'It' all started back in the early 1970s when my brother David (18 months older than me), a tall fair-haired skinny guy by the name of Matthew Allen and I used to meet up and race around a short circuit in the Hemingford Grey area.
Matthew and I went on to join the Cambridge Town and County Cycling club as schoolboys and our first race was one of their open '10's on the Waterbeach - Stretham course. At the time I'd have used the term 'race' loosely as I'd always been under the impression that a bike race involved everybody starting together and the first rider to cross the finish line was the winner. If THIS race had indeed been one of them, everything might have turned out differently. But this was a time trial ... and I enjoyed it ... and I was, as they say, bitten by the bug.
We were only with the Cambridge club for a year or so before moving to St Neots and District CC if, for nothing else, the possibility of a mention in the local weekly rag (the Hunts Post). The club secretary submitted weekly reports / results of the club 10s which were held marginally closer to home (on the F1, which used to start in Little Paxton lane) than the Cambridge events, which also helped to sway our choice of clubs for the future.
These were great times! I got to know Adrian Collard (who went on to become the 1973 National Junior 25 mile champion) really well. He was a great help with training and racing. I remember him telling me that in the year he won the Championship he did (only!!) 3500 miles training. I knew there was a more to it than that though because by the next winter we'd both already got in over 2000 miles by the time the first race came along in mid-February. By the end of the year (1974) I'd covered 13,500 miles. Slowly, but surely, I was getting a bit faster simply by riding regularly with him. Adrian was later 'advised' (a bit) by the late Neil Gardner ... who's many adages included one which I remember to this day: 'always train with people faster than you. If just a bit rubs off, it can't be bad can it?'
George Bettis (twice National 24 hour champion) lived across the road from Adrian and one winter we were invited to go training with him. These rides were 100 miles long and were all done at 20 mph. George used to have a little food basket strapped to his handlebars - the rides were always therefore done non-stop and at a relentless pace, all on 'pressures' and mudguards, all at the same speed uphill as down. They were quite brutal - I don't actually remember finishing any of them!
Me and Matthew riding the Kenton RC 2 up on 12 April 1975. Photo by Len Thorpe.
The oldest photo I've got of me 'racing'. A 1-2-12 in the St Neots and District Open 25 on the F1 on Bank Holiday Monday 27 May 1974. Photo by Len Thorpe.
My first 'proper' racing bike (left) was a hand-built Shorter funded by shovelling concrete one school summer holiday at Atcost, a precast re-inforced concrete structure manufacturer based in my home town of St Ives. I'd been economic with the truth about my age when they took me on (they paid more the older you were!!) but they eventually found out when I had to provide NHS details. "And how long have you known this?" they asked. "For about the last 15 years" I said! Anyway ... I'd earned enough and Gerry Ashley from the St Neots CC kindly acted as the 'middle-man' in the acquisition of my wild lilac coloured Shorter for the princely sum of £49 10s 00d.
It was kitted out with:
Campag Nuuvo Record rear mech
Campag Nuovo Record 177.5 mm Pista cranks with 52 teeth c/ring
Campag Nuovo Record strada pedals
Weinmann 500 brake levers and calipers
TTT Grand Prix bars (far too narrow!)
Cinelli 1A stem (not sure quite how that fitted with the TTT bars - different diameters I believe!)
Campag Record large flange quick release 36 spoked hubs
Mavic OR10 rims
Berg double butted chrome spokes
Barum G9s or 'banana-splits' depending on what was available at the time
The frame was resprayed a number of times and went back to Shorters quite frequently to have extra bits and bobs brazed on. I used it for road racing for a few years before retiring it gracefully to the hanging-hooks in my garage where it has remained to this very day! Sad eh?
I was still with the St Neots CC in 1976 regularly riding their club 10s on the F1 with the likes of Gerry (Ashley) and Brian Morley. Adrian was now riding for the strong VC Olympia Sport - Simtech team along with Bob Downs, Steve Lawrence and Mick Wishart although we still did some training together and rode the occasional 2-ups which were probably doing me more good than him. We fancied our chances at tandem riding so went halves on a second hand Dan Jenner we saw for sale when we were out training one day. We had the wheels rebuilt by Len Raine's in Cambridge (32/40 spoking ... Airlite large flange hubs ... Fiamme Ergal rims ... shod with the tub of the day ... Barum G9s naturally!). The tandem had 6 1/2" Chater -Lea cottered cranks and was fitted with two of Adrian's Brooks B17 leather saddles. After a few try-outs we soon realised our pedalling styles were far from compatible so we did away with the gears and fitted 'fixed' instead. We then entered the Century RC open 25 on the F1 with competition record in mind ('aim for the stars and you might just reach the moon' was always one of my mottoes). So with nothing much to back our claim to a national record (other than Adrian's junior championship of course) we turned up and revved our rollocks off to finish the day with 40 seconds to spare. A 50-58 on 100" fixed. If my Doctor had been able to give me something to take away the pain but leave the swelling I'm sure my Mrs would have been well pleased!
I finished the year having covered 12,868 miles on the bike.
Me and Pete Trotman riding an early season 2-up hilly somewhere near Rockingham.
Photo by Bernard Thompson.
For the 1977 season I moved on