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OPINION

Why I still miss the huge Falcon Professional I got for Christmas way back in 1978

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After outgrowing his Raleigh Europa, it was time for young Steve to size up. Maybe just not that much…

It's Christmas 1978, and things are getting more serious for me on the cycling front as a budding young racer. I’d rapidly outgrown my Raleigh Europa, so it was time to go large (literally) with a brand spanking new 24-inch frame Falcon Professional. 

Boney M. and bobble hats, those were my Christmas Day trimmings in 1978. ‘Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord’ was top of the pops that year, and my much-negotiated main present was a glittering blue Falcon Professional, all 24 inches of it (the frame that is, not the wheels!)

The Christmas before, or perhaps the one before that, I’d got a Raleigh Europa for Christmas. This bike was to transform my former youthful ‘Chopperhood’, and led me to chase curly-barred, toe-strapped dreams; but I’d ridden the hell out of it, and had really sprouted upwards in that year. Not only was the spec below par for my growing cycling dreams and intensions, it was a 21.5-inch frame, and so was now way too small for a budding 6-footer.

I’d gone all in with shorts and braces for my newfound love of cycling, but having had one of those bizarre and uninvited introductions to a club time trial earlier that year, racing was not on my radar. I just wanted to get out there and escape the world around me on two wheels - and to do it in more style - which is where the Falcon Professional entered the fray.

A new cycling club had been formed locally to me, and over an undertaker’s storeroom at an inaugural meeting I’d pledged my allegiance to the new club. Opposite the undertakers was the main local bike shop, which was run by a former national champion and Falcon pro rider, who was also a Falcon dealer.

I can still remember going down the steps into the bottom showroom with him and my dad, and seeing this huge blue gate of a bike on the wall. It was a Falcon Professional, of course, the bike that would soon be mine.

Cocking my leg over the top tube, I can remember thinking it was way too big. But he insisted it wasn’t, and that I would grow into it. I never did grow into it, much like many of the other locals who rode bikes two sizes too big during that era. It was all character building, I suppose... 

Eastern promise

Falcon Professional 1978 2

The bike was made up from all sorts of strangely branded parts from the Far East, a place that was then a bit mystical and didn’t have a great reputation for making bikes. Ironically it’s a region that was to become the future of all things bike, unbeknownst to us back then.

Beneath its shiny pale blue exterior were tubes of CroMo, a material I’d never heard of at the time. It had aluminium cranks and parts branded SR and perhaps even Sugino adorned the bike, with a Tange headset holding the forks on and Shimano gears; although if memory serves me well, the shifters may have been Suntour. It’s all stuff that I’d never heard of back then, but would come to know all too well in the years that followed.

My old Europa was chopped in as part exchange, and I would see the beast again on Christmas day. I was a little dubious of the stature and size of my new ride, but hey, who knows. Maybe I’d be 6”6 by next Christmas?

Needless to say it was a chilly old Christmas, and I couldn’t wait to get out and ride my new giant of a CroMo Falcon. Keeping me warm was a new bobble hat and a short-sleeved crew neck jersey, all knitted on my mom’s new knitting machine. Way ahead of the times, as always!

I can’t remember much of the very first ride or two, but a week later and it was the annual local New Year’s Day 10-mile time trial, which was sponsored by Cinzano (they had a bottling plant locally). Despite my past initial time trial trauma, I somehow found myself lining up for my first ever 10-mile TT. As was the norm back then, it also meant an eight-mile ride to the start line and back home again after the TT.

Due to it being my first real time trial I must have had a good handicap, and so ended up second on handicap. The prize for the New Year and new start in cycling? Two 1.5 litre bottles of Cinzano, one Bianco and one Rosso naturally.

What would a young 13-year-old do with such prizes? Well, I guess many would have swigged them and stashed them behind the bike shed before the adults found out, but not me. Plus I still had to get them home. With one bottle in each side of my new hand-knitted jersey pockets, the ride home begun which included a long drawn out drag of a climb.

I can still remember struggling up that climb, with two huge bottles of grog stretching my jersey halfway down my thighs and swinging around like a chicken on crack.

That bright blue dream machine did indeed take my cycling up a notch or two. I did my first races on it, and my first 100-mile ride. However, sadly we just didn’t mesh in the size department, and after a year of sitting just above the crossbar it was time to downsize and upgrade once more.

Falcon Professional 3

I still look back with a grin and a cringe at this bike, simply because of the sizing. The following Christmas it was banished to the land of the giants, although later on I did also soon get hold of a smaller second-hand Falcon Professional. What a great bike it was…

Happy Christmas folks.

