I can recall clear as day a conversation I had with BJ (Billy Joe Shearsby) at 440 Collins st as we were both standing by for jobs (2003). We were both working for Toll / Minuteman as bike couriers under the ‘Bell’ regime. BJ asked me why I rode a track bike and how I hadn’t killed myself riding it on the street with no brakes. At the time I was the only courier riding a track bike on the street in Melbourne and I’d wager Australia and the concept freaked out more than just a few couriers, let alone commuters. The conversation ended with him saying ‘I used to ride a track bike too‘.
I wrote the story below for RIDE magazine as part of the Retro Review many many moons past.
The never ending Pursuit.
In 1993, a quartet of skinny kids smashed the world record for the team pursuit on the bike above. Two key figures who played a role in that record regale their part in making a huge impression the first year the team pursuit was on the elite program at the World Track Championships. The achievement was so great that Head AIS figure Charlie Walsh instructed Bryan Hayes to create 8 bikes, 2 for each rider were made to commemorate the event. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of the octet to document, interview both the rider who raced it, and the man who made it.
A bicycle frame is just 11 tubes joined together, in the same regard that art is merely oil on canvas. There is a huge artisan statement made by Eurosport frames in the domain of hand built frames. It’s a statement that the riders who have ridden Euro’s would stand by. The bicycles built by Brian Hayes as well as being beautiful, have set so many records, won so many championships that he has lost count. The excitement of the first big world record remains a personal highlight for him.
Hayes’ decribes the bikes that blitzed the record in 1993 as basic frames, with steel gussets and spoked wheels. The idea for the gussets came from Dean Wood’s Cinelli Laser. Hayes immediately thinking he could make something on par with the futuristic italian bike.
The ideas for following pursuit bikes flowed on from this point, and with the resources of Sal Sansonetti and his moulding expertise and meticulous attention to his own race bikes, carbon and foam gussets replaced the steel gussets. The relationship grew, leading to the RMIT Superbike project and the basis of those first discussion can be seen in the carbon BT monocoque design used by the AIS today.
Brian Hayes was drawn into cycling at age 12, a school mate had wisely chosen racing bicycles over chasing a piece of leather when forced by his Dad to chose one sport or the other. Brian was riding a Malvern Star with mudguards and upside down handlebars. Flipping the bars and losing the guards, that bike became his first racer.
Bryan built his first frame for Carl Bobridge, not by desire, but out of frustration of the current frames that were coming out of the shop he managed, Cycles Eurosport. An advertisement in the back of a cycling magazine caught Hayes’ attention. Ken Evans offered frame building courses and after a short phone call, Bryan travelled to Geelong to spend a week with Ken learning the basics of the trade.
Hayes used silver solder for his frames as the advantages were clear. Easier to clean up prior to paint, and less heat applied to the tubes so they retained their metallurgical properties. Charlie Walsh came into Bryan’s shop requiring a number of frames to be repaired for the olympic team and so pleased with the finished product that Walsh headhunted Bryan to work for him in 1986. That was the beginning of the AIS cycling program, which was about to become the development program for many future stars of Australian cycling.
From that point on in 1986, Bryan Hayes only built frames for the cycling elite within the AIS. Track bikes, Road bikes, both training and racing, as well as time trial bikes which had 650c front wheels at the time. Hayes could turn a frame around in 3 days. From 11 tubes and lugs, to completed frame ready for assembly.
Hayes drew his inspiration for his own bikes from Ugo De Rosa, and the resemblance is clear. The elegant and consistent finish, the high level of detail would become trademarks of his own. Hayes also become a painter for the same reasons he became a frame builder. One day he picked up the spray gun, and in the unventilated upstairs room of the shop, he painted his first frame. It was from this point on that Hayes kept all processes in house to retain control over the quality of the frames. Only chrome plating was outsourced. After mastering the single colour, boredom was the motivator for what are now perhaps some of the best finished frames in the world. Bryan has few peers with the gun including Joe Cosgrove and Brian Bayliss, both winners of Best Paint at the North American Hand Built Bike Show.
