Bike story: Cycling reminiscences provoked by the restoration of my fixed wheel friend Freddie Grubb 11773. (Chapter 2)

Photo Godric CC

Chapter 2 Roller Racing and Record Breaking

In Chapter 1 of the story of my restored Freddie Grubb I wrote about its life in the Godric Cycling Club, a small but successful cycling club based around the Suffolk towns of Bungay and Beccles, an area known as the Waveney Valley.

These are small towns in a rural area so the population catchment isn’t large and apart from the occasional footballer who has a trial with a professional team the area hasn’t turned out a line of sporting heroes to put it on the map. Therefore relative to its size the cycling club has been a bit of a standard bearer, turning out a regular crop of local champions and occasionally a national level competitor.

But in one field of cycling the Godric CC made an impression far beyond the reaches of the Waveney Valley, picking up not one but two world records. And my Freddie Grubb was part of at least one of those records, if not both.

That is entirely in keeping with the name that it carries, because Frederick Henry Grubb (b 1887) was one of the prolific record breakers of his era. www.nkilgariff.com lists 14 of his British records from 60 miles to 24 hours, mostly broken before he won two silver medals at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm and then turned professional. He did not take to professional racing so he turned to bike building to exploit his fame.

Which brings us back to the record breaking story of this Freddie Grubb.

In chapter 1 I wrote about grass track racing in East Anglia which helped sustain use of fixed wheel bikes for many years. The other branch of the sport that carried on in splendid isolation in a few clubs around the country was roller racing.

Today most bike racers and even some enthusiastic hard tourists will have a turbo trainer at home. One of the most unloved instruments of cycling torture imaginable, I was delighted the day I decided I would never do that again.

Prior to turbo trainers we used rollers for indoor training and you still see riders warming up on them before races.

Much less common are the sets of racing rollers where two or four bikes were put onto special rollers connected to a measuring clock.

Inevitably it falls to cycling author Carlton Reid, author of “Roads were not built for cars” (reviewed in December 2014) to provide a comprehensive history of indoor trainers since the 1880s on his web site. He says roller-racing really took off in the 1930s and its popularity as entertainment continued until the 1950s. The great draw for riders is that the lack of wind resistance means you can fit a huge gear to your bike and routinely do speeds well over 50 miles per hour, with a world record of over 130 miles per hour. Short sprints are very fast and very furious. Hard to imagine now but the most famous venue for roller racing in the 50s was the Royal Albert Hall, perhaps the most prestigious concert hall in London.

Carton’s history matches my understanding because the founding generation of the Godric CC were all familiar with the roller races they had seen in the fifties, but quite quickly it had almost died out, not least because the equipment was very scarce. However (and I have no idea why) the Godric were a club that kept a roller tradition. In 1968 the club broke the world 12 hour roller relay record and in the early 70s a Bungay Modern School team from the club set a national schools record at 12 hours too.

Godric CC World record Roller racing team 1968

I am not sure, and I really must ask Lindsay Wigby, whether the star of this story was used in the 1968 attempt, but Lindsay was in the team so it seems quite possible that my Freddie Grubb was a world record breaker in 1968.

The roller tradition suited these fixed wheel bikes well. Just like the grass track racing the bikes were only a tweak away from being ready to ride at all times. There were many lightweight narrow fixed wheels with racing tyres around because the bikes had been used for time trialling. The single front brakes could be slipped off and the bike was about ready, apart from the fact you had to turn your handlebars up.

Why? Well one might say “because everyone else did”. Like so many things in cycling this habit was part of roller riding lore and was mixed in practicality and probable bull dung. One reason given was that “it opens up your chest and you breath better”. Given that people were doing phenomenal speeds on the road bent like hair pins without apparently suffering from breath problems this seems about as likely as a sticky plaster on your nose helping you play football better. Much more realistically the upright position kept your weight firmly on the rear drive of the rollers. Because you tended to bounce about at high pedal rates this made sure every pedal stroke counted and kept you stable.

However roller riding did test the mechanical creativity of the riders in one way. If you want to ride steadily at over 50 miles an hour you need pretty enormous gears, and even then a high cadence is needed. In those days 11 tooth sprockets were not even available on geared bikes, a 13 was very daring indeed and the smallest fixed sprockets were occasional 14s. But because the Godric were a roller club there was a secret squirrel store of relevant bits, including the near mythological 8 tooth rear sprocket. Old roller riders had abtained huge chainwheels, usually made by TA of France, that could go up to 64 teeth. When combined with a 14 sprocket suitable gears could be reached.