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25 comments

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Lozcan | 6 months ago
0 likes

Falcon Cotswold I played with.

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OldRidgeback | 6 months ago
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My first semi serious bike was a Falcon Black Diamond, also bought for me in 1978. It was a 23 1/2 frame and yes, too big. I rode the wheels off it for years and then it was stolen from outside the Landor pub in Landor Rd, South London in 1989. It was replaced with my first MTB, which was great for the London commute when fitted with road tyres.

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Simon Withers | 6 months ago
6 likes

Lovely piece, Steve, which echoes a lot of my experiences – I'm a little older, just edited from younger! (and shorter) and started riding 'seriously' at an older age too, as an 18-year-old.

I was at uni - UEA, Norwich - in 1981 and the bus pass for the term was £40. I was in halls of residence five miles from the campus. At the start of the second term I bought a second-hand re-painted 5-speed Raleigh, I think an Arena, with a terrible front and rear light combo (tin-plate Chinese front, EverReady rear). It was paid for using the money I got for the bus pass. Thank you to the student grant, but that's another story...

A few years later I bought a Raleigh Clubman 12-speed, hugely overgeared, underbraked but at least it was the right size. The gears were the excellent Suntour ARX, the 'brakes' terrible centre-pulls from Weinmann who also supplied the rims (the front was replaced by a Schuermann rim after a driver reversed into me, pretzelling the original); I think the bar/stem were SR/Sakae.

A decade or so later one of the guys from a local bike shop, who had been a frame-maker at Moulton, welded bosses for cantilever brakes, as I was planning a near-3,000-mile loaded tour from Cairns to Melbourne. The STX RC brakes were accompanied by a wider 7-speed block and off I went.

I did the 2,750 miles in 36 days, though not consecutive as I've friends and relatives in Sydney I wanted to see.

Many years later I had it resprayed blue by Argos in Bristol and then, maybe four or five years ago I donated it to the Julian House charity in Bath. It had been unused and in a box for a while so I thought it deserved to be used.

I have my memories, I probably did something like 40,000 miles on it, including a triathlon or two, and lots of pics.

Happy Christmas all and safe cycling!

 

 

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Miller | 6 months ago
7 likes

Those pictures of old bikes are fine for wallowing in nostalgia but looking back, the bikes were mostly terrible. Ludicrous gearing, vastly under powered brakes and generally too big anyway. Some great leaps forward that made a difference: Shim SIS indexed gears that actually worked, late 80s. Introduction of dual pivot brakes, early 90s. Dual control levers, mid-90s. Alloy frames, late 90s, then carbon frames in the 00s. All transformative.

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Simon Withers replied to Miller | 6 months ago
4 likes

You're not wrong - every-day bikes with something like a 52/42 chainset and 14-28 cassette. Total madness. Give me 50/34 (or even a sub-compact 46/30) and an 11-34 cassette every day!

Brakes - a similar story.

I actually think that the change to wider cassettes with much lower bottom gears is the biggest single improvement in the cycling experience since the 1980s.

Followed by much, much, much better braking - initially dual pivots, though nothing compares with hydraulic discs.

I rode Bike London a few years ago on an overgeared M-Trax for a feature. I used SPDs rather than Look pedals as I knew I'd be walking a little on the hills. It was good planning too! As I did. Yes, I know the hills aren't steep, but I'm trying to look after my knees!!

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Miller replied to Simon Withers | 6 months ago
4 likes

The dual pivot brakes were a big step up from single pivot, more braking power, less hassle centring the damn things. I'd say lower gearing came gradually, by steps, with old school riders mocking 'touring' gears every step of the way.

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wtjs replied to Simon Withers | 6 months ago
0 likes

or even a sub-compact 46/30 and an 11-34 cassette 

Agreed! That's what I have on the bike which tows the large trailer for camping etc.. It came with 48/32 and 11-32. It's about right now-if I can only just get up a hill, then I would be walking at about the same speed.

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Bigfoz replied to Miller | 6 months ago
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Actually, it was largely the compnentry that doomed them. I'm running a 1983 Carlton Pro MkV  with mid 2000s Campag groupset and wheels. Transformational. Sweet riding bike that goes, stops and has the right gearing. 

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Backladder | 6 months ago
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That handlebar stem must be at the limit line though Steve, you wouldn't have been able to get the same position on a smaller frame.

