76-year-old bike rides into history

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IN A consumer-driven world where the latest technology faces obsolescence by the time it has left the production line, William Wagstaff’s bicycle serves as a reminder of an era when things were built to last.

He bought his hand-built black racer from the FW Evans cycle works in Kennington, south-east London, as a 20-year-old apprentice 76 years ago and has ridden it ever since.

The shop - which later spawned the Evans cycle store group - is no longer there, but Mr Wagstaff’s bike is still in full working order.

Until recently, Mr Wagstaff continued to ride his bicycle on a regular basis but at the age of 95, he has decided to hand in his bike clips for good and has found a new home for the bike he affectionately calls "Evans".

It is now an exhibit in London’s Transport Museum.

Mr Wagstaff, a retired telephone engineer, bought the bike for 12 guineas - or 12.60 - on 14 May, 1929, when he worked as an apprentice. It would have cost him a month or two’s wages. But it was money well spent.

Today, a similar bike from Evans - depending on components - could cost between 500 and 1,000.

In 76 years, Mr Wagstaff has covered an estimated 50,000 miles on Evans. A member of the Cyclists’ Touring Club, he has ridden his trusty bike as far afield as Cornwall and the Isle of Man.

It saw him through his courting days with wife-to-be Gladys in the 1930s and it transported him through the Blitz, when he would ride it to work.

But after a nasty brush with a motorist Mr Wagstaff, who now lives in a care home in Littlehampton, east Sussex, decided to donate the "one owner from new" machine to the museum.

His daughter, Jan Hibbard, 65, said yesterday: "He rode the bike almost every day of his life until he was 93, but he was knocked off during a shopping trip and it upset his confidence, so he decided to offer it to the museum.

"It has all the original parts, right down to the stainless steel wheel rims, which cost extra when it was new, and the oil-powered lamp, which is still covered with black-out paper from the war, when dad used to ride12 miles home to Croydon from his job at Bermondsey telephone exchange."

Robert Excell, a curator at London’s Transport Museum, said: "It is remarkable how smoothly it works considering the bike was in regular use for around 75 years.

"It is made of a much heavier gauge of metal than modern bicycles and that is partly why it has lasted so long."