Race winning bikes

John Atkins’ 1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike

This bike won the 1971 British professional cyclo-cross title, as well as many other races in the UK and abroad.

Words and photos: Chris Sidwells

Image of John Atkins1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike
John Atkins dominated British cyclo-cross during the second half of the 1960s and for most of the seventies. Top level cycling was split into amateurs and professionals in those days, with national and world titles for each category. Atkins won the British amateur cyclo-cross title five times and the professional title eight. He also won the Three Peaks Cyclo-cross twice, and once won 26 cyclo-cross races in a single winter season.

He was the best British rider of his generation in international cyclo-cross, finishing fifth in the amateur world championship in 1968, and seventh in the professional race in 1970 and 1973.

He made regular trips to Europe and won races there. One of his first trips was arranged by Tom Simpson. “I wrote him a letter asking for some advice about where to go and how to get in races, and a lovely reply came back saying he’d arranged a place for us to stay and for people to help us,” Atkins says

Image Carlton jersey

This bike is a product of Carlton’s Dock Road factory in Worksop, Notts. Atkins rode for the TI-Carlton pro team in 1971 and 1972, which was right at the start of the team’s experiment with racing in Europe. In 1973 Carlton was replaced by its parent company Raleigh, and the team became TI-Raleigh. It also became a legend as Raleigh riders won classics, national and world titles, and eventually the Tour de France.

Image of John Atkins1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike

Atkins played his part in that story when he extended his cyclo-cross season in 1971 so TI- Carlton had enough riders to accept an invitation to ride Paris-Nice. “I finished over three hours behind Eddy Merckx in the overall standings,” he remembers. He wasn’t the only one outside of his comfort zone, reigning world track sprint champion Gordon Johnson of Australia was also sponsored by Carlton Cycles, and he was press-ganged into Paris-Nice. He didn’t finish though.

Image of John Atkins1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike

The bike, like most cyclo-cross bikes were back then, is a mix of components. At its heart is a well-built frame with plenty of clearance for cyclo-cross tyres, and any mud they might pick up. Carlton built great bikes, and employed some of the best frame builders in the business.

The cranks are from the French company Stronglight, and of a type lots of cyclo-cross riders used. Another French company TA made a huge range of chainrings, from tiny to beyond big, and this Stronglight crank-set, with its small spider, fits them all.  A wide choice of chainrings was great for cyclo-cross riders using a single chainring set-up, as Atkins did. With only six sprockets on the rear wheel to chose from, matching chainring size to course and conditions was essential.

Image of John Atkins1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike

This bike has a 44-tooth single TA chainring with an integral chain-guard. For other bikes that didn’t have a Stronglight chainset Atkins made his own chain-guards by grinding the teeth off a 52-tooth chainring. Better chains and understanding of how to shape teeth to prevent chain derailment mean that single ring cyclo-cross and mountain bikes don’t need chain-guards now, but they were essential when Atkins raced.

Image of John Atkins1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike
  

The rear mech is a Campagnolo Nuovo Record, which is operated by a single bar-end lever, also from Campagnolo and known as a handlebar control. Handlebar controls were perfect for cyclo-cross because shifts could be made while still in contact with the steering. The brakes aren’t original, they were retro fitted by the bike’s current owner Dave East.

Image of John Atkins1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike

Other cyclo-cross specific bits of kit include tubular tyres; a deep-tread one on the rear for traction, and a heavy file pattern on the front for cornering. The pedals are from the French company Lyotard. They were easy to ride on both sides, wide so better for getting feet back in the toe-clips after a dismount, and they were quite cheap so not painful to replace if they got a knock. They also had good mud clearance. The toe clips are cyclo-cross specific too, their metal doubled up for extra strength.  

Image of John Atkins1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike
  

This is a real workhorse bike, a tool used by one of the best pro cyclo-cross riders of his generation. For its day it was a fast and efficient bike that would cope with the varied conditions of British and European cyclo-cross circuits.     

Image of John Atkins1971 Carlton cyclo-cross bike