Frank Baldoni was born in Edolo, Brescia in northern Italy in 1940 and arrived in Fremantle with his parents in 1949. From age 15 to 18 Frank worked at Swansea Cycle and Motor Co.’s Fremantle factory. The reconditioning department took in as many as 40 trade-in bikes a week. Stripped of their original branding, they were reconditioned and resold. Frank still has a collection of head badges removed from the trade-ins.
Frank raced track in this period, mainly at Fremantle Oval. Training took place at the new Lake Monger Velodrome and on the road. One popular circuit was 3 or 4 loops around Canning and Stirling Highways. Frank often trained on the same bike as he raced, fixed wheel, no brakes. Young riders were encouraged not to ride too high a gear, Frank thinks the highest gear he rode would have been about 84”.
He reckons he stopped racing not long after the bike was built when he started shift work.
“I used to start at 4 o’clock so I used to go out training before. So one day I was coming back from Armadale and the wind was blowing a gale and I thought “I can’t do this, I’ve got to get back to work, can’t be late. I had to give it up””
Merv Ellement, Swansea’s frame builder, had a fork crown he’d been saving for something special and built it into Frank’s bike. Swansea’s top of the line custom racers had five swans brazed onto the head tube. Merv brazed an extra swan on this bike for a lark.
“This was built probably ’57 I’d say. I stopped racing just before I left Swanseas, I was 18 so about 1958, and I would’ve had that one or two years before, so I’d say ’57. 5 Swans were all custom built, all the racing bikes were custom built. They used to measure you up.”
“Swanseas and Flash were the main ones. Flash was based in Midland and Swanseas were in Fremantle here. (proprietors) Howard and Les Baldwin were pretty nice people. They had another brother, Rocky, he was the foreman there. He was a very nice bloke. The manager was a bloke called Doug Stephenson. He used to hold the record for Fremantle to Perth. Ever heard of Tommy Norris? He was one of our trainers. He had a son called Ken, a very good rider, he ended up state champion.”
Frank can’t remember the name of the colleague who filed the lugs but says the lug pattern is unique, again done just for this bike. Like most Australian builders, Swanseas prided themselves on using English components; Reynolds tubing, Nervex lugs, BSA cranks and pedals, Airlite hubs and a Brooks saddle dominated the bike with just Fiamme rims and Cinelli headset coming from Italy.
The bike remained in active if occasional service until a friend had a collision with a car on it. Bent forks and a buckled front wheel put it out of commission and it hung on Frank’s back fence for 20 years before being rebuilt by the current owner.