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kil0ran | 6 months ago
3 likes

My "significant" bike was a Raleigh Grifter but the one I miss the most is the one I bought with my paper round money. Mail order special from the back of the Daily Mirror c. 1982. From memory it was £49.99. 2*5sp with a fake titanium finish designed to look like I think the higher end Raleigh of the time (Equipe perhaps?) Satin titanium with white red and cream bands. Rode it everywhere until it got nicked from college about 6 years later.

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Woldsman | 6 months ago
3 likes

That's one of the few things I [don't!] miss about bikes from the olden days - frames that were too big for us. Oh, and side pull brakes before dual pivot calipers made rim brakes safe.  

Here's my far more modern (1986) Raleigh Road Ace on its last outing (from Pocklington in East Yorkshire). Note how low the saddle has to be stuffed into the seat tube for me to ride the thing.  But it was common back in the day before sloping cross bars - sorry, top tubes.  

My earlier bikes were similarly a hotch potch of components, but the Reynolds 531C Raleigh had an almost full complement of Shimano 600 kit (the precursor to Ultegra) - including the headset - but with a Selle Italia (?) seatpin and Dura Ace stem and handlebars.

Ah, happy days.  I can't ever imagine parting with it...

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Sriracha replied to Woldsman | 6 months ago
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Woldsman wrote:

Note how low the saddle has to be stuffed into the seat tube for me to ride the thing.  But it was common back in the day before sloping cross bars - sorry, top tubes.  

I've a sneaking suspicion the unstoppable trend to sloping top tubes is so that mere mortals can achieve "the look" of the professionals' lanky exposed seatpost without causing themselves injury. And yes, I heard all the guff about "compliance". Plausible deniability.

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mark1a replied to Sriracha | 6 months ago
3 likes

Sriracha wrote:
Woldsman wrote:

Note how low the saddle has to be stuffed into the seat tube for me to ride the thing.  But it was common back in the day before sloping cross bars - sorry, top tubes.  

I've a sneaking suspicion the unstoppable trend to sloping top tubes is so that mere mortals can achieve "the look" of the professionals' lanky exposed seatpost without causing themselves injury. And yes, I heard all the guff about "compliance". Plausible deniability.

I thought that the top tube slope allows for bikes to be made in fewer frame sizes and made more standardised. With the "traditional" shape, the seat tube and head tube must be a length proportional to the top tube, meaning that manufacture costs more, more sizes have to be made and stocked, whereas with a sloping top tube, the stand over height doesn't matter so the seat tube doesn't change much through the size range. I watched a documentary about Mike Burrows which explained this much better, he did some consulting for Giant back in the 90s and the first gen TCR was the result, it could be mass produced in sizes such as S, M, L, XL, etc with the fine-tuning done at the retailer with stem length and so on as part of a bike-fit. 

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Woldsman replied to mark1a | 6 months ago
0 likes

mark1a wrote:

Sriracha wrote:
Woldsman wrote:

Note how low the saddle has to be stuffed into the seat tube for me to ride the thing.  But it was common back in the day before sloping cross bars - sorry, top tubes.  

I've a sneaking suspicion the unstoppable trend to sloping top tubes is so that mere mortals can achieve "the look" of the professionals' lanky exposed seatpost without causing themselves injury. And yes, I heard all the guff about "compliance". Plausible deniability.

I thought that the top tube slope allows for bikes to be made in fewer frame sizes and made more standardised. With the "traditional" shape, the seat tube and head tube must be a length proportional to the top tube, meaning that manufacture costs more, more sizes have to be made and stocked, whereas with a sloping top tube, the stand over height doesn't matter so the seat tube doesn't change much through the size range. I watched a documentary about Mike Burrows which explained this much better, he did some consulting for Giant back in the 90s and the first gen TCR was the result, it could be mass produced in sizes such as S, M, L, XL, etc with the fine-tuning done at the retailer with stem length and so on as part of a bike-fit. 

I have a Giant TCR composite - 46.5cm - for which I later replaced the stem and lowered a bit to avoid feeling hunched up over the top tube. It's certainly a better fit than my 80s bikes - not that I would part with those, of course. 

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Woldsman replied to Sriracha | 6 months ago
1 like

Sriracha wrote:
Woldsman wrote:

Note how low the saddle has to be stuffed into the seat tube for me to ride the thing.  But it was common back in the day before sloping cross bars - sorry, top tubes.  