The 8 tooth sprocket was a near myth because whenever it was discussed there was always some doubt about who had it last time and quite where it had come from. I was always told that it was a lawnmower sprocket that had been filed down to the correct width for a bike chain and then welded to the side of a conventional sprocket so it could be fitted. With this baby even a normal 54 tooth road chainset gave enormous gears. In legend it could be combined with one of the giant chainsets to reach record breaking speeds but only heroic men with thighs like tree trunks could get it moving. When I saw it you could only describe it as one of the ugliest and most functional pieces of equipment ever put on a bike.

Both Freddie Grubb and the 8 tooth sprocket definitely found their way to to a Guinness World Record in 1977.

A team of four young guys from Bungay High School were set up to go for the schools’ record held by our clubmates. However we had a secret weapon. The club had been fundraising and bought a set of the newest, smoothest rollers ever made with bearings and drives of incredible quality from Cambridge firm Barelli.

Barelli almost deserve a blog entry in their own right. In the 1970s a high quality engineering firm based just outside Cambridge, England decided to make possibly the finest engineered pedals made in England, perhaps in the world at the time. They came with a lifetime guarantee and retailed from an amazing £50. But cyclists wouldn’t believe that a product was top quality unless it was continental, preferably Italian. So a nondescript industrial estate out on the Huntingdon Road gave its name to a special product. Bar Hill became “Barelli”.

But owner Geoff Chapman was also convinced that there was a place in cycling for the revival of rollers if they could be built to the same outstanding quality as his pedals. The very first prototype even featured electronic counting instead of a mechanical drive, a revolutionary concept that preceded the modern cycle computer by a good five years, but unfortunately couldn’t be made to run reliably. How do we know that? Because it was the set of Barelli prototype rollers that the Godric CC bought. Until a few weeks before the record attempt we had a lot of failures so Chapman replaced the electronics with a nylon drive cable in an oil bath, a design that still put the Barelli rollers low resistance into a different class to all the old sets.

They were, very, very quick as our trials had already proven. However we also had another secret weapon in the older club riders who had been there before and actually knew exactly how to plan a record schedule, especially ride manager John Pugh. I was actually number 5 in the squad in terms of ability and got in because my mate Dale blew up in the trial, but I got my chance from there.

I rode Freddie of course, and during the run up to the event the magical 8 sprocket was rediscovered and probably because I was the last choice for the squad the other guys had the huge chainsets and I had the 8 tooth. And here we are!

Photo Godric CC

So in a village hall near Bungay we set out as four 16 and 17 year olds to break the world record for adults, not just the school distance. And the rest, as you might say is history, as my Guinness World Record certificate will attest. 657 miles, a shade under 55 miles per hour for the whole 12 hours.

Guiness World Record Roller Cycle Racing

I have to admit I had a bit of a personal bad day. Nerves, a touch of asthma, I have no idea why but I had a shocker. I did my part for the whole day but I am very grateful that my much stronger team mates were absolutely on top of their game that day so we had a good margin over the old record.

We held it for about two years until a team of top adult riders from Hounslow Wheelers took it, but to be fair they didn’t smash our time into oblivion. We probably still hold the schools’ record because the discipline has become so rare, maybe one of the modern promoters could encourage a hopeful team to give it a proper thrashing now.

Freddie Grubb is a world record breaking bike. Not the celebrity of the bikes that have broken the world hour record on the track or the Fausto Coppi world championship Bianchi I saw at the Padua bike show in 2013, but there cannot be so many bikes out there that have this claim to fame. And like the first part of the story it is one wrapped up in the club life of the Godric.

Roller racing Godric CC early 1980s

I carried on track and roller racing for another year or two (above in green) until I left for university at the age of 19, making it a part of cycling I too left behind. It has taken this restoration project to bring it all back.

Roller racing too has made a bit of a comeback too thanks to the public relations skills of companies like Rollapaluza and Goldsprint, they have really modernised with the right mix of noise, lights and music. if you get a chance to go to a roller night I recommend it.

Chapters 3 and 4 “Decline and restoration” here.

