i find the current series of doctor who to be somewhat trite. gone are the halcyon days of yore when a level of tension could be inculcated over the space of three episodes. thus when one week's episode ended on a cliffhanger, there was great incentive to watch the following episodes. nowadays, every adventure seems to be contained within a single episode, yet everyone knows you can't possibly defeat the cybermen in under forty-five minutes. pure fantasy.
however, one nugget of wisdom that i have retained from my early years of watching dumbstruck as that blue police box appeared as if from nowhere, now has even more resonance than when first heard. sadly, i cannot even remember which particular doctor it was that informed as such. the phrase "there's no point in being grown up if you can't be a child sometime" has had umpteen opportunities to fit into my daily routine. many's the time i have realised that, in fact, i have no idea what it is i want to do when i grow up.
this is a situation that has dogged me since my art college days, when i queued midst several hundred kids to watch a showing of the jungle book at the local cinema. nowadays it's easier to hide a delight in playing with lego. as mrs washingmachinepost plies her trade as a child-minder, there's always a considerable number of bricks strewn all across the floor, and at least two kids eager for my assistance to build some form of anonymous contruction.
but we are all grown-ups (allegedly) and socially banned from playing with toys. banned, that is, unless the toys relate in some way to our cycling obsession. which is pretty much where le petit peloton enters the situation, the province of chris baird and, as the name indicates, selling a range of miniature cycle figures on their miniature bicycles. anonymity is not the name of the game, for all of le petit peloton figures are verisimilitudes of anquetil, poulidor, lemond, wiggo et al. these are absolutely ideal for decorating the mantlepiece, as indeed i have done.
but surely, with all these childlike tendencies running amok in the peloton, we'd all have heard of le petit peloton, and been regularly discussing the authenticity of its figures on the sunday ride. how come we've never heard of them?
"I only started selling as Le Petit Peloton last year," said lpp proprietor, chris baird. "I had been selling on ebay as callum6250, but always said Le petit Peloton in my sales and thought that I rather liked the name. It was my son's idea to start it all. I decided to try and get a website up and running, though I had messages from Etsy every time I logged out of Paypal and thought perhaps I would try that. I'm still trying to get a website of my own up and running and should do later this year."
how long has chris been offering the little bike riders? "I started quite a few years back selling odd one. I was more a collector then, but I guess I have been doing it now for four or five years on e-bay."
little cycle figures have popped up on my timeline every now and again; there was even a book featuring photos of the little blighters in the rouleur bookshop. but they were of an anonymous answering, though beautifully painted and idyllic in their miniature landscapes. alternatively, one would come across unpainted figures ready and waiting for the tins of humbrol and very fine sable brushes. unfortunately, i fear i do not own the level of patience or application that would allow me the luxury of painting my own.
le petiti peloton figures are part painted and part decorated with miniature decals to create the appropriate famous character from the present or past. how does chris create the decals featured on many of his figures? "That's the time consuming part. I get info from French websites on the Tour, and then use Paint or Corel draw to create the decal.These are water-based and come in sheets A4 size. It probably takes a day to create a page.
"I am always looking for ways to improve this. I did try using foil backed decal paper, but it was expensive and I'd to use a hair drier to fix them. They looked good, but were a real pain to fix.The water-based ones allow time to move them and then seal with decal fix. I love creating new ones. I have done every legend from Anquetil to Zoetemelk over the years."
as attested to above, while i'm more than equal to the task of trying valiantly to fit new cables into sti or double-tap units, the notion of attempting to fit tiny advertising logos onto tiny cyclists is not one that holds great appeal. on the evidence of the three le petit peloton figures that sit before me, chris seems particularly adept at this process. is it a particularly onerous task?
"Painting is the easy part. Decals, as I said above, take the time. I am only ever happy with a figure for about ten minutes, then I'm thinking 'how can I improve on this'."
slackers such as myself find solace in writing endless diatribes about all and pelotonic sundry as a way of identifying myself more closely with the cycling machine. others have found other means; volunteering as a race marshall, fixing bicycles, leading tours or working for a cycling company in one capacity or another. what prompted chris to enter this particular corner of the cycling world?
"I bought a figure of Louison Bobet when in France It was a lead one which, as you know, can no longer be offered for health reasons. I still have the figure and love it. I bought a few more 1/43 scale in metal. (The ones you have are 1/32 scale). I then began collecting them, finding a guy in France who sold unpainted ones. So I decided to give it a go, though mainly for myself.
"Then people saw them and asked if I would paint them some too. As I got better and better at it, my son suggested selling a few on ebay, which I did, though it didn't take long for someone to copy everything I did. At first it was flattering as they only copied the ones that sold for the highest prices. I have to laugh at one guy as he has often captioned his as 'Rare figure' or Tom Simpson in British champion's jersey. They're not rare; I always have over 200 unpainted examples, and we both know Tom was never British champion.
The jersey he got wrong was the 1967 Tour one with the Union Jack on the shoulders. I always try to get jersey, shorts, frame colours and race numbers correct. Oh, and he has also copied my name as near as damn it."
i currently have a book in for review that features some glorious photographs from the tour de france's 100 year history, and there are many others on my bookshelves that celebrate the myriad aspects of cycling's image rich heritage, along with those that provide a biography of the greats. there really is enough material already available regarding the history of this most beautiful of sports to keep us all happy even if cycle racing was stopped in its tracks tomorrow. chris's offerings of models of the greats surely proves him to be as much a fan of cycling as the rest of us?
