Why Harris Tweed?

Now days it is popular to organize tweed rides with the London Tweed Run as an example. All sorts of historical societies, groups and clubs organizes an tweed ride, run or social meeting in almost every town. It is fun, cheap and easy to organize. Bicycles are easy to carry around if needed, you can not carry a car and park it on the side walk at an café. Well you can, but it is frowned up on by many of the pedestrians that would like to use the side walk.

After riding vintage bicycles and attending all sorts of events for some years now. I realized that I was never quite out of style.  Because I have been riding vintage bicycles while using tweed since I was a teenager. Well not all the time. I was not using tweed in the summer when the heat was really demanding or when we were swimming in the sea during school breaks.

My first experience with tweed was my fathers old coat that was hanging on a hanger in the closet in attic. It was a Harris Tweed brown herringbone coat that he bought back in the late 1960’s at the famous Stockholm department store NK (Nordic Company).

By accident he bought the coat in the wrong size, it was just ever so slightly to small. Instead of returning the coat to the shop after you realized the mistake as you normally do. He kept it in an closet in the attic for many years. There it was left along with other clothes that he also bought in the wrong size some reason.

The coat was hanging there until the early 1980’s. That was when we did were looking after old things in closets to get rid off. My father found the old tweed coat, he asked me if I would like to have it. The coat was double breasted, 3/4 long coat and had an “Napoleonic ” style collar top fashion in late 1960’s. Because it was made of heavy tweed it was really warm, perfect for long winter days. My father remembering the fabric as “extremely sticky”, but I really liked it.

I never wore it to school. After all, the fashion amongst kids back then was jeans, sport trainer trousers, sneakers (white of course) and white tube socks. Anyone who came dressed in anything else was a open target for bullying. So I was only using the coat on my spare time.

There I was, dressed in fathers tweed. Beside an coat was better than a jacket when its cold, it keeps the behind warm. There were other cloths in the closet that I could use, shirts, sweaters. Sometimes when we were going to my grandparents I had his old ties and even dabbed on some of his old 1960’s after shave that I found in an cupboard in the basement. Sounds strange perhaps, but I guarantee that it was better with tweed, shirt and a tie than jeans and t-shirts. My mother always sighed and said that it was impossible to by clothes to me. I have no idea what she was talking about.

After all, I was quite fashionable back then. Almost straight from the 60’s. Sadly there are no photos from that era, it would be fun to see today how I looked in my outfit. Surely like no other kid in the middle of 1980’s. I would be beyond hip if I dressed like that in school today.

In the end, where did the Harris Tweed coat go? Te honest I do not remember, perhaps it was damaged in a house move at some point. Or perhaps it was decided to be thrown away at some stage. Only the label and the buttons exists today.


The buttons and the lable form my fathers old coat

Why did I got stuck in Harris Tweed? I guess there is three main reasons for that. First it was the coat mentioned above.

Secondly, when I was in school I met a teacher that was very special. He played chess, talked philosophy with us kids in a way no other teacher talked to us. We were equals, not kids to him. I remember that he had a photo of William Golding on the classroom wall and often quoted the book “Lord of the Flies” to us kids. Always when I saw him he wore an grey herringbone Harris Tweed jacket with dark elbow patches. He looked like an actor from an English TV-play, inspector Morse perhaps, Frost or any other of all these series. That teacher was the best one I ever had in school. I decided that I would have a jacket like that just because of him.

Thirdly, when we had lessons in school and I saw photos from Scotland. I fell in love with the nature of the highlands, the rugged landscape. I fell in love with the images you can see of the Hebrides. The sea and sunsets, it was then I decided that one day I should travel and visit the Harris Tweed factory.

But the years went by until one day a few years ago when I was looking around the internet for a new jacket. I found a web site of a small shop in Scotland that sells Harris Tweed clothing. I found a grey herringbone jacket, remembering my old teacher from school. I placed the order and a week later an package from Scotland arrived. It was just what I expected, heavy, strong, warm and great looking. But sadly without elbow patches.


