Five Go on a Treasure Hunt: Triumph by name, please be triumphant by nature
Not many 20th-century bicycles can claim to be Dublin bikes, but the Triumph 20 was made in Raleigh’s factory on Hanover Quay. Putting sentiment aside, is it worth as much as I hope?
Simon O’Connor of the Little Museum of Dublin with the Triumph 20 he bought at Dublin Flea Market, Newmarket Square. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
We gave five treasure hunters €100 each and sent them off to bag bargains. At the end of the series, James O’Halloran of Adam’s Auctioneers will value the items and the winner will get €500 for the charity of his or her choice. Simon O’Connor’s chosen charity is the Peter McVerry Trust.
July 1983. The sun is burning down on a small cul-de-sac in Walkinstown in Dublin. It’s melting the tar between paving slabs and giving kids a rare opportunity to set things on fire with magnifying glasses. In the middle of the road, five young children lie on the ground side by side, staring at the sky in an obedient panic. Beside the first child is a makeshift ramp, a piece of board placed on a bunch of breeze blocks.
I’m eight years old, about 50ft from the ramp, and scared out of my wits, hoping in the next 10 seconds I can build up enough speed to get up that ramp and clear the line of kids without landing on any of them. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter: I’m on my black Raleigh Strika, a kids’ version of the Raleigh Grifter, which has already helped me do the longest wheelie on the road. I’m a little guy with a lot to prove. But I can’t see the ramp too clearly (it’ll be a few years before anyone figures out I need glasses). To hell with it: foot on the pedal, deep breath, and I’m off. The other kids are cheering, the guinea pigs are screaming, I’ve hit the ramp and I’m up in the air.
Back to the present. Everyone loves a good bargain, or at least the feeling that they are getting something for less than the next guy. Not me. I am a salesperson’s dream: the customer who believes in paying exactly what the seller believes the product is worth. Haggling for me has always been an uncomfortable exercise in which I wonder if the other guy knows how bad I am at it.
That’s why I keep my bargain hunting to the internet, specifically Adverts.ie, where I can lowball a seller under a pseudonym, wait for months without following up (not deliberately, I just have a bad memory) and then get a bargain when they panic-sell at the last minute.
Adverts.ie is a minor addiction in our house. For Father’s Day this year I was presented with a charming wooden device, wherein you push a lever and a wooden bird bends over to pick a cigarette up from an opening drawer. My wife got it for €15 online, which is less than what an actual packet of fags will cost before the year is out.
For this challenge, and after weeks of combing Adverts.ie (underwear, only worn once) and Donedeal.ie (free tree stump) for bargains, I headed to the Dublin Flea Market, which takes place on the last Sunday of every month at Newmarket Square in the Coombe.
A buzzing market
I get straight into character. It’s a buzzing market, great fun to bring kids to, and full of furniture, books and other odds and ends, ranging from the terrible to the excellent. Prices are inconsistent, and you can get a genuine bargain if you persevere.
Shane Gallagher’s stall is right by where I park my car, so I stumble upon his immaculately preserved Triumph 20 straight away. Not many bikes in the 20th century can claim to be Dublin bikes, but the Raleigh Chopper and the Triumph 20 feature in a lot of Dubliners’ memories. Both were produced in Raleigh’s factory on Hanover Quay.
I never had a Chopper as a child. I sometimes see Mik Pyro, singer with Republic of Loose, heading down Rathmines Road Upper on his Chopper, and I know I still want one.
Girls had less choice. Before I really knew what a girl was, I knew that they all had Triumph 20s, which had shopping baskets for dolls to sit in, tasteful white leather seats, no crossbar for standing on and showing off, and were impossible to cycle with no hands, let alone do wheelies or stunts on. Why would anyone want one of those things?
As I’ve grown older and my tastes have become a little more, eh, feminine, I am full of admiration for Triumph 20s. Beautiful and well-designed, they are a perfect expression of a girl’s “shopping bike”. It is testament to the care and craftsmanship of their makers that I am standing in a market looking at a 30-year-old bike with original parts in perfect working order.
Either Shane is a great haggler or I am a terrible one. It takes me 40 minutes, and many mentions of The Irish Times, to convince him to drop his reasonable price of €140 to my budget of €100. Most of Shane’s bargains he gets in car-boot sales where people don’t really know the value of what they are selling. At flea markets such as this one, people look up items on their smartphones before they buy, so it’s becoming more difficult for stall holders to make a good mark-up.
That said, Shane has many success stories. He once found a rare print from 1798 in an Oxfam shop and sold it the following week at auction for an impressive return. But the second-hand and antique economy now spreads across the world online, and often he is selling to sellers who are selling via eBay to other collectors.
While I am at Newmarket Square, I find a few other Triumphs online, cheaper than the one before me, but all in need of restoration. This bike is in fantastic condition, with original handlebar grips, original saddle-bag for bike tools and beautiful white tyres. And best of all, it’s green. There is no more Irish a bicycle than a green Triumph 20.
So here’s the pitch: in a sea of businessmen with cycling-gear fetishes (do you really need to wear those Lycra shorts to work?), bearded young men on fluorescent fixies and Hiberno-cosmopolitans with their little geniuses piled into a Dutch delivery bike, why not cut a dash on a genuine piece of local Dublin history? Lighten up each morning with looks of envy from passers-by. Spend your Saturday morning bringing those white wheels back up to a dazzle.
It’s hard to let go
The missus is not a little upset when I tell her the bike is going back to The Irish Times, where it will be evaluated with all the other treasures.
I can understand why. Dublin is once again a cycling city, and soon we may reach the dizzy heights of the mid-1980s (cyclist numbers in the city peaked in 1986). Me, I cycle my dad’s 23-year-old Raleigh 501. It’s a trusty steed that, thankfully, refuses to be stolen.
If my little bike is Triumph-ant (oh dear), I will donate the prize money to the Peter McVerry Trust. Fr McVerry, who was recently awarded the Freedom of the City, is an inspirational force who works at the coalface of homelessness and drug abuse, and has seen the tragic effects of both on communities in Dublin through good times and bad.
Suddenly I’m back in July 1983, and time is moving very slowly. I’m in the air, looking down at the screaming faces as I fly over them. The bike is starting to drop down and I hit the ground, missing the last kid by what feels like millimetres. The older kids are cheering, and one of them lines up with his Grifter to make the next attempt. You never forget your first proper bike: the one that makes you feel a few feet taller.
Next week: Conor Pope hands over cash for an old cash box