Bike story: cycling reminiscences provoked by the restoration of my fixed wheel friend Freddie Grubb 11773. (Prologue and Chapter 1)

Photo Kevin Mayne

Prologue

Late last summer a small ceremony took place at our house. Photographs were taken and an old friend took to the roads.

I dressed for the occasion. Traditional striped cycling jersey, matched with black shorts, white socks and a pair of old-school leather cycling racing shoes polished up for the event.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Freddie Grubb Fixie in Godric CC colours

I then rode on a circuit especially selected for the occasion, mainly flat but with sweeping undulations that encouraged my legs to spin the pedals smoothly. It should have been Suffolk, England, but the lanes of rural Wallonia made an excellent substitute.

Lanes of Lasne Belgium

This was the christening ride for my restored 1963/4 classic English fixed wheel bike, made by renowned London cycle maker Holdsworthy under the brand Freddie Grubb.

Some readers of idonotdespair.com may recall occasional mentions of my long term project to restore the bike, indeed one of my followers even contacted me to offer help finding the missing parts, he seemed quite frustrated that it was taking so long. Well I can tell you now Chikashi  that it is done.

Now I also feel the time is right to tell you the story of Freddie Grubb 11773 and to explain why this machine could no longer languish as a scruffy wreck at the back of my bike shed. A bike so ill-treated that one of my college mates renamed him “Grubbie Fred”, a nickname that stuck for years.

Freddie Grubb original

At the same time that I am writing this post I am reading the excellent “It’s all about the bike” by Robert Penn. Conceptually he is searching the world to build the perfect bike, his dream bike. That could be an incredibly boring except for bike fanatics, but in the hands of a good author it is a chance to weave together an entertaining collection of stories about the people and places from the history of cycling technologies, from the hoax Leonardo da Vinci bicycle to the founding fathers of mountain biking in Marin County California. And I realised that this is what I want to do with the Freddie Grubb.

The restoration has also made me think about a whole series of cycling places and memories that should be shared. That doesn’t mean a piece by piece breakdown of all the parts on the bike, rather it means spreading Freddie’s story over a few pieces that capture some of cycling’s past, and my own. Because this bike does have a story to tell and perhaps that is why I gradually became guiltier about its decline under my stewardship.

This bike has spent its life in one cycling club, and mostly in one small area. It is a representation of a certain time and place, the fading tradition of fixed wheel bikes in East Anglian cycling. And it is one of a tiny number of bikes on the planet that can claim to be a Guinness World Record breaker – and that does make it special.

Chapter 1. Godric CC and grass track racing.

In my mind this bike represents Godric Cycling Club, my club, the one I grew up with and formed my cycling experiences. (I wrote about the Godric earlier this year here)

I bought the frame sometime around 1973 or 1974 when I had become a gangly teenager and grown out of whatever previous fixie Dad had knocked up for me, and I had a little bit of money saved from my paper round.

I bought it from older club colleague Ross Mullenger, who I think was selling some bits because he had drifted away from regular club riding. It probably cost about £15. I learned later that it was already a club hand-me down from Lindsay Wigby, long standing family friend and club member. It was only when researching the provenance of the bike for the restoration that I identified it as a Freddie Grubb Comet probably made in 1963 or 1964. The brilliant www.nkilgariff.com has a complete history of the Holdsworth and Freddie Grubb marques and even has a catalogue of the 1964 Comet on line.

Freddie Grubb Comet catelogue on http://www.nkilgariff.com

I then went back to Lindsay to ask if he had got it as an original because he was riding with club then.

He filled in the gaps by telling me the original owner was Pete Gilding, one of the few Godric names I didn’t know, but someone who had been actively racing with the club at that time. A quick dip into the published club history and I found a picture of Pete with my Dad after they won the impressive Norwich CU grass track team pursuit shield in 1958.Images by Godric CC

Too early for my bike to have been one of the winning steeds, but a great link to the origins of the Freddie Grubb because they would all have been using grass track bikes like mine, perhaps handed round in just the same way.

But I now knew that this is a one-club bike which throughout its life has carried the green colours of the Godric CC. Hence my selection of the green, yellow and red banded Godric cycling shirt for the christening ride. And here we are, a photo of another Godric ride and in the middle is that sprouting teenager in blue stripy bobble hat with the green bike. It must be around the time I bought the frame and first fitted it out. Previous owner Lindsay is three places to the right in black.

