11 June 2016

So What Does Frejus Have To Do With Gordie Howe?

In one of my early posts, I mentioned that I once rode into a southern French town called Frejus.  It has quite a history, dating back at least to the time of Julius Caesar.   That history, however, doesn't include bike-building, in spite of the fact that an extremely well-known bike brand bears its name.  

In fact, Frejus bikes weren't even built in France:  they hailed from Torino, Italy.  Back in the days of the North American Bike Boom, they were, to many of us, practically the dictionary definition of an Italian racing bike.  Their top racing model, equipped with a full Campagnolo Record gruppo, fetched the then-princely sum of $350--a seemingly-unreachable dream for the high school sophomore I was.

Although I would later see that other Italian bikes--as well as some bikes from other countries, including the Schwinn Paramount--actually had better workmanship, to my eye almost not other bike was prettier.  In fact, even after I "knew better", I somewhat  longingly eyed one of their track bikes with blue panels that looked like stained-glass windows on the fully-chromed frame.

I'm not sure that I had, by that time, gotten over the shock of knowing that the town of Frejus has--and, as best as I've been able to learn, never has had--anything to do with the production of bicycles, with or without its name.  In fact, I don't think even so much as a fender bolt has ever been made there.

It's still a lovely place and worth a visit if you're in the area (near Nice).  

Anyway, I got to thinking about that upon learning of the death of Gordie Howe, one of ice hockey's legends.  

Now what, you wonder, does his passing--at the ripe old age of 88--have to do with Frejus, France or Frejus bicycles?

Gordie Howe late in his career.  Don't let the receding hairline fool you:  He was outplaying players half his age!

Well, if you know anything about hockey, you know that when a player scores three goals in a game, it is called a "hat trick".  As I understand, this term is also used in the game the rest of the world calls "football" but Americans call "soccer".  A "pure" hat trick is one in whcih a player scores three goals and no one else scores in between them.

Then there is something called the "Gordie Howe hat trick". It has to do with his reputation as a player.  He liked to say he was "aggressive", but opponents as well as fans of opposing teams said he was "dirty".  The man could use his stick--to score goals and to make plays, some of which weren't quite legal, at least according to some referees' interpretation of National Hockey League rules.  And he committed more than a few pure-and-simple violations.

Because hockey is a fast and hard-hitting game, his stick work often led to fights.  Also, he wasn't averse to dropping his stick and gloves when he thought an opponent was messing with one of his teammates.

This reputation led someone--probably a sports-writer--to joke that if a player scored a goal and an assist and got into a fight, it was a "Gordie Howe hat trick."

The funny thing is that in his long career, which spanned thirty-one seasons from 1946 until 1980 (He retired in 1971 but returned two years later), from the time he was 18 until he was 52, he achieved his namesake hat trick only twice.  What's even funnier is that both of those games came in the same season (1953-54) and against the same team (the Toronto Maple Leafs, who at the time had a spirited rivalry with Howe's Detroit Red Wings).  

To put that into perspective, Rick Tocchet, who played 18 seasons, tallied 18 "Gordie Howe hat tricks".  And Brendan Shanahan--of all the players I've ever seen in their prime, the one most similar to Gordie--achieved 17 such games in his 21 seasons in the NHL.

Hmm...I wonder whether any of them rode a Frejus bike made in France? ;_)


  1. i had a '71 Frejus. Sadly, i wrecked it. i miss that bike. If i recall correctly, the owner of the Frejus firm was assassinated by the Brigade Rossi during their terror campaign against Italian industrialists and capitalists.

  2. Mike--I didn't know that about the owner of Frejus. Too bad! Also too bad about wrecking your Frejus. Even if you get another nice bike, you don't get over something like that!