Beyond the sharp finish to Euro’s, they were exceptionally well designed and tailored to each rider for superb handling and feel. No longer can Hayes tailor a frame to the fit the rider. With no diversity in fork offset in carbon frames, this creates poor handling characteristics for any frame signifantly smaller or larger than 56cm. Hayes designed bikes with neutral geometry and would design each fork and frame with the same stability index. When it came to rider feedback on his bikes, no comment was the best compliment paid. A rider could jump on the bike and not have to think about ‘riding’ it. The ground work in measuring the rider accurately, from limbs, height, length length, torso, wingspan and reach resulted in the perfect framewith the saddle sitting in the middle of the rails, and not positioned forward or backward as an afterthought or micro adjustment. This translated to the riders looking good on the bike which was the common remark by other national teams of the Australians.
The names of riders who have ridden Hayes’ marque Euro Sport, read like an honour roll of Australian Cycling. O’Grady, Aitken, McGee, McGrory, Lancaster, O’Shannesy, Winters, Niewand, Hill to name but a few.
Hayes is also the only frame builder to have supplied a bike for the Italian track team. The gusseted sprint bike for the Barcelona Olympics caused uproar in the Italian camp, the coach furious that a non-Italian bike was being ridden. Hayes remarked that it wouldn’t have mattered what the Italians rode, they couldn’t touch the Australian sprinters that year, Neiwand falling millimeters short in the final against Fiedler to claim silver.
Hayes has also had the rare honour of building NJS approved frames for Australian Keirin racers in Japan, Hill, Kelly and Dajka. The NJS tubes and lugs were sent to Hayes, the frame was sent to Japan for stringent testing of strength and alignment and his frames were found to be the straightest of all the NJS builders.
Billy Joe Shearsby was and will always be a surfer first. He fell into cycling due to an ear infection that kept him out of the water. A friends Dad left him his bike in his will, and this became his first bike to race on. Shearsby discovered he was very good at it winning immediately, and he became heavily addicted to the feeling of winning. After progressing well as a junior with Blackburn CC, after high-school he spent a year dedicated to training. He’d spent many years prior applying to the AIS, but the dedicated time to the bike only was rewarded almost instantly, and before Shearsby knew it he was in Mexico on a training camp.
Primarily an indivudual pursuit rider, Shearsby described Hayes’ workshop as a candy store of all the most amazing bike equipment you could imagine, and his heroes bike displayed on the wall. He was in awe. He recalls the moment when Hayes measured his wingspan, checking his notes, then remeasuring. Shearsby had an incredibly long reach, perhaps more suited to a surfer.
When Billy Joe recalls the year of the record, he rode 40,000km over 10 months in preparation. He contrasts this with Graeme O’Brees approach to the pursuit, riding as hard as he could first thing in the morning, no warm up and smashing himself for 4 minutes on a stationary bike. However strange his methodology, O’Bree was faster as an individual over 4km than the quartet could muster (in the outlawed ‘Superman’ position). Shearsby says as hard as the training was and the massive volume of work they did, Walsh knew what he was doing.
Billy Joe was was most experimental with his equipment at the time, the first to use time trial bars at 1990 National titles in Perth, before the AIS had. The next meet he noticed all the AIS riders were using time trial bars. Once at the AIS it was unplanned for Shearsby to ride the team pursuit, following behind the team in training programs. Although the dedicated team pursuiters were faster and more powerful, his addition to the team elevated their results immediately.
The Euro Sport track bike, commemorating Billy Joe Shearsby’s world record set in 1993 (Hamar, Norway) was constructed from the stiffest and lightest tubeset of the day, Columbus TSX.