Photo Godric Cycling Club

Elsewhere a teenager buying a fixed wheel bike in 1974 might raise a few eyebrows, but it really would not be a surprise for anyone who was in Norfolk or Suffolk club cycling. Many riders round there had a “fixed” or “track bike” set up for road riding despite the fact that their use as club riding bikes had almost died out across the rest of the country. (We never called them “fixies”, that is an entirely modern phrase).

Because no, the couriers and hipsters did not take fixies straight from track racing to the road in the last 10 years. In British cycling the racing scene excluded mass start road racing until the late 50s and cyclists in most racing clubs thrived on a mixture of time trialling and club riding with occasional diversions into grass track racing and roller racing. Most time trialling was done on fixed wheel bikes that could be converted from one use to another with a change of wheels. These were not the steep angled, aerodynamic track machines used on today’s velodromes, these were machines that could fit mudguards one day and race the next.

Godric CC on fixies 1950s

I think this tradition carried on much longer in Suffolk and Norfolk than almost anywhere else for a number of reasons, not least of which could be that it is one of the flattest places in the country so a simple single gear is really not a handicap for spinning around the countryside. Almost the first “proper” bike Dad put me on was a fixed wheel, not least because it would be ”good for my pedalling.” They were also a lot simpler to maintain and a lot less prone to problems on mucky roads so they were popular winter road bikes, often referred to as the “hack bike”.

Another possible reason fixies stayed on in our area was that we still had opportunities to race on fixed bikes while other parts of the country converted almost completely to road riding using 10 speed derailleurs. In particular there was grass track racing which only survived in a handful of places across the UK. East Anglia was one of the hotbeds and as a child in the 60s I can remember being taken to a whole series of carnivals and rallies where the cycling crowd would come together.  I probably rode my first bike race in the kiddies’ handicap events at a grass track meeting. The adults would pull out another pair of wheels with rubber studded tyres, put them in their fixed bike and race round a single white line painted on the field, sometimes with fields of 20-30 riders. Hopefully it was a nice cricket ground or school sports field, at worse it could be like riding in slow motion across a lumpy paddock.

By the time I bought the Freddie Grubb in 1974 many of the meets had died out, but we could still expect to race several times a year on grass and we would train every Wednesday on our club track at the Ditchingham Meadow sports grounds. So it was essential that I had a track bike of my own.

Photo Beccles and Bungay Journal

This photo is one of my favourite cycling pictures, taken by the local paper at one of our regular races in Bungay, probably our club championship in about 1976/77. I love the sense of competition and motion in the two riders at the front. Andy Warne being shadowed by Richard Avery, probably about to try and pounce for the win. I am the white helmet in third and that’s about as far forward as I got in most races.

Brian Harper Godric CC winning grass track race 1960sActually Freddie and I did sneak an Area Championship win once with some highly tactical riding. In the short one-lap race I got the perfect draw for the final, number 1 on the inside. I then asked canny track star Brian Harper (right) to be my pusher off, the builder with the strongest arms in cycling. As we waited on the start line Brian whispered in my ear “I am going to push on the whistle, don’t wait for the gun”.

Spectators would have observed a metaphorical greyhound race where the rabbit shot out ahead of the dogs before they even moved. Somehow the judges neglected to call it a false start, just as Brian had guessed. Jet propelled by Brian’s shove I had a ten yard head start at the first corner which was reduced to the width of a tyre as four of us hit the finish line 400 yards later, but I held on for a very rare win.

All I can say is “track craft”. Anything goes in grass track racing.

Chapter 2 “Roller Racing and record Breaking” here

Chapters 3 and 4 “Decline and Restoration” here

Part 2 of my guest post for DiscoveringBelgium.com “New Year’s Revolutions: The Best of Belgian Cycling for 2015”

Part 2 of my guest post for Denzil Walton’s www.discoveringbelgium.com has been published today.

Last week it was all about places for you to ride.

This week its “Watching cycling with the Belgians – beer, frites and the most passionate fans in the world” 

I have suggested some of the best cycling to watch this year including the Six Days of Ghent, the great settings for cyclocross races and  of course the road classics.

An extra bonus for 2015 is the Tour de France which comes to Wallonia in July.

www.dicoveringbelgium.com

For links to my own accounts of visiting the various races mentioned click the tabs at the bottom of the page.

Thanks again Denzil for the opportunity to spread the word and for the great ideas on your blog.

