In the spring of 1946, Ron Kitching crossed the Channel alongside his compatriot Geoff Clarck to take part in a race on Belgian soil for the first time. Through manager and dealer in cycling equipment Tommy Hill, Ron and Geoff find lodgings in the house of former cyclist Piet Van Kempen, who runs a café-hotel in the region of Brussels. Van Kempen advises the Brits to attack from the start, as they are not used to racing in a peloton - until then, such group races had been banned in the United Kingdom.
The British take the advice to heart and bundle their forces in an early attack. Although they do not manage to take the win, their 5th and 6th place feels like a small victory. After the race, former rider and constructor Aimé Dossche even offers the duo a contract. Mission accomplished one would think. Unfortunately, at that moment a telegram reaches the duo. Their British mentor has unexpectedly passed away.
“And that was that. Our mentor had been the one who had persuaded me to go to Europe, always telling me that if it hadn’t been for the war, I would have really been somebody in the sport. That moment - returning home, was one of the biggest disappointments of my life and it took a lot of getting over”, liet Kitching optekenen door zijn biograaf Michael Breckon.
Kitching then decides to focus entirely on his own bicycle store in Harrogate, which he started shortly before World War II. The racing bug does not let him go, however. New overseas expeditions are attempted, now mainly with the aim of stealing with the eyes. Ron discovers not only young top riders in the making but also, and above all, beautiful and rock-solid bicycle parts that cannot be compared to those available back home: "I couldn't believe what I saw ... it was mind-boggling."
The young entrepreneur immediately sees a gap in the market and starts a lucrative smuggling business. The smuggling technique Ron uses is simple but very effective. He hides the parts in his suitcase, right beneath his soiled racing clothes so that overzealous customs officials are not immediately inclined to search his belongings.
The first parts illegally transferred to England and purchased in Belgium or France are sold in no time. Not much later, cargoes of nylons also move across the Channel in this same direction. At Mrs. Kitching's request, Ron buys his wife several pairs. The highly qualitative nylons in Belgium turn out to be a lot better than what is available in the UK. ...
The smuggling trips result in a real - legal - business. With this business, Ron had one goal in mind: to close the gap between the British cycling world and continental Europe in terms of bicycle technology. In 1953, Kitching launched his first retrospective catalogue, which can best be read as a who's who of European bicycle component manufacturers.
In the introduction to his catalogue, entitled Everything Cycling - a list of specialties stocked & distributed by Ron Kitching, he writes: "Inside this cover you will find "Everything Cycling", a series of articles recommended by Ron Kitching to improve still further the pleasure in this cycling game. The experiences of years of racing in all its forms, touring both at home and abroad together with the friendship and advice of the "heads" of cycling sport, British and Continental, combined have achieved an expert knowledge unrivalled in the cycling game today. "Everything Cycling" will show you the road to Enjoyable Cycling."
As a fixed part of his promo, Ron has British amateur riders testing newly introduced products. After all, for a good performance, the bike and matching parts were widely considered to be essential. Ron has the exclusive selling rights to top French and Italian components such as Lyotard pedals, brakes by Weinmann and Mafac, Christophe toe clips, tubes by Vittoria, Huret gears, saddles by San Marco,.... Anything that came from the continent was synonymous with quality in those days, and Kitching skilfully capitalized on that.
In the wake of Tommy Hill, a solid Belgian link is also quickly emerging. Among other products, guidons from Titan, cycling clothing from Alex Sport and cycling shoes from the Hector Martin brand are part of the Kitching range. Anno 1953, the chapter on shoes in Ron's very first catalogue counts two brands: "Hungaria (French), the best known French racing shoe" and "Hector Martin" (Belgian). These superb cycling shoes are once again available in four models: track special with steel sole insert; Super Road Model, Road Model and Olympia Model."
Kitching annually orders about a thousand pairs of cycling shoes from craftsman Camiel Thomas in Roeselare. These are eagerly worn; from young, novice amateur riders to champions such as Tom Simpson and Beryl Burton. On his many visits to customers outside the United Kingdom, Ron also frequently adds Roeselare to his places of interest.
Correspondence preserved in Camiel Thomas' archives between Ron and the Thomas family reveals a mutual affection. Nevertheless, from time to time the Briton - like many other customers - has to wait a very long time for placed orders to arrive....
Kitching's business remains active for decades. Thanks to his imports, the British cycling scene gets a solid boost. Kitching becomes the confidant/guardian of a host of British riders and, as a result, he establishes himself as an influential figure in Great Britain. Not for nothing is he nicknamed "Mister Cycling".
Biographer Michael Breckon put it this way, shortly after Kitching’s passing in 2011: "While we knew him as a supporter of cycling, others knew him as a philanthropist far beyond sport. His generosity and thoughtfulness quietly spread well beyond the sponsorships and trophies, the races and festivals, into the town where he lived and the causes he favored."
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