to make its acquaintance again.”
Sloman said he had last seen the bike when he joined the RAAF In 1969, aged 16.
“I joined … to serve an engineering apprenticeship and that was, I’m sorry to say, the last time I saw that bike, along with a Malvern Star Dragstar in metallic gold, which were both sold off by my mother while doing my training.”
Hrambo said he found the letter incredibly moving.
“I was pretty happy and humbled to be able to remind him of something from all those years ago and show him what the bike looks like now.”
Hrambo offered to return the bike, but the grateful previous owner was just happy to know it was in good hands.
The bike restorer is now on a mission to discover how it came to be at the Rye tip.
“My question is, does anybody remember throwing this bike out at the tip? We’d love to find out the history of the bike since 1969,” he said.
“Where has the bike been all this time … any help would be appreciated?”
Hrambo can be contacted at Facebook.com/tim.hrambo