 

My guest post on discoveringbelgium.com has been published. “New Year’s Revolutions: The Best of Belgian Cycling for 2015”

This is quite fun, Late last year I was invited to contribute a guest post on cycling for the blog www.discoveringbelgium.com and the forst part has been published today.

Denzil Walton is a freelance wrote and author of some good books of walks in the towns around the Brussels area. He has an excellent blog which has a diverse range of Belgian content from walking to crafts, history and countryside.

He asked me for some ideas on cycling content and I suggested that I quite liked the idea of a New Year piece with some of the cycling things I want to do and see in 2015.

I suspect some of my Belgian cycling friends will rush to tell me about dozens of great rides that I missed, but this was written with a bit of a visitor’s perspective. There will be room for lots more stories on this blog – maybe you just need to invite me for more bike rides.

Anyway here it is, in the first of two parts, with Blue Bikes, city rides, the Limburg Fietsparadijs, Pays de Famenne, and the Forêt de Soignes/Zoniënwoud.

discoveringbelgium.com

“Roads were not built for cars” – Book review. Essential reading for cycle campaigners and a chance to unravel some myths and legends

I have written this review in two parts. The first is what you might call the “official review” which I have given to the ECF web site for our cycle campaigning community. It should appear on ECF.com shortly. But reading it I discovered some interesting content relating to my past role at CTC, the UK cyclists’ charity which prompted me to add some additional reflections which I have added here in my personal blog.

The “official review”

Anyone wanting a comprehensive review of how our roads entered what we might call the “modern era” should look no further than this highly enjoyable read from British cycling journalist Carlton Reid. He has taken an investigation of the role cycling played in road modernisation in the late 19th and early 20th century and extended it to cover the origins of road construction, the engineering of cars and how this period of change was influenced by politics, business and social class.

This is also very much a book for campaigners. It is the most thorough examination I have read of how the battles for influence were fought by cyclists and motorists across the Victorian and Edwardian period, particularly in the UK and the USA. From a modern perspective we might assume that these were battles between driving and cycling lobbies but the book is fastidious in showing that for much of this period these were often the same people fighting to improve the roads for both modes of travel.

But Carlton is happy to call himself a revisionist. He does have a clear mission in this story. This book wants to reclaim a piece of history on behalf of cycling, correcting the way that the motoring lobby subsequently grabbed the road space and made it a “space for cars”, especially Henry Ford’s later claim that it was the motorists that created modern roads. This makes the book essential reading for modern campaigners who are challenging some of the attitudes and values from that period almost 100 years later. For many ECF members and supporters we can trace our roots back to those early campaigners in the Cyclists’ Touring Club (today’s CTC) and the League of American Wheelmen.

The great pleasure of the book is that the reader can almost sense Carlton digging away in libraries and on line and uncovering gems that he just had to share. The role of cycling in the design and manufacture of early cars. The business tactics of the early cycling and motoring companies. He is particularly good at discussing the personalities of the period and their influences from pioneer roads campaigners like Rees Jeffreys to businessman Henry Lawson. There is a whole chapter on ten of the key names where one can sense the journalist in Carlton almost interviewing them to find out their cycling origins and how it influenced their careers.

This book must be regarded as essential reading for anyone with an interest in cycling advocacy even if it is mainly focussed on the UK and the USA.  Perhaps it leaves the door open for new chapters from contributors in other countries to add their story in later editions.

To buy an electronic copy of “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” go to the book’s website.

Some extra personal thoughts

A few weeks ago I reflected on this people who came before me in my role as Chief Executive of CTC, the UK’s cyclists’ charity. On that occasion I was considering how I would have reacted if I was at the Club during the First World War when cyclists were being encouraged to join the Cyclists’ Regiments.

A few days later I read Carlton’s book which triggered other thoughts about how CTC’s leaders reacted at various times in the history of cycling, and how we see them with the benefit of hindsight. The Club was a key player for most of the period of the book and its Council members and staff populated many of the campaigns and activities, something that still makes me enormously proud.

This meant I paid special attention to the CTC figures in the book, especially two who filled the same post as me, Secretary, the position which became Director and then Chief Executive. When people want to critique anything CTC is doing their names are dragged out as examples of what the current generation might be doing wrong. What was really interesting to me was how Carlton’s neutral eye balanced some of the myths we have built up around these two inside and outside CTC.

