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Article of the Week

Whilst Barry is preparing himself for the Spring Classics, we thought to ask,

                                              Just who is Barry Astral ?

( and if you like Barry's ramblings, check out 3 men on bikes for a laugh... )

The word ‘enigma’ was invented for Barry Astral. I’ve known him for over 30 years but I’m not sure I’m any closer to cracking what he’s about. Descriptions of him might include the terms eccentric, wheeler-dealer, rock ‘n’ roller, storyteller or womanizer.

Well, alright, womanizer might be a bit strong but his adventures in pursuit of the fairer sex over the years have certainly provided a rich source of amusing anecdotes. But apart from all this, above all else, Barry Astral is, first and foremost, a cyclist.

 

3 Men on Bikes... follow their progress as they follow the Tour de France, in their own shambolic way.
Tony Tickle's race diary... Tony's time trial progress this year.
...and why not check out Teen Corner

In the beginning, at least for me, there was Barry’s bike shop. The opening of Astral Cycles in the mid-seventies was announced with a suitable splash in a two-line ad in Exchange & Mart. As a teenager looking for my first racing bike I rolled up on my wheels of choice at the time, a Raleigh Chopper. There he was, this lean and tanned bloke with blonde hair nonchalantly lounging outside the shop in the sun while half a dozen customers poked around inside in a bemused fashion. Barry didn’t believe in hassling the buyers, especially if there was some sunbathing to do.

The shop was actually a squat, so this made for conveniently low overheads. Barry slept in the room behind the shop on a mattress on the floor surrounded by old bikes hanging on clothes rails. You might think this bijou residence left a bit to be desired in the pulling stakes but Barry never seemed to have much bother, at least to my untrained teenage eyes. I can’t offer any comment on the quality of the ‘ladies’ entertained here, suffice to say that a ‘mate’ of Barry’s apparently ran what amounted to a bordello in a room above the shop. Barry assures me this was an entirely separate enterprise. No inter-changeable stock, allegedly...

Anyway, this place was an irresistible hang-out to any impressionable teenage boy interested in bikes. It wasn’t long before I was resident mechanic, working most Saturdays for the next few years, even long after I left school. Almost all repair work was carried out by me. Barry would save it up for the weekend so he didn’t have to do any.

Mind you, one thing was guaranteed to catapult him out of his chair at the rear of the shop; the entrance of an attractive female. I’d be about to offer assistance to a good-looking young lady when suddenly I’d be barged aside by Barry saying, ‘Don’t worry Tone, I’ll see to this customer’. I didn’t usually mind this as it gave rise to the possibility of hearing a Barry-esque chat-up routine, often with the added bonus of sexual innuendo so outrageous that Julian Clarey would find it useful.
For example, there was the girl who needed her saddle height adjusted. Instead of just moving the thing to the correct height Barry would pull it from the bike and thoroughly clean the seat post tube in a highly suggestive manner. Meanwhile he would be chatting away to the girl, skilfully assessing what he could get away with without causing offence. On more than one occasion I saw this scenario culminate in the immortal line, ‘Remember, to make it slide back in easily, always grease well before insertion’. Sheer class.

These diversions aside, it was Barry who introduced me to the world of bike racing. He had hundreds of copies of International Cycle Sport and I was soon enthralled with stories from the continental Tours and one-day Classics. Names like Gimondi, Thevenet, Poulidor, de Vlaeminck, Maertens and especially Merckx were soon the gods of bike racing for me as I made my first tentative foray into racing myself. We’d talk about bike racing for hours.

Then one day Barry mentioned he’d done a bit of racing on the continent himself. Pressed for more information, he admitted to a couple of seasons racing based in Ghent in the mid-sixties trying to make a living in pro races! Blimey! What next?...........