Thursday, April 18, 2024

“No Ordinary Joe” by Brian Jones


HomeOtherBook Reviews"No Ordinary Joe" by Brian Jones

One of the nice things about this gig is that people sometimes send you cool cycling books to review, in this case, ‘No Ordinary Joe’ sub-titled ‘Cycling Legends 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, a unique collection of stories, USA & Canada.’

The US & Canada version of ‘No Ordinary Joe’.

There’s a wee problem with the ‘No Ordinary Joe’ part of that title in that Joe Calzaghe, Joe Biden, Joe Paterno and others all have books written about them with the same title.

No matter. 

Ron Skarin winning the Tour of Somerville on a Teledyne Titan. Photo©Robert F. George

The book comes on the back of an English edition of the first book with this title written by Brian Jones, with his cover jacket intro telling us; 

“No Ordinary Joe” is an homage to the amateur cyclist, the riders who receive far less column inches than their professional counterparts but who nevertheless have fascinating stories to tell.

Indeed, the deeds of these indomitable cyclists should be recorded and lauded before they are lost in the mists of time.

Let s celebrate these wonderful riders by recounting their lives and times on the best mode oftransport ever invented – the bicycle.”

No Ordinary Joe
Lindsay Crawford in the 1980 La Vuelta de Bisbee Arizona Stage Race. Photo©supplied

Whilst many of the riders interviewed in the book were unknown to me, if you call yourself an aficionado then champions the like of Don Awcock, Janet Birkmyre, Geoff Cooke and Dave Le Grys – the last three of whom I’ve had the pleasure to interview – are hardly ‘unknown.’ 

The USA version is an altogether different proposition to the GB edition with a bigger, glossier production.

The UK edition of ‘No Ordinary Joe’.

The content whilst covering names unknown to me like Pat Barker, Eon D’Ornellas and Phil Guarnaccia, all fascinating characters if not household names, it also includes well known legends of the sport, the like of Curt Harnett, Barry Harvey, John Howard, the late Jocelyn Lovell, the late Audrey McElmury, Gordon Singleton and Alex Stieda who are all legends of the sport.

And at least Howard, Singleton and Stieda all pulled on professional team jerseys during their careers, so it’s not all about amateurs.

That said, it doesn’t make their stories any less worth telling, especially now that there are less and less hard copy cycling publications which pick up on ‘retro’ and these riders deserve to be remembered and have their legacies ‘fleshed out.’

No Ordinary Joe
Nelson Vails at the 1983 Pan-Am Games in Venezuela. Photo©Robert F. George

Several of my personal heroes are included in the book, not least the late, great Jocelyn Lovell of Canada who was one of the classiest riders I ever had to the pleasure to witness in action.

The author describes him exactly as I remember;

“Astride a track bike; adorned in the beautiful Canadian national pale blue jersey with white sleeves and red maple leaf in back; immaculate, slim and long limbed; he looked as if he’s been born to perform the role, and none could argue that viewpoint.”

I always wanted to interview the man but the fates decided that was not to be, ‘rest in peace, Sir.’

No Ordinary Joe
Riding an innovative low profile single seat tube frameset he made himself in the 1983 World Kilometer Championships in Leicester, Jocelyn Lovell starts with his main rear sprocket slightly unscrewed and as he launches on the lower gear on the left side, the main sprocket screws itself onto the hub, kicking into use once fully screwed home. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Lovell’s mentor, Barry Harvey gets a chapter to himself, born in Britain, then a multiple Canadian champion on the track he won Commonwealth silver on the tandem with protégé Lovell in Edinburgh in 1970.

He was also one of the very first to see the benefits of titanium as a potential material for bike tubes; his ‘Teledyne Titan’ is now a sought after collector’s item. 

No Ordinary Joe
Paul Deem (right) racing against Dale Stetina, both riding Teledyne Titans. Photo©supplied

Then there’s Gordon Singleton, I was there that day in 1982 when it looked like he’d brought an end to Koichi Nakano’s reign as World Professional Sprint Champion.

No Ordinary Joe
The 1982 World Sprint Championships and Gordon Singleton (Canada) took on Koichi Nakano (Japan). Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

The Canadian had already beaten Nakano – lauded as the greatest Keirin rider in history and still a legend in Japan – in the Keirin final.

But despite his humble bowing to the crowd the Japanese Keirin King, raised in an arena where sticking your knee under a rival’s handlebars at high speed was just part of the game, was a ruthless competitor and a decked and disabled Singleton had to settle for the silver medal. 

I can still remember the sound of Singleton hitting the Leicester boards – it was like some giant oak tree falling.