Boyhood passion still burns brightly for Sycamore

LEGEND: Graham Sycamore.
LEGEND: Graham Sycamore.

Retired printer Graham Sycamore, who nowadays busies himself by attending to several demanding Invercargill City Council roles, still retains a passion for cycling after a distinguished career as a competitor and administrator.

The 71-year-old Otatara resident is in his fifth three-year term as a city councillor, and is chairman of the Resource Management Act Hearing panel and the Invercargill City Upgrade committee and a member of the District Plan Committee with Neil Boniface and Darren Ludlow.

A director of Invercargill City Holdings and Invercargill City Property, he is also a trustee of the Southland Electric Power Supply Consumer Trust.

Many established sporting enthusiasts, however, will relate just as readily to what he achieved as a competitive cyclist and what he has done voluntarily to help countless others of the cycling world enjoy the popular recreational pursuit.

His many cycling distinctions are reflected in his life-membership of Cycling New Zealand and the Southland equivalent and serving as an International Commissaire (referee) for the International Cycling Union for 26 years (1986-2012).

Not to be overlooked is his position of General Secretary of the Oceania Cycling Federation, a body between the New Zealand Cycling Association and the International equivalent, representing all countries in the Pacific basin.

"I resigned last week after 20 years from the Oceania position to take effect in April," he said.

It was probably inevitable that he would relinquish some cycling roles after many years to help make way for his ICC workload, he said.

Last May he was elected to the Bike NZ Board which staged four or five meetings a year, mainly in Auckland. Bike NZ was the controlling body of all bike sports - road, track, mountain and BMX.

"The Hillary Commission stated it would only fund one body in each sport ... That was the main driver for its inauguration about 10 years ago.

"The first hard track facility opened in February 1949 when I was only seven years old. I had earlier gone to the grass track with my brother Ron," he recalled.

"Riders dipped into a hollow, then climbed a hill on the rough track - I was only a short wee bugger and lost sight of them at certain points."

He played soccer for Thistle club and Southland Technical College where he was in the first XI and helped beat King Edward College in Dunedin for the first time.

Change was around the corner when he had an after school job with Smith and Smith paint shop and went to Wensley Cycles in Tay Street and paid £30 and 10 shillings for a conventional BSA bicycle for transport to and from school and his job.

Established Tisbury cyclist Matt Scott, who biked to and from work, told Sycamore he was wasting his money with a conventional bike, saying he should have bought a racing bike.

Matt reckoned he had seen the soccer enthusiast looking over the fence at Kew Bowl and both entered into a friendly agreement by which Sycamore bought a racing cycle.

"I first won a few races for kids on Matt's borrowed bike but then a new bloke by the name of Tony Ineson [a cousin] and others appeared on the block and competition stiffened. I then bought my own racing bike and had to wait a year until I was 15 to contest open events as there was no organised schools cycling then."

The Invercargill club, founded in 1930, was the only one in the city until Sycamore and a few others in 1961 started the Glengarry club in an effort to establish a separate Southland centre. Little did they know that a rival club was being set up at Waikiwi.

"The year 1961 was a boom one when all of a sudden we had three clubs and an Invercargill ladies club the next year."

Graham won the Avon Cup (road) race as a 15-year-old in his first year of competition, winning two of the three editions he contested, as well as a shield for most points at the Southland track championships in 1960-61 and 1962.

"In order to train during the day for road racing, I worked as a night shift linotype operator at the Southland Times. Tony Ineson, Ray and Rex Marshall and Maurice Robinson also worked at the Southland Times ... If there was corporate cycling then, the Times would have cleaned up."

Sycamore progressed to win the national junior half mile grass championship in Napier as an 18-year-old and still cherishes joining Ineson, Les Booth and Bruce Goldsworthy to win the national teams' pursuit championship when Invercargill staged the fixture for the first time in 1964.

A two-year stint while working for Government Print in Canberra was accompanied by some Australian success.

Looking back, he said he greatly enjoyed his commissaire involvement from club to Olympic level.

Learning the hard way as a competitor was the best apprenticeship, he said. Qualifying top as an A grade International cycling commissaire against 21 other overseas aspirants was undoubtedly a career highlight.

Unless a man had first rubbed shoulders with the competitive hard heads, he would not have been practically equipped to officiate.