The bike features classical tight clearances, but the standout is certainly the gold plated fork and cast crown made by Bertoli in Italy. Hayes bought his own pantograph machine for his brake bridges, seat stays and bottom bracket shells. Columbus fittings were standard for tips and dropouts. The commemorative bike is also pantographed on the face of the crown ‘BH’. Though these bikes were made for show, they were raced considerably, O’Grady and Aitken crashing one of theirs in 6 day races in Europe.
The pearl white and gold plated fork was an elegant statement. The gold plating was never done again, and is only a mere few microns thick. The plating highlights the Bertoli crown and front end of the machine, and simple paint defines the sharpness of Hayes’ lug work.
The bikes came with a World Championship saddle by San Marco made just for the 8 bikes. Billy Joe still has his and it has never been used, preferring the white rolls saddle for racing.
When the 4 set the record Shearsby says they ‘were on fire’ leading up to the Championships and knew they would win, describing the feeling in the team as ‘untouchable’. At an outdoor practice session they did a flying 5km effort in 5.10 on 82″ gears and spoked wheels. The german coaching staff sitting in the stands shook their heads in amazement.
The team broke the record in every round including the final, and in another mark of intimidation were the only nation to have all riders finishing together in every round. They rode 92.8″ gears in the final (significantly smaller than today’s riders) and at top speed were spinning at an amazing 150rpm. The Australian team were also experimenting with larger chainrings and cogs to give a smoother chainrap and less tangent at the cog. Perhaps it was the combination of all these 1% measures resulted in the mark, or just the fusion of talent and confidence as a team.
So impressive were the Australians that Billy Joe can remember the Germans asking them ‘please make us look good’ in the final. They had tacitly agreed till Aitken said ‘stuff them’ with the memory of the previous years beating fresh in the memory and the Australians lapped the Germans on the way to setting the new world record.
The time of 4.03s (4km) set by Junior riders Stuart O’Grady, and Brett Aitken, and Senior riders Billy Joe Shearsby and Tim O’Shannessy would stand for 7 years. Even with advances in sport science and biomechanics, materials and aerodynamics, it took another 9 years for an Australian team to eclipse that mark. The chemistry and results of the team of 4 shadowed their individual abilities.
It’s no coincidence they were also drug tested in every round. ‘I can remember going to drug control and Jens Lehmann and I couldn’t piss. Jens was a hero of mine, I put his poster on the wall when I decided I wanted to become a pursuiter. He was my hero and I was in awe just to have raced against him. He was a giant of a man. As we waited Jens put his hand around my thigh, and it went most of the way around. He said something in german and laughed. I don’t think he could believe 4 skinny kids had absolutely embarrased them on the track’.
‘When we got the bikes to commemorate the win I remember taking it home and just staring at it. It was the most beautiful track bike I’d ever seen’. The bike is very close to it’s racing days, Shearsby remembering that he had the Campagnolo C-Record sheriff star hubs and box section rims to complete the groupset, not Shamals ‘only Stuey and Brett got to ride them’, and traditionally curved pista bars.
As far as a palmares goes, Billy Joe biggest wins individial wins weren’t on the international stage, but fondly remembers beating team mate Tim O’Shannessy in the state titles in Alice Springs of all places. He rated O’Shannessy as the hardest to beat and was faster in every round except the final. Shane Kelly has never beaten Shearsby in his pet event, the Kilo at State level. Billy Joe raced in the USA and Europe and while in Australia he felt he had the ability to win any race he wanted, overseas he was just another rider in the bunch. His modesty plays down the fact in he did finish 2nd to Servais Knaven ( 2001 Paris Roubaix winner) in the Tour of Holland in 1993, and won criteriums across Europe including one where Charlie Walsh’s only compliment was ‘you’re wearing the wrong bloody helmet!’
After retiring from the professional ranks, a decade later Billy Joe was again a professional cyclist, only this time as a bike courier which is where our paths crossed. A job to this day he describes as ‘the best job I’ve ever had.’
The bike itself is now owned by an Adelaide cycling aficionado and raced regularly at the Superdrome, home of the AIS.