I've a sneaking suspicion the unstoppable trend to sloping top tubes is so that mere mortals can achieve "the look" of the professionals' lanky exposed seatpost without causing themselves injury. And yes, I heard all the guff about "compliance". Plausible deniability.

To be fair, I have a size Small entry level Giant carbon bike from a decade or so ago that actually fits me - there was even an XS frame in the series - with a good bit of seat post sticking out.  As I say, the compact design was a genuine improvement on what went before. 

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mark1a replied to Woldsman | 6 months ago
4 likes

Here's my Reynolds 753R, a lovely thing to ride, until the road starts to ascend upwards. I'm hoping Eroica Britannia will return some day...

 

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Woldsman replied to mark1a | 6 months ago
5 likes

mark1a wrote:

Here's my Reynolds 753R, a lovely thing to ride, until the road starts to ascend upwards. I'm hoping Eroica Britannia will return some day... 

Nice.

I couldn't push those high gears 30 years ago.  

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Rendel Harris replied to Woldsman | 6 months ago
1 like

Ah, I had one of them from the very same year, my first top-quality road bike, I wouldn't have parted with it for anything either but some bastard thief had different ideas in 1999. Such a great bike and not sure I've ever, even the first time I tried Di2, felt such a sense of wonder as I did using those Shimano 600 SIS gears on the first ride! Amazing how many memories a single picture brings back, great to see one still in the wild and obviously loved.

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Woldsman replied to Rendel Harris | 6 months ago
1 like

Rendel Harris wrote:

Ah, I had one of them from the very same year, my first top-quality road bike, I wouldn't have parted with it for anything either but some bastard thief had different ideas in 1999. Such a great bike and not sure I've ever, even the first time I tried Di2, felt such a sense of wonder as I did using those Shimano 600 SIS gears on the first ride! Amazing how many memories a single picture brings back, great to see one still in the wild and obviously loved.

There may have been some overlap in bike showrooms around the country in the 80s, but mine is a pre-SIS model (and no bottle cage bosses on the seat tube), so friction only shifting only for me.

Sorry to hear that your bike was stolen.  Mine was originally six-speed 52/42 and 13-21.  I've since fitted a 28T large sprocket to help me out on the lumpier bits near me.  

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Rendel Harris replied to Woldsman | 6 months ago
1 like

It was my own fault, I left it inside a workplace I thought was secure so didn't lock it...

Yes, 600EX 6208 (6-speed SIS) was introduced in 1986 so I'm sure lots of 6207 models were still for sale. I bought mine in October so maybe that's why I got the newer model. I certainly remember that gearing being a challenge on the hills even back then when I was eighteen, I certainly would have made a similar modification!

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wtjs replied to Rendel Harris | 6 months ago
4 likes

Yes, 600EX 6208 (6-speed SIS) was introduced in 1986

I remember thinking 'how difficult is it to move the friction lever to change gear?- indexed changing is unnecessary'. I thought the same thing about autofocus on SLRs. No wonder I was never a tech entrepeneur billionaire

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Rendel Harris replied to wtjs | 6 months ago
2 likes

I can remember in the bike magazines of the day (that one used actually to buy in paper form from WH Smiths, that's how long ago it was!) many were dismissing SIS as a fad. One that's really stuck in my mind was a bike review in which the reviewer loftily said that SIS was all very well for those who couldn't cope with friction shifting and certainly they should have the option just as automatic gearboxes were available for those who can't handle manual cars, but "no pro will ever need or want this gimmick on their bike." They went on to say that one of the reasons it would never take off for pros would be that the clicking as you shifted would alert your rivals that you were getting ready to attack!

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Geoff Ingram replied to Rendel Harris | 6 months ago
2 likes

I seem to remember that a rival manufacturer actually made and gave away a little hand held clicker you could use to imitate the noise in mockery of SIS users.

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levestane replied to wtjs | 6 months ago
2 likes

I still think that!

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Simon Withers replied to levestane | 6 months ago
1 like

One other big change from the bikes of that era that is hugely underestimated - at least in my opinion - is the invention of the AheadSet threadless headset.

This improved the stiffness of the head tube significantly, with handling much better as a result. A few years back I rode one of the very original Giant TCRs, complete with quill stem, comparing it directly with a newer model with a threadless stem. There was a world of difference.

It comes with the other advantage of making it much, much easier to change handlebars (swapping bars used to be a real faff), stems etc, and the move to a larger diameter bar also helped improve stiffness and handling. Though my choice would be for slightly ovalised/wing-profile tops rather than round. But maybe that's just me...

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