Ernest Shipton was Secretary from 1883 to 1907. As “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” points out it was very common for our leaders of that period to be as passionate about cycling as motoring and Shipton was no exception. He was a founder of the Automobile Club, later to become the Royal Automobile Club.

He is largely remembered by cyclists as the man who engineered a vote at the 1906 CTC AGM to allow the Club to admit motorists. This decision was overturned at the high court despite Shipton’s evidence that cars had made cycling no longer attractive and the Club needed to change. Within months of the court decision he had left his post and his 24 year career is only remembered in one line – the man who tried to turn CTC into a motoring organisation.

In the other camp during that debate was George Herbert Stancer.  He was already an influential figure as editor of Cycling, one of the biggest magazines of the time (and still around today as Cycling Weekly). Several years later he became Secretary of CTC, taking on a position he would hold for over 30 years, then continuing as President until 1964. To many in the Club (including me) GHS is the man who probably did more than anyone else to reform cycle campaigning as a defence against the encroachment and danger of cars. His predecessors fought for road improvement as equals, but by Stancer’s time as Secretary motorists dominated the politics of transport.

George Herbert Stancer GHSThe classic Stancer photo is an elderly GHS on his beloved tricycle, but the younger Stancer was altogether something more formidable. He is almost our Churchill, fighting back with his speeches, thunderous editorials and fierce letter writing. And like Churchill such strong opinions made him a divisive figure.

I have been told numerous times by people outside CTC that the Club in the 1930s sold UK cycling down the proverbial river, in particular by its opposition to cycle paths. Within days of becoming CTC CEO in 1998 I was told by one of the most influential figures in UK cycling that if it wasn’t for Stancer and his colleagues the UK today would have a network of cycle lanes as good as any in the Netherlands. “CTC has a lot to answer for” I was told.

“Roads Were Not Meant for Cars” does a lot to balance those myths and legends about Shipton and Stancer.

Shipton may be damaged goods inside CTC but the book makes it clear that his views were mainstream at the time, nearly all the leading motoring figures had cycling roots and this golden period of “Road Improvement” they represented both modes on committees and campaigning bodies. CTC members voting 5:1 in favour of admitting motorists suggests he was in touch with the feelings of his constituency inside CTC too. In that context his actions look a lot more rational.

Stancer too benefits from a detailed look at the situation faced by CTC in the 1930s. In particular the book has a detailed account of the now notorious Alness Report, published in 1939. This committee of Lords was stuffed with pro-motoring figures which made it impossible for the cycling witnesses to make any progress. However for many a belief that Stancer’s statements to the committee that cyclists didn’t want cycle lanes is a damning critique that undermines his place in history.

The story looks very different in this book. Seeing the wider content of that report I realise now just how much the concern of the day for the cyclists was whether they should be removed from the roads entirely to allow speedier passage of cars.

“In evidence given to the Alness committee, CTC officials had stressed that the main objection was to the quality of cycle paths and not just the principle of being able to continue riding on the carriageway, the hard-won right of cyclists since 1888. The CTC feared that legislation would be brought in that would make it compulsory to use cycle paths even before a useable network had been built, and that, going by the poor provision of paths in the previous five years, there was little likelihood that the paths of the future would be of decent quality.”

“witness after witness – from surveyors to arch motorists – attested to the dire nature of England’s experimental cycle paths but, apart from cyclist witnesses, most wanted cyclists to be forced to use the paths.”

At the end of this section of the book is an exchange from the report which should probably be printed out and stuck to the wall over the desk of every construction engineer, cycling official and cycle advocate in the world.

Earl of Iddesleigh:

“If we could enable you to avoid the great motor roads and provide for you really satisfactory roads on which you would not have to compete with a great deal of fast moving traffic, there would be a gain in enjoyment?”

Stancer:

If it were possible to provide facilities that are equal to those that we enjoy now, with the additional advantage that they would not be shared by motorists, I think that cyclists would have no objection …

Earl of Iddesleigh:

Are the two grounds upon which you are against cycle tracks these? First, because the cyclist insists on his abstract right to the use of the highway, and secondly, because it is less pleasant to use a cycle track than a highway?

Stancer:

The second one you have mentioned is far more important. Cyclists would never insist upon their abstract rights if it were not that they are losing the chief pleasure of cycling by being forced on to the paths. If the paths are by any miracle to be made of such width and quality as to be equal to our present road system, it would not be necessary to pass any laws to compel cyclists to use them; the cyclists would use them.

