W. F. (Sandy) Holdsworth opened a bike shop and frame building business in Putney, London in 1927. Gradually the business grew to include three operations, the retail shops in London, a bike manufacturing business that in addition to the Holdsworth brand used, at one time or another, the Freddie Grubb (from 1952), Claud Butler (from 1958) and MacLean (from 1962) brands, and a wholesaling business that became known as ‘Holdsworthy’.

The wholesaling business was built around a distinctive annual catalogue, which was originally called ‘Aids to Happy Cycling’ but, over the years, this became shortened to ‘Bike Riders Aids’. The Holdsworth(y) ‘Aids’ catalogues became sacred texts of the British cycling scene for two reasons:

  • Firstly Holdsworth was careful to choose the very best of continental European cycling equipment. Unlike many of its competitors, the company was less interested in exclusivity than in quality.
  • Secondly the ‘Aids’ catalogues were printed in a small format that comfortably fitted into the pocket of a cycling shirt or a saddlebag. Club cyclists could easily take one on a club run or on an evening jaunt down to a meeting at the club hut. It could then be used to inform the inevitable lively debate about equipment that always occurs whenever two or three are gathered together in the name of club cycling.

But these two factors were also to fuel the downfall of the Holdworthy wholesaling business. Holdsworth had focussed on club cyclists, and club cyclists are notoriously mean with their money (beyond any degree of rationality), and scornful of anyone who they see as being unnecessarily expensive (with scorn rapidly shading into visceral hatred). With the arrival of direct ‘grey’ imports from Europe, Holdworth’s prices came to be seen as outrageously greedy. Now even the portability of the catalogue became a fatal weakness - as the evidence of their avarice could be readily produced for all to see.

By the mid 1980s the ‘Aids’ catalogues had ceased to be - but for five decades starting in 1930 they provided an excellent annual snapshot of the state of the British market for quality bicycle components.

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