Grey herringbone Harris Tweed, the same style of jacket my chess playing teacher used

Later when I started joining different vintage bicycle events I needed a suit. A suit in tweed naturally. My very first Tweed suit was bought on location while an vacation in Edinburgh. I visited an retailer on a Queens street and bought a three piece suite that I will write about in the future. It was an adventure from the start.

The following year I saved up some money and bought a genuine Harris Tweed suite from the small shop up in the highlands. The Harris Tweed suit I received is made to travel around the world on a bicycle! It is so well made and the fabric is marvellous, all the colours and the lining with the symbol of Harris Tweed embroidered. Details everywhere.


The Iain Harris Tweed suit, quality in every way

It is easy to understand why tweed has been so appreciated. It is reliable, warm, and looks amazing. It is a shame that I do not still have my fathers old tweed coat, but it got me in to tweed. Perhaps it is the destiny of some sort.


A lovely lady jacket in Harris Tweed, but the jacket is sewn by a different company

But the great feeling attending all sorts of vintage bicycle events dressed in tweed. Meeting other people that also dressed up enjoying the event. It is fun, not only for me but for the others. Look and admire each others outfits and bicycles. Perhaps there even is someone else among the riders that got to use their parents old Tweed suit, jacket or coat.

After all, tweed is a fabric that is almost impossible to wear out.

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Malmö Tweed Ride 2016

Welcome back dear reader! How has your summer been? Way to hot when using tweed I guess. Perhaps even to hot for riding an old bicycle with no gears and wobbly wheels? But now when the weather are cooler and the autumn is around the corner it is time to take the old tweed suit out in the fresh air.

Different unplanned things happened this summer, but other things did not happen as planned. For example my bicycle projects I mentioned earlier did not happen. The Monark racer is still standing in a corner collection dust, the black Hermes frame and all the belonging parts is still in parts. The Pelago Path racer I built a few years back are about to be sold. The reasons for all those things are equally simple and silly.

First is the reason that I feel stressed out due to the lack of space for building and renovating old bicycles. Then there is that racer style bicycles is killing my back when riding them. I can simply not sit leaned forward on a bicycle for a long time. So why have bicycles around that I do not use? Better to sell them and save money to a bicycle that I can use without problem.

But to one thing that happened that was a fun event! Saturday the 3rd of September 2016 the 4th annual “Malmö Tweed Ride” was held. It is like the “Bike in Tweed” event in Stockholm, or like the “Tweed Run” in London. It is a gathering of people that loves old bicycles, tweed clothes and likes to dress up. I was there with my old Hermes from 1956.

We all gathered at Gustav Adolfs torg (square) in central parts of Malmö around noon. I was there and noticed many tweed riders joined from all streets leading up to the square. The weather was perfect for us, cloudy with a bit of sun from time to time.  When the time was 13:00 the announcer greeted us welcome, it was time to register and each rider would receive a pin. It was a pin that shows that you were a participant of the race this year. Well, race is perhaps the wrong word, a run or parade, perhaps even an show and gathering while riding mostly vintage bicycles in a calm speed across the town is more accurate. So we all could enjoy the surroundings and all the lovely bicycles in the parade.

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2016 Malmö Tweed Ride pin on a tweed suit lapel

After receiving our pins, we all formed a starting line and we left Gustav Adolfs torg for a ride along the old city of Malmö. People cheered and waved to us along the streets. Many was happy and asked us what it was all about, old persons talked about how they used to have an bicycle, just like the ones we were riding, when they where young. With a smile and a nostalgic look on their faces they watched us making noises with our bells and horns along the way.

The ride went around Malmö for a while before we had a stop at Västra hamnen (West harbour) where the old mechanical warehouses was located and was nod demolished for new buildings and developments. It was a large place at the water front where the sponsor Hendricks gin served us lemonade and cucumber sandwiches. Tasteful and refreshing in the last of the summer sun rays! There was music during the rest, an gentleman played jazz records on a old gramophone, complete with funnel and crank. It was really nice to sit and listen to old crackling 75 rpm records and drinking lemonade.

