It's unusual for anyone to build an international reputation for doing something as seemingly straightforward as building wheels, even more so for that person to be an outsider to the world of cycling. In the beginning, Pat Hanlon was not always welcome in the old boys club of professional cycling, but by the time she retired her wheels were considered to be the finest wheels available.
Born in 1915 in the Welsh town of Newport, Pat had her first bike at age of 14. By the time she was 16 she had moved to London and was regularly doing long rides, racking up some serious miles. Early success in racing left her pining for a bike upgrade, so she went to Macleans to order one of their renowned lightweight custom bikes. It was at this famous North London shop (just 1.5 miles from Pedal Pedlar HQ) that Pat’s interest in the mechanical side of cycling started to grow. Hanging around the shop on Saturday mornings Pat offered assistance, unpaid, and became particularly intrigued in the work of the wheel builder in the basement, only to be told “women don’t do jobs like that”.
Headbadge from Pat Hanlon's 1st shop at 175 High Rd, Tottenham
With the advent of the second world war this old fashioned attitude to women in the workplace was being rapidly adjusted and employers found they could no longer ignore someone who was willing and able regardless of gender. Pat got her chance and despite a great deal of initial reticence from the shop’s customers she persevered and started to garner a formidable reputation. Pat continued to build lightweight, high performance wheels until she opened her own shop in Tottenham in 1957. Her customers during that time included the best local amateurs, national champions and even World Champions and Tour winners, including Rik Van Looy, Tom Simpson and Jacques Anquetil. When she eventually hung up her spoke key there was a long list of desperate racers and touring cyclists alike, all begging for her to keep going, imploring her to build them one last set of wheels!
Custom drilled TA chainring on a Pat Hanlon track bike
That Pat could cement such a reputation in the seemingly impenetrable patriarchal world of bicycle mechanics is an inspiring story, and is down to Pat’s drive, dedication and talent as a wheel builder. It didn’t end there though, as Pat’s shop started she employed some top class London based builders to construct her frames for her, including luminaries such as Vic Edwards, Les Ephgrave and later on Tom Board. These builders were at the time in high demand, and it is absolute testament to Pat’s standing that they were happy to work for her and have her name on the down-tube of the bikes.
If anyone out there has any photos of Pat, we'd love to add them to this article, it seems impossible to actually find even one photo of her online! We'd also love to hear any stories or see photos of Pat Hanlon bikes, should you be lucky enough to own one! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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