I have to say that even today it is very hard to disagree with GHS. Nearly 80 years later I am living in a country that has cycle lanes such “width and quality” in parts of Flanders that it is indeed unimaginable that we wouldn’t use them. Sadly we also have some parts of the country where the lanes are so bad they are almost unrideable for most of the year. The use of both is compulsory.

But most of all I thank “Roads Were Not Meant for Cars” for bringing a thoroughly researched narrative and a clear context to those debates. Shipton and Stancer may have been made decisions that are not judged well by some in cycling today. But this well balanced narrative suggests that they were doing what they thought was right in the norms, the knowledge and the resources of the time.

I am sure things we campaigned for and against in my time at CTC will look very different in the year 2114. I can only hope that we have a narrator like Carlton Reid to disentangle myth from legend when the time comes.

Book Review: Along the Med on a bike called Reggie

Along the Med on a Bike called ReggieI don’t get round to doing many book reviews from my cycling library but I feel Andy Sykes latest offering is well worth a few words, probably because I just like Andy’s attitude to cycle touring which is a triumph of curiosity and enthusiasm overcoming his self-declared naivety about the more mundane processes of cycling such as how to pump up a tyre!

As the blurb says this is his self-published account of his summer 9 week trip from the southern tip of Greece right across Europe to the Atlantic coast of Portugal, nearly 6000km and 10 countries. He loosely follows the route of Eurovelo 8, the Mediterranean Route but very much creates his own itinerary and diversions, not least to the legendary Mont Ventoux, cycling’s “Giant of Provence”.

It is a sequel to his 2010 trip “Riding across Europe on a Bike called Reggie” where we first met an even less prepared Andy and Reggie cycling from the UK to Brindisi in southern Italy along Eurovelo 5.* I enjoyed the first book a lot, there were some highly amusing moments all along the way so I was looking forward to book 2 when I heard Andy was off for more in the summer of 2013.

The cycle touring book has a long tradition going back almost to the invention of the bicycle. Some of them are voyages of discovery, some epic endurance adventures. The ones I enjoy most are the ones where the personality of the writer comes through and Andy certainly wins on that front. His writing is strongest where he addresses his own feelings – sometimes curious, sometimes anxious, even at times a bit nervous about hills, main roads, the state of the local campsites and arriving in Portugal in his allotted nine weeks. And then the other Andy takes over and just does it, delighted by the small pleasure of cycling travel like wonderful views, chance meetings, yet another coffee in a town square, a day completed. Occasionally he even lets an inner epic cyclist come out and like his day cycling over 200km to Valencia and he is drawn to master the incredible Ventoux, a legendary mountain of the Tour de France. I think the book is best in the first half when he has the time and relaxation to potter about and take side diversions in countries like Greece, Albania and the states of former Yugoslavia including Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.

Both books make an excellent introduction to these long distance routes and the concept of using a bike to have an epic adventure.  Andy is also the first cycling writer I have discovered from what I can only call the “on line” generation. He may hardly have a functional map of most of his route but he has got an I-Phone strapped to his handlebars, a solar charger on the back to keep it powered, an I-Pad in the pannier, hotels booked during the day by the internet, guest homes from the cyclists hospitality web site Warm Showers and he has kept his on line community in contact with his travels by Facebook, blog and Twitter. I think many tentative cycle tourists could be encouraged and inspired to take even a short adventure by Andy’s travels across Europe with limited preparation but confidence in his resources. If you know someone who needs a push to try a bit of a cycling adventure but loves their electronic toys this could be the perfect Christmas gift, but of course they would download it as an e-book! I am trying to be this relaxed about my touring, I think a bit of the Andy Sykes approach is starting to rub off.

You can find links to the books and the various points of sale on Andy’s lively web site cyclingeurope.org which also has his blog and lots of other content.

If you like this you’ll probably also like “One Man and his Bike” by Mike Carter and “French Revolutions” by Tim Moore, both mentioned in my library page

Eurovelo.com

(*Declaration of interest here, the wonderful 70,000km Eurovelo network with its amazing long distance cycle routes is a product of the European Cyclists’ Federation who I work for in Brussels. Thanks to Andy for some enthusiastic promotion of the network, even if he does frustrate some of our colleagues by “not sticking to the proper route”. Personally, that’s what I would do, use the routes for inspiration and then make my own way, so no problem here!)

