A teenage boy wipes the steam from the bus window and peers out onto a grey 1960s street in Forest Hill, South London, on the way to his weekly school swimming lesson. His eye catches a bike abandoned in the front garden of a Victorian terraced house and he realises that he noticed the same one last week. A racing tourer that’s seen better days. But nothing a bit of a TLC wouldn’t put right. “I’ll go back after school,” he says to himself. “I’ll go back and see if the owner wants to get rid of it.”
So began the cycling career of a young mixed race boy from South London, who was to become a future National Champion, and represent his country in the Commonwealth Games. Moreover, this scrawny kid would stand toe to toe with some of the best riders of the world in Belgium, Berlin and beyond, travelling the world as part of the great spectacle of the 6 day races in far flung cities - from Buenos Aires to Milan. This was the historic beginning of Maurice Burton's career - when he relieved the owner of a Youngs racing bike, against the wishes of his Jamaican father, who thought that cycling was too dangerous a sport for his son.
Maurice rubs his hands together and warms them over the electric heater in the back office of his shop in Streatham on that main thoroughfare of buses, cars and HGVs that leads to Croydon in one direction, Brixton in the other. He settles into his chair by the desk towering with paperwork and looks back misty eyed to those early days.
We’re at De Ver Cycles, the shop that Maurice has owned and run since the 1980s.The initial impression on entering is that we’re in a slightly old fashioned bike shop, with a bell that tinkles as you open the door. Maurice’s lovely wife, Mia, beams her Phillipina smile from behind the counter, warmly welcoming all and sundry, remembering customers who may not have stepped in for many months or longer, asking them how the De Rosa is running or, “I hope your son is enjoying that lovely Frog bike we sold you before Christmas!”
In fact it now comprises of three separate shop fronts all interconnected at the back as the business has expanded and bought the freehold of a former Antiques emporium. But there’s nothing antique or old fashioned about the wares for sale and on display today. Chris Froome’s Pinarello frame sits proudly in one window, high end carbon road bikes from Colnago, Daccordi and Pinarello are stacked row upon row in the small space alongside De Ver road bikes with their distinctive, proud, bright yellow livery. Out the very back, through the workshop, there’s a studio dedicated to bike fitting which offers the high end service required for the sale of high end bikes.
The child sized frame of a alloy Colnago, a frame made for Maurice’s son, Germain, and gifted by Ernesto Colnago himself, displayed high on a wall reveals that this isn’t your normal high street retailer. And further scrutiny of the walls prompts the discovery of framed black and white prints of a mixed race young man crossing the line of the velodrome a wheel ahead of his rivals. A faded poster bears Maurice Burton’s name alongside some of the great racers of the 60s and 70s. And here is the youthful Maurice on the podium, and there he is smiling and relaxed next to a baby faced Bradley Wiggins.
So, while this shop offers all that a bike shop should, from kids bikes to brake pads to commuter panniers, you soon realise you’ve entered something rather more impressive than what most high street bike retailers have to offer. How many other places can claim to be owned and run by a former professional bike racer, a National Champion?
Maurice took over De Ver in 1987 after he’d suffered a serious injury in a crash at a Six Day Race in Buenos Aires, Argentina, forcing him to retire from professional racing. Incredibly the only work he could get after his recovery was as a cycle courier having been turned down by Evans as a mechanic! De Ver was his way out and he bought the business off a fellow professional and friend, the Australian, Peter Versleydonck (hence the name of the shop, De Ver).
Thirty years later, De Ver is a thriving business. There’s also a club which has some 50 or so members which meets every Saturday morning and Maurice goes out with them frequently, complete with their bright yellow jerseys. He has also helped various young riders with their racing careers and his son, Germain, is part of the British National Under 23 squad.
Back in the shop he sells many brands of bikes, from the ever popular and value for money Boardman, to the classy Pinarello as well as his own brand, of course. But it’s another Italian make that still sets Maurice’s heart racing. “I think Colnago is the brand,” he muses, “Ernesto is still so much involved – first one in, last one out.” They have built up a warm friendship over the years. Maurice has also been flown out to Japan this month to meet Mr Shimano to discuss pricing of Shimano products for his and the bike industry’s benefit.
Rather like his Italian counterpart, Maurice is absolutely hands-on as far as the business is concerned and is often still there at 11 o’ clock at night. Having had my own bikes looked after and fixed up there myself, I can say that the shop offers a fantastic service and Maurice’s mechanics are long serving and loyal employees who love where they work, as well as its owner of course. Meanwhile the next generation of Burtons, Maurice's daughter and two sons help and work here, ensuring the legacy of De Ver lives on. You can have absolute confidence that your pride and joy will be cared for with love and attention to detail!
Next week Ride Velo will be profiling Maurice Burton’s racing career and life story.