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A good selection of music played on a real gramophone

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Time to start again

After the break there was time for the group photo, we all were directed to sit in a group on the board walk. After the photographers was happy we all went for our bicycles again and started the final leg of the run. The path we tool led us down to the sea side and the new land mark in Malmö, the “turning torso” tower, it is an apartment house with 54 floors. Impressive and we where riding just at its base and entrance. Then we took the roads back to the central parts of Malmö where we all ended up in Folkets park “the peoples park”, it is the oldest peoples park in Sweden. It was founded over 120 years ago.

When arriving there we all received a drink ticket from Hendricks gin, non-alcoholic alternative were available to! Then it was mingle and chatting with all the participants. We all sat on the dance floor in old furnitures and listened to Svempas Swinging Trio, an jazz trio that played old standards in a really refreshing way. Lots of energy and joy! There was a small vegetarian buffet that was really nice after the long ride we just finished.

After the food and mingle it was time for the prize ceremony. Best dressed lady, best dressed gentleman and the best looking bicycle. Hendricks gin had also the special prize “the most unusual award”. It was a great evening and an perfect ending to a fun and nice day in Malmö. Friendly people and an great atmosphere an flawless organisation and arrangement! Good briefing of the guidelines and that there was an bicycle repairman in the parade, but most important an medic that was scanning the parade all the time. In short it was a great event!

I lift my cap for you and we will see you all next year!

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The autumn is here

Suddenly the autumn came here and pushed away the summer with force. It is no surprise since that happens every year at this time. The temperature becomes colder, the sun rays tries to give us the last warm feelings of a season that is going to be replaced. The leaves on the trees transforms from a healthy and summery green colour, just to take on all colours from yellow to red. Personally I like the autumn very much, it makes me calm in a way. The usage of a warm jacket, a scarf and gloves, it is nice to get inside after being out side. Have a cup of tea and some scones with marmalade. Watching the leaves falling to the ground, wile burning the tongue on scolding hot tea. That got it’s charm to.

Now, you have to put on a jacket and a scarf, bring a thermos with tea. Let us take a bicycle ride on the back roads in the autumn. It is a nice ride, filled with the fragrances of the forest. The rich and slightly cold air fills your nose and lungs. Why not stop for a moment and just listen to the nature, the wind in the trees and the quietness of the forest relaxing after the spring and summer. It is time to relax for everyone, charging our batteries for next season and summer. But before it is summer again, here in Sweden we will have a dark and long winter. Snow and very cold weather when it is hard, not impossible to ride a bicycle.

One good thing with the winter and all snow on the roads, is that you can sit in the basement and renovate old bicycles. Plenty of time to prepare them , and you, for the time when the roads are swept clean of the winter and the warm wind of the spring hits you in the face while pedalling along in the first fragile days of spring.

Next year there will be a Bike in Tweed event again here in Stockholm. In fact there will be several events all over the world. We have the original one, the classic the one and only, London Tweed Run that is by not world famous and had follow-ups all over the world. From the north to south, from east to west. Everyone brings out their fines bicycles and dresses up in tweed clothes. It has become an event that everyone loves. The riders enjoy every minute. The bystanders are happily surprised and cheers and take photos. It all started in London. I would love to join that one, but the chances are rather slim. The thing is that since it is so popular they would like to have a restricted number of participants, but also they need finances to rent/buy/pay everything surrounding the event. So they decided to sell tickets to be able to attend the bicycle event. Understandably it is very popular at the tickets sells out rather quick. I read that last year their tickets sold out in 90 seconds!
So I feel that my chances for booking a ticket is really small.

But there are bike and tweed events in other cites, the biggest may be London Tweed Run. One of the smallest might be the Oslo Tweed ride I heard of, 15 persons. But still, it is a bicycle meeting dressed in tweed.
I never know what to call the events, since the London version is called “Tweed run”. But I heard that Stockholm was not allowed to use that name so it became “Bike in Tweed” instead. In either case, it is bets to call them “tweed events”. I have done some research for possible tweed events that I could attend that might not be impossible. There are an total of 6 different tweed and bicycles events that I think I can possibly attend to. Sadly I guess that I can only attend to only 3 of those 6 events when thinking realistic. It is most due to the fact I need to work weekends often.

