Cycle pioneer Brian is still making tracks at 73

It’s Christmas Day in the early Eighties and the boys of Stoke-on-Trent are heading downstairs hoping that Santa Claus has done the business.

I’m one of them and sure enough, next to my Santa sack filled with presents, stands a gleaming new, light blue Raleigh Grifter.

Back then it was a fairly straight choice for boys of a certain age: Grifter or Chopper.

One of Santa’s little helpers who made dreams come true for generations of Potteries children was making that choice was Brian Rourke.

The 73-year-old’s name is synonymous with cycling in the city and remembers only too well the days when Raleigh’s bikes were household names.

He said: “Those were the bikes that started me off, really. The Choppers, Grifters, Tomahawks and Budgies.

“We sold a hell of a lot of them back when it was manic in the run up to Christmas and then fairly quiet for the rest of the year.”

Brian borrowed £200 from a friendly bank manager to start his business in Waterloo Road, Burslem, in 1972.

By then he was a 33-year-old veteran cyclist, a winner of numerous races and someone with enough experience and expertise to turn his passion into a business.

Brian actually came to cycling quite late.

He explained: “I never owned a bike until after I left school. It would have been the mid-1950s and my dad had refused to buy me one because he thought there was too much traffic on the roads. I suppose it’s a good job he’s not around now!

“I think perhaps because I’d been denied cycling when I was younger I wanted it all the more when I finally got my own bike.”

Brian added: “My love of cycling was actually fuelled by the fact that I wasn’t able to follow my dream to become a professional footballer. I played for Stoke-on-Trent schoolboys twice but that came to an end because they wouldn’t let me play wearing my thick glasses. There was, of course, no such thing as contact lenses in those days. I was devastated and so turned my attenton to cycling.

“At first it was just about me and my mates riding to see other friends up Packmoor way. Then we would cycle a bit further to places likes Congleton.

“Over time we would go further and further to places like Macclesfield. Looking back it’s amazing how far we travelled on the bikes we had.”

In the early Sixties, after he had completed his National Service, Brian began to race competitively.

He went on to ride all over the UK and abroad – taking part in three Tour of Britain rides with his close friend Les West, another Potteries cycling legend.

Brian said: “Back then the tour was about 1,600 miles – not the 900-or-so it is today and we did it with our feet strapped on to the pedals. I remember the straps used to leave marks.

“Everything has changed so much over the years. Bike technology has advanced incredibly. These days and all the gear is made for speed and comfort and is so much lighter.”

Brian is thrilled that cycling is enjoying such a renaissance – thanks in no small part to British riders such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish enjoying success at the Tour De France and London 2012.

Stoke-on-Trent has been quick to seize the initiative – cultivating a reputation as a ‘cycling city’.

On September 13 the fifth stage of this year’s Tour of Britain comes to the Potteries – followed 10 days later by the Tour Ride where ordinary people and charity fund-raisers can follow in the tracks of the world’s top riders.

Brian said: “It’s great for the city. Cycling tends to go through phases – with different types of cycling enjoying popularity.

“At the moment it’s the road racers who are riding high – which is good for my business – but BMX and mountain bikes have had their moments too.”

Brian recently drew on his five decades of experience to coach celebrity riders including Stoke City manager Tony Pulis and comedian Nick Hancock who took part in a charity cycle ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End in aid of the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice.

He said: “None of them were really riders but they showed what anyone can do with proper advice, preparation and the right gear. At the end of the day, when you boil it down, it’s just one person and the bike they are riding.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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