Saturday, 31 March 2012

Bill Soens

A huge thank you to Bill Soens, one of Merseyside's finest ever frame makers, and member of possibly Merseyside's most famous cycling family. Bill has sent us the following piece for the blog.

  There are quite a few incorrect assumptions and/or otherwise regarding who built what etc etc.  So herewith the authentic version from a 75 year old son of the late Eddie Soens.

Leaving out my grandad _Jim Soens snr whose business was closed during the 1st World War - there were three bike shops/builders named Soens.  My uncle Jim (jnr) opened his business in circa 1936 and to the best of my knowledge built all or most of his own frames - I have no doubt that he did badge a few later in life.  He simply called himself "Soens Cycles".  Fair enough since there was no one else of that name to compete.

I opened "Eddie Soens Cycles" in the late Autumn of 1957 just after I completed my National Service in the Royal Signals, acquiring the shop off Aussie Hurlen for whom I worked before I was called up in 1955.  Aussie had gone down the pan like dozens of others but it was he who taught me how to build using coal gas and air !   I quickly changed this for Oxy-Acelylene.

I built almost all of my own frames - about 800 - badging only a very few cheaper Italian "in the rough" ones.   This was very common practice in those days and many well known "builders" did the same.    All my frames were numbered under the bottom bracket starting at 001 but I don't have any records of them now. Sometimes I can roughly identify a frame even if it has some other's name on it.

All the frames were badged Eddie Soens with a smaller SoenSport logo on the left chainstay at a later stage.
The third "Soens" shop was opened about three years after me, run by my two other uncles Tommy and Dougie.  Both of these two gentlemen were painters and decorators and they never built a single frame in their lives.   Almost all of them were badged Holdsworths or possibly even one or two I built for them   The famous photo of Tommy Simpson on a "Tommy Soens" was almost certainly a Holdsworth.  Sorry but that's the situation.

There is nothing wrong in this.  It was done all over the country by many well-known dealers and frankly I have little doubt that many of the bikes we see now have been built in Taiwan, USA, Europe or where-ever but carry British names.  I would be very surprised to learn that there are dozens of carbon-fibre ovens all over the UK - but I'm open-minded and happy to be corrected.

On my own business - I was a good frame-buiilder and a not good businessman !  I closed it down after about eight years or so but in that time my bikes won most National Championships road and track and several Worlds with mostly Beryl Burton.  I believe I get a mention in Barry Hoban's autobiography.
All history now and who cares anyway.

Bill Soens

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