First up next year is the craisiest event of them all. It is located in Helsinki, Finland in February! They gathers in Helsinki and rides their bicycles in -20 degrees! That is no problem for me at all, I have done it before. Back in the school days when the bicycle was the only way to get around I used my bicycle all year around. But first I need to check with the Helsinki officials, if I am allowed to attend. After all it would be great fun to bring an old bicycle over there, dressed in a heavy jacket over the tweed suit. Twining rope around the tires for grip in the snow (not the best way to do it, but it is the way we did back then).

Then we have the London Tweed Run in April. But it, as mentioned earlier, might be difficult to catch a ticket. But it would be really, really fun to attend the original tweed event. Having a cup of tea in London dressed in tweed and riding a bicycle on the streets of London, why not? It was a few years since I was in London, perhaps this time it will be a odd and fun experience. I will at least try to get a ticket.

In May there is an really nice event in Oldenburg, Germany. To me that event seems to be really well organized and well thought of. A quick search on internet gives you photos and videos of many bicycle riders that really enjoys themselves and are having a great time.

Then there is 3 different tweed events in Sweden. There is the event in Gothenburg, Malmö and Stockholm. Lucky for me is that they are all held at different dates. It would be fun to attend them all. Just to be able to say that I was there. But time might be against me as mentioned earlier. It is a big shame that we are not allowed to bring yours bicycles on the inter city trains any more. It would been so easy to just simply ride the bicycle to the train, travel by train across the country, then ride to the event and attend. But today, that is impossible.
If I will attend any other “tweed run”/”bike in tweed” event, I will do a reportage about my experiences of course. Reportage complete with text and photos of course.

Next year, I will most likely not use the tandem bicycle again. There is a few reasons for that. First of all, it is easier to manoeuvre a single bicycle, also quicker and more effective in slow speeds. Second reason is that it is easier to carry a single bicycle (have you ever tried to carry a tandem bicycle up the stairs of an old museum)? It is also way more easier to just hook up a rack on the towing hook on a car and hang a bicycle on the rack if transporting the bicycle to places far away, like London for example.

Then we have the interesting question of what bicycle to use and the current bicycle situation for me.
I have an idea that might be a nice homage to my grandfather. He also loved to ride bicycles all the time, even in the winter so my father told me once. When I was a kid my grandfather had an old worn Swedish Rex bicycle that he was given from a neighbour. Later that bicycle was left to me. Sadly it was in a rather bad shape, so I removed some parts from it and scrapped the bicycle (it was before my interest of vintage bicycles started for real). The parts I removed from the frame is still laying in a box in my storage. In that box there is a bicycle pump with holders, an old bicycle bell that came from a friend of my grandparents, the bell must be from the 1920’s it has the loveliest chime. But the main item is the saddle, an old double spring saddle with a loop in the front, all worn and old. But it is an valuable memory from my grandfather.

So I was thinking of building a vintage bicycle as it would been back in the 1930’s that my grandfather could have used. An old Swedish made black roadster with a mudguard mascot, wooden grips on the handlebars, vintage reflectors, old headlight and my grandfathers old saddle. That would be a bicycle great for attending any tweed event with. Also with personal history and essence behind the build.
Currently I am searching for a good foundation bicycle to base my ideas upon. I have some ideas on where I can find a good bicycle. For example I know where there is a great late 1930’s frame in good condition for sale. But I need the other parts, but I will give it one more week to see if the ideas turns out good or not.
Of course I document the build. From the first moment until the finished result. This time I know what I need and want. The winter is long and cold, but first there is time to enjoy the autumn riding the old Hermes bicycle from 1950’s.

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Bike in Tweed, 2015

Then the day came, it was time for the bicycle event again. Bike in Tweed in Stockholm 2015.

To get a good foundation and build up some energy for the long bicycle ride that was before us. We started with breakfast at an bakery in a sleepy suburb. There we meet up with our friends that also was entering the Bike in Tweed event with an old Rex tandem, just like the one we have. But in a blue color and some other minor diffenreces. At the bakery we parked our bicycle outside went inside for some lovely and fresh bread. While we were sitting there we noticed that the people walking by on the outside, watched, looked and smiled att our bicycles outside. It seems that old vintage bicycles makes people happy. After the breakfast we started our journey toward the centre of the city with the royal castle as goal. It must have been a strange sight, two old tandems after each other, with the riders dressed in tweed clothes just crousing down the streets.
In fact there was at some point people even smiling and cheering at us when we passed them on your journey in to the start of the tweed parade.

