The 2010 movie ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ centred on a group of drunken friends who accidentally turned a hot tub into a time machine and found themselves back in the 80s reliving their youth.
The same thing happened to Drogheda man Austin Walsh, although he doesn’t drink and he used a bike shop instead of a hot tub.
From the outside, the small yellow facade of Quay Cycles on the North Quay in Drogheda is unremarkable. But the trip back in time begins as soon as you walk in the door.
Immediately to the left, framed on the wall, is a yellow jersey from the 1983 British Milk Race once worn by Paul Kimmage.
Kimmage’s unique white Woodfab jersey alongside it and a ceiling covered in signed ANC-Halfords, Peugeot, Skil, 7-Eleven, System-U, TVM and other 80s jerseys instantly brings you back to the heady days when the televised Kellogg’s City Centre Cycling Series came to Dublin, Cork and Wexford and Irish duo Seán Kelly and Stephen Roche were ranked No 1 and No 2 in the world.
The further back you go into the narrow shop, the further back you go in time, as far back as the tandem built for Irish Olympic duo Bertie Donnelly and Herbie Braedon in 1927.
Opposite the counter is a fantastic display containing Shay Elliott’s bike, Mercier jersey, and even the suitcase he used in the days when he took stage wins at the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia, finished second in the world road race championships and became the first English speaker to win Belgian classic Het Volk.
“It’s remarkable what Shay achieved and it’s very important that his achievements live on,” says Walsh, whose shop proudly displays a long and storied history of local, national and international cycling through items donated by people from all over the world.
“John Flanagan left in one of Shay’s Tour suitcases,” he says, pointing to an old brown leather case with Elliott’s name stamped on it that wouldn’t look out of place at Hogwarts. “The bike was in Willie Fay’s in Ballsgrove for many years before we got it refurbished. The jersey belongs to Phil O’Brien. Shay was only 5’6” but he was a hell of a powerful rider.”
A little further on is the unorthodox bike used by Scottish rider Graeme Obree to break the world hour record, a bike hand-made utilising various innovative techniques and some washing machine parts and delivered by Obree himself.
“He rode to the ferry in Scotland on a mountain bike with a trailer containing the bike, a fold-up bed and a tent,” says Walsh. “He camped in a field in Newry on the way to Drogheda. I brought him for lunch and we had a great chat. He’s such a lovely fellah. Then, at 4pm, he headed off again. He could have flown over but he rode back to the same field, camped there, and got the ferry back. That’s why he broke the hour record. There was no such thing as I couldn’t do that, that’d be too tough.”
A little bit further in, Chris Boardman’s bike was proffered through his kids’ godmother, whom Austin knew from a stint with Manchester Wheelers. Other items came from similarly random places.
When a young Spanish student walked into the shop with a regular customer, she noticed an old picture of legendary climber and 1959 Tour winner Federico Bahamontes.
“The Eagle of Toledo!” she exclaimed, pointing up.
“Ah, you know your cycling,” said Walsh.
“Yes,” replied the girl. “That’s my Grandfather.”
Further in, the late Marco Pantani’s leader’s jersey from the Baby Giro stands between a blue Bianchi-Pirelli jersey once worn by the legendary Fausto Coppi and Stephen Roche’s pink jersey from the 1987 Giro. Overhead, Laurent Fignon’s green jersey from the Dauphine sits alongside Roberto Visentini’s Vuelta yellow and Dubliner Peter Crinnion’s 1962 Route de France jersey.
A cabinet contains Seán Kelly’s Super Prestige Pernod trophy, awarded to the highest-scoring rider in the world’s best races at the time. A Tour de France yellow jersey worn by Shay Elliott is displayed nearby. Every item comes with a story.
“There were only three of these,” says Walsh after he carefully removes the woollen maillot jaune from the display. “Shay’s mother washed one of them in the boil wash and it shrivelled up, so she threw it out. I don’t know where the other one is.”
After four years chasing a pro career in Brittany, Walsh began working in Quay Cycles in 1995 and took it over in 1996, at the ripe old age of 23.
“Like most cyclists of the time, I always took my own bike apart and tried to put it back together again. Then you went to the shop at ten to six on Saturday evening to be bailed out for the race the next day,” he laughs.
“That’s something that I don’t think kids do nowadays. We’d a kid in earlier on in the year who was riding Rás na nÓg. He came in in his cycling gear and handed us a front wheel. He had a puncture. Myself and Dom just looked at each other and changed the tube. I suppose we did grow up in a great time.”
The sprawling collection began with an MBK bike that once belonged to French Tour de France stage winner Regis Simon, swapped with Stephen Roche’s brother Jude for a pair of wheels for his son.
“That kickstarted the whole thing,” says Austin. “With Jude being Stephen’s brother he got me a few things from Stephen after that and I put them on display.”
A clubmate of mine back then, Walsh now spends his working life surrounded by his boyhood dreams and memories. Strangely, he doesn’t look a day older than he did back in the 80s. Time, it seems, has been good to him.