Built by Quick to go like the clappers: Magnus Mills is not a flash cyclist, but he coveted a hand-made bicycle. Would the old-fashioned professionals accept his business?

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The Independent Online
I AM not a serious cyclist in the competitive sense, but I like to do a 50-miler now and then, and when I do I want a decent set of wheels under me. I have done a few long trips on my mountain bike, but it is hard work, so I decided to treat myself to a hand-built road bike, a fast tourer.

A lot of bike shops are a bit flash for my liking: I wanted a more traditional type of place. When someone recommended TJQ in Forest Hill, south London, run by Thomas Quick, who builds bikes on the premises, I liked the sound of it and one day I decided to call in.

Behind the counter was a young man in glasses. I told him what I required and he prepared an estimate. It was soon obvious that he knew what he was talking about. It was also obvious that the bike would not be cheap: he came up with pounds 700 for a fully-fitted machine.

While we were talking I became aware of a lurking presence in the room behind the shop. I had heard that Mr Quick was a modest man. 'Er . . . is that the workshop through there?' I asked. 'Yes,' replied the young man, in a way that prevented further questioning. Mr Quick was clearly not going to make an appearance on this occasion.

But when I went back a couple of weeks later, they were both in the shop. Mr Quick looks like a cycle engineer should look. My decision was made. 'I've decided to have my bike built here,' I announced. And at that moment, I realised that the decision was not up to me. It was up to Mr Quick. He looked at the young man; then at me again. Yes, he said, he would build me a bike.

'I understand you make the bikes on the premises,' I said.

'Yes, I build the frame and paint it, and young Neil here will fit the gear.'

'Right,' I enthused, 'I'll leave it all up to you, then. I don't know anything about bike-building.' Mr Quick did not pass comment but merely glanced at Neil, then at my primitive mountain bike, which I had parked inside his shop. Mr Quick is of the old school and I do not think he likes mountain bikes much.

He produced a tape measure. 'First, we'll have to see how tall you are and measure your legs.' He said 'legs' as if the word were in inverted commas.

As Mr Quick measured me, I said: 'I'd like the colour to be British Rail red.' Mr Quick and Neil glanced at each other again. He wrote something in his notebook, then crossed it out. You could have Post Office red or signal red, he told me; there was no British Rail red. I chose signal red.

'And everything else black,' I added. They both looked at me. 'Everything?'

'Except the chrome bits,' I corrected.

My only other specifications were a Brooks racing saddle and Cinelli handlebars, which have an attractive sweep.

'It will be Reynolds 531 Competition Tubing,' Mr Quick informed me.

And that was it. A couple of weeks later I received a polite letter: 'The cycle which you ordered is now complete and ready for collection. The price is as quoted pounds 700.'

I went up on the bus to pick it up. A beautiful red machine stood in the middle of the shop. Mr Quick seemed pleased with it.

I thought I saw him smile as I rode away. And it goes like the clappers.

TJQ Cycles and Engineering, 230 Stanstead Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 1DD (081-699 3367).

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