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Two Rex Duplex tandem bicycles from late 1940’s

At the starting point at Nytorget, we were among the first to arrive.
We parked out tandems beside each other and went to the register office and got our numberplate’s for identification. We got two one for each rider on the bicycle, but we were riding on only one bicycle. That usually makes the officials rather confused. Is it two riders or one bicycle? Is it the bicycle that should have the number, or is it the riders? But we put our both numbers in a rather fun way on our tandem. One number at the front of the bicycle and other at the rear, someone would be confused. But it worked out like a charm, no one did notice that, at least as we knew!
At the start when we all that registered us, we also received an bag with a map of the route, some commercials and a package of Scottish shortbread cookies from the sponsors. Inside there was also an voucher for an beer at the Nordic Museum at Djurgården at the finish. Another of the sponsors, Hendrick’s, said that they would treat us with a gin and tonic just before the finish.

As the time went by, different riders started to join the event. There were old vintage bicycles, new modern ones to. Many of the riders was dressed in fancy vintage dresses, old puffy plus 4 trousers, retro sharp suits, nice flamboyant hats and great really lovely shoes. One of the riders actually said, “we do not dress for fun, we dress in a nice way”. After all, this is not an event to act like a clown (as many bystanders might think). Many of the riders dress like this because they want to, we like the look of tweed and the old style of clothes. But sadly many of us never got a suitable moment to dress up in tweed suits and vintage clothes. Bike in Tweed are an perfect opportunely to embrace the well dressed and use good looking clothes and to use our old bicycles.

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Harris Tweed jacket

We all started to cue to have the official individual start photos taken, the start was getting closer by the minute. Then the word was out, it was time to start the parade (more a parade than a race). Then we all were off, all 160 of us! 160 bicycle bells where ringing in the morning. Tourists were confused by the noise, bystanders cheered. There were children on small bicycles, race riders with vintage road racers, really heavy tandems bicycles (I used to call my tandem “the Dreadnought” because it is so big and heavy).
All generations of both bicycles and their riders was represented in the parade. A young girls skirt needed some attention at the start, the advantage with an event like this, is that there always are people available with the know how to mend and fix vintage items. The girl had the skirt mended on location. In every way.

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Repairs on location

As we ride along the route, there was some stops along the way, just to let everyone to catch up so we all could ride in a tight formation along the streets. The ride along the waterfront was nice, the bicycle tires silently floating over the walkways. There was old boats at the docks, small cabins along the way and the trees were starting to get yellow leaves on their branches. It was a great autumn day for a tweed parade. No sun and no rain. A perfect bicycle and tweed day.

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Views of the surroundings from a riders perspective

In the middle of the race there was a stop at the park theatre at the Rålambshov park just outside the city.
It was time for picnic and the official group photo of all riders and their bicycles. It was nice to sit down and have a cup of tea and a sandwich. One of the sponsors of the parade I mentioned earlier, Hendrick´s Gin, were there and offered lemonade and cucumber sandwiches to the riders.  We all got time for admiration of the other bicycles, discussions with people with the same interests, laughs and music. It was really nice to have a break at the park theatre. Then after a while we were off again, towards the next stop on the route at Hasselbacken restaurant where a cold gin and tonic was awaiting our arrival.
It was a long way there, lots of hills and traffic. We were going straight in the middle of the city. But it was said that just this day all car traffic in the city was not permitted in order to make it easy for bicyclists, that was just perfect for our parade.