"Yes for my sins I am indeed. I raced against some great riders: Danny Horton, Joe Waugh, Paul Curran and loads of North East hardmen. I loved it, but through illness and injuries, I stopped racing far too young. I still ride my bike now and rediscovered the love, and I have always collected cycling memorabilia. I have all the Kennedy Brothers booklets from the tour from 1969, all the fabulous world of cycling books, and a lot more books from way back.
"I also still have hundreds of magazines from the seventies. Then I started to collect videos and dvds of races, which soon developed into a serious hobby. I now have over thousand of those. Tours from 40s, all the classics and some rare races. I used to trade (swap) all over the world without any money ever changing hands. That was great, because I chatted to loads of people from all over the world.
"I fell out of love with cycling in the late nineties, but still watched some races. Now I love it again and more so since starting to ride my bike again. I remember when Cav won Schelderprijs a friend sent me the dvd and I wanted to ride my bike again. The start of great things for British cycling.
"I'm also a lover of Italian bikes and have a Battaglin and a Pinarello Dogma (Fassa Bortolo, not Sky). I recently bought a Merckx and it's a fabulous bike, the most comfortable I have ever ridden. Bikes have changed so much from my racing years with precise gears and clipless pedals. My race bike was a Duralinox, and my first was a Peugeot, however, I always wanted a Colnago.
"I also have a few retro jerseys from Prendas and a Belgian company. I still have my old Skil top that I'll probably never fit into again. I got that out of the Comic from a Belgium supplier. My favourite is a St Raphael Gitane Campagnolo one, often seen out and about in the wilds of Wannie."
many of us are besotted with the nineteen fifties, the era of coppi, bartali and easing into the domination of frenchman, jacques anquetil, while others enjoy the competition of the nineteen eighties and possibly even the nineties. others are happy to wear clothing with a target applied and that thin blue line, or perhaps some nice laminated flooring. considering his deep involvement in the art of reproduction of many of those, does chris baird have a favoured era or cyclist amongst those on le petiti peloton?
"I love doing the older legends, but I do like the new ones too, though I'm not too keen on helmets, as they make them all look the same. I am, however, a big fan of Sean Kelly, Robert Millar, Greg Lemond, Laurent Fignon, so I figure that era is probably my favourite. I raced around that time myself . I do like doing Coppi, Bartali, Gaul, Magni, Merckx,and Anquetil, but saying that, I also love doing Van Impe and Giovanni Battaglin. All of them really.
"I have always tried doing something new and not many copy me if mine don't sell high. It doesn't bother me how much they go for, or if they don't sell, as I'm happy to keep them myself. A lot of ex pros have figures from me: Magnus Backstedt, Graham Webb, Chris Sidwells and Adrian Timmis are just a few. I am busy doing one for Roger de Vlaeminck, three for Stephen Roche and one of Robert Millar. It's funny; I used to be a good goalkeeper apparently (had scouts watching) but I always wanted the Tour or classics results and none of my mates could understand it. Some none-cycling colleagues still can't believe how passionate I am about cycling, especially Merckx etc.
"I guess my interest came from having a bike for my paper round and then being a grocery delivery boy. I used to get more tips than the other lad. I then cycled to work every day come rain, hail, snow, or shine. A guy called Dennis Fairlie from M.Steel cycles got me interested in joing the Gosforth Road club. I went out with them and was hooked. Peter Harrison (Virgin cyclone organiser) was in the club and looked after me. So many happy memories and so many funny stories, though not enough room to tell them here."
chris, by his own admission, seems to have pretty much all the bases covered. a range that stretches from the fifties to the present day really ought to offer something for everyone. however, there is no shame in being a pernickety old sod, only content to have the specific cyclist of desire planted front and centre on the sitting room mantlepiece. in which case, assuming the le petit peloton range to be devoid of one specific figure, does chris offer custom figures, and if so, how would the prospective customer go about ordering such an item?
"I have done and will again when my real site is up and running. Meantime people can contact me on Facebook as LePetitPeloton, or email me. I don't use Etsy much as I'd rather have my own site, and I will still sell the odd one on ebay as I have a nice following there."
as cycling moves on through the years and decades, new riders come along, and retiring ones enter the annals of cycling history, providing pretty much an endless supply of inspiration for le petiti peloton. however, some folks are content to continue in the way they have a for years, with no great desire to increase the stock or workload. is chris happy to continue with his current range, or has he plans for future expansion?
"I do have plans to expand, and will do once my site is up and running. I am busy doing stuff for a local bike shop and cafe, as they want a few displays. I am always trying to improve and offer new things, but I'll probably never be happy. That keeps you on your toes."
there's no time like the present for giving in to that inner child. though chris's figures are not toys in the accepted sense of the word, try telling the mrs that. however, they're not particularly expensive (actually, they're not expensive at all, starting at £8 each) so i think it only fair that you treat yourself immediately.
saturday 18th may 2013