Special Olympics Europe 2014 Opening Ceremony – a celebration of inclusion

Photo Kevin Mayne

On Saturday my wife and I had the pleasure of being guests at the Opening Ceremony of the European Summer Special Olympics which are taking place this week in Belgium.

It was an enjoyable and at times moving experience, the Special Olympics is a really distinctive movement that is well worth celebrating and Belgium did a great job with the launch.

The Special Olympics are the separate movement for people with Intellectual Disabilities which keeps the games separate from the much bigger and more extensively funded Olympics and Paralympics.

It began in the 1950s and 1960s when Eunice Kennedy Shriver (the fifth of the nine Kennedys from the renowned US political family) began working to introduce sports and physical activities in to summer camps for children with Intellectual Disabilities. In 1968 they became the Special Olympics which formed a part of her much wider work in the field.

There are now Special Olympics for continents as well as world summer and winter games. This year’s event in Belgium was for the Eurasia region so it included not only most European countries but also many participants from the central Asian countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

The Paralympics have grown in profile and stature since they were linked to the Olympic Games but the Special Olympics are by far the smaller player in the sport scene and they are much less well known internationally. I was delighted to discover that Belgium has one of the best established national Special Olympics programmes in Europe which meant it was a very proud host of the games. The city of Antwerp is actually the host city however because of their support the European Union and the national Belgian supporters were invited to celebrate the opening of the games in the national capital with the Belgian Queen, Prime Minister, outgoing President of the European Council Hermann van Rompuy and a range of other guests and supporters.

So that is how we ended up on a lovely summer afternoon at Heysel, the part of Brussels that hosts the national stadium, national Expo Centre and our old friend the Atomium which was glistening brightly in the sunshine.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

Our ceremony took place in one of the indoor halls which gave it a nice intimate feeling suitable for the “inclusive games” and enabled the show to be all about light and music. Unfortunately my little camera is really not up to the job of indoor photography in this environment so you can see some of my blurry impressions here but I have also linked to the very excellent 7 minute highlights film of the ceremony below and some of the official photographs can be found on the official web site here.

We were treated to an extended dance and acrobatic show that threaded its way through the two hour event and kept the whole thing bouncing along.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

A Belgian flavour was given by the giants and puppets which are a feature of the celebrated Belgian carnivals and parades of Mardi Gras.

Photo Kevin Mayne

But my far the most impactful moments were perhaps the simplest, the ones that were most about the people the games are celebrating.

The teams were accompanied into the room by lively music, applause and cheering that never stopped. You could see the teams just burst with enjoyment at the welcome, dancing and waving their way to their seats. There was a huge welcome for all Belgium’s neighbours like Luxembourg and the Netherlands and of course a massive welcome for the home team, biggest of the whole event.

The raising of the games flags and the EU flag were accompanied by the EU Hymn, “Ode to Joy” but instead of the full orchestra the music was played by a young German man with an Intellectual Disability who played the tune on a harmonica to barely a dry eye in the house. You can see him in the video.

And finally there was just a ticker tape snowstorm over the heads of the athletes who were up and applauding their welcome. Joyful and celebratory.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Please enjoy the video of the event, it was a special occasion. (If the link to a video does not appear here please read the original post in your browser.)

During this week one of the 10 sports taking place will be the cycling events in Antwerp including time trials and road races with the rules allowing for tandems and trikes as well as modified bikes.

I am really delighted by that, both personally and professionally. When I worked at the national cyclists’ charity in the UK one of my proudest achievements was raising money to launch an inclusion programme for cycling which meant we could run development activities at centres right across the country. Almost every time I found myself visiting one of our special sessions for people with Intellectual or physical disabilities I was moved by the enormous sense of achievement that the simple bike ride many of us take for granted can bring to so many lives. This could be a life transforming change as participants found mobility or health through cycling.

There is a brilliant gallery of the cycling at the Belgian Special Olympics pre-event held last September that just brings out the best of that spirit. There is something special in almost every image. Many similar programmes exist all over the world, almost all run by volunteers, they should all be applauded and supported.

I have no doubt whatsoever of the transformative work that the whole Special Olympics movement does. The games themselves are the pinnacle and it was a pleasure to celebrate them with everybody here in the country we now call home.