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Picnic at the park theatre

I guess there is no need to say anything about the roads that was chosen for us. But I feel that I must say that this year to use the central parts of Stockholm as an route was a bad decision. Roadworks, closed off lines, 160 bicycle riders together with buses and taxis in the same lane. As mentioned, it would be a “car free day” in the city. It was, but sadly not where our route was planed. For me as an bicycle rider on a big, heavy tandem bicycle, keeping the balance in very low speed and at the same time keep my eyes open for buses, taxies and other riders was challenging. It was a fight, as commander of the “dreadnought” I worked all my skills in navigating between people, taxis, buses and other tweed riders. But it all worked out fine in the end.

At Hasselbacken, again the nice sponsor Hendrick´s Gin gave every rider an voucher for a gin and tonic (non alcoholic alternative was available of course) in the restaurants outside garden. We salute the nice gesture with a bow and keeping Hendrick´s in mind for the next gin purchase. After riding for a few hours the ice cold GT was very, very tasty and made the riders temperature go back to normal. Especially after the hills and the traffic in the city. Again we talked a lot and laughed, the spirit was high and we all looked forward to the finish and the events at the Nordic Museum. So after some time we all started again, down the road a few hundred meters to the Nordic Museum where we all was shown to the side entry of the museum to bring in all bicycles up to the main hall where they should make a display.

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One of the sponsors, Hendrick´s

At the museum they had an all day long event in the theme of the 1940’s for the public to visit. Cloths, fashion show, dance shows and the restaurant served 1940s themed food. The peak of the day was when we all came and put all or bicycles on display in the main hall. It was a pity that the bicycles was standing there only for a short while. It would have been a great display to watch all bicycles, having all the owners write a small note with information and history of the bicycle. I had my trusty camera with me, the Fujifilm x100. But I must confess. I did not take as many photos as I wanted, there was so many other things to do and see. But I got a few photos, among the ones in this post. Considering the amount of lenses and smart phones that was aimed at us during the parade. I guess that there will be many more photos around the inter-web soon, featuring Tweed and old bicycles. Perhaps one and another “Dreadnought” tandem bicycle.

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Riding the narrow streets of old Stockholm

There we were standing, having a beer and waiting for the price ceremony. There had been a jury judging the riders and bicycles right from the start and now it was time to learn what the jury had decided. There was a price for best dressed lady, that was a lovely girl with a fantastic hairdo, all in a typical 1940’s sporty look (she is the girl mending the young girls skirt above). Then we had best technical bicycle, that was a Norwegian chap that came to Stockholm with his Norwegian bicycle. It was really nice! The there was a price for the best dressed youth. It was a girl which dress had broken at the start (also seen on the photo above). Then there was a gentleman from the northern parts of Sweden. He got a price for his appearance, all dressed in a 1890’s bicycle uniform, riding an high wheeler from Holland. Then they announced that there were a price for the best looking carriage. It was awarded… us?!
We got an price for looking great on our 1940’s Rex Duplex tandem bicycle. So we had to enter the stage and receive the cheers from the other riders. Now that was a real surprise!

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Schneebremse with brother on the stage

Bike in tweed 2016? Of course. See you there.

Before the big Rex restoration

I thought that you might like some text before I started to tear down the Rex tandem bicycle in parts.

The tandem is in great original condition for its age. It has been used, standing outside so it is dirty, rusty but complete. The rear wheel is not original, but it is typical to the tandem so it might be a replacement wheel that was mounted many years ago. One of the spokes on the rear wheel was broken and turned around one of the other spokes. A typical way to mend things back in the days while on the road. The breaks seams to work well. I have been thinking a lot of exactly what I need to do. I have decided to replace the saddles, the saddle posts the handles and posts. That is it! I will look around for worn parts that I can use.

I will soon dismount the bicycle, clean and polish the parts as good as possible. Both rear and from wheel hubs will be torn down, cleaned and lubricated. The crank shafts has the same coming their way. The rear crank shaft is no problem. The front one is a special one that is loose. I am not sure if I can fix that one. I will take a look. Let us hope for the best.

So now,  two used Brook saddles, two old handlebars in a old style. I already have one pair of handlebar grips. I also have a head light of the same brand as the dynamo that was mounted on the bicycle. In the box of parts “good to have” is an original cat eye that is made for the bicycle. Then it is a matter of putting it all together again.

That is the fun part. Then it is on with the tweed and join the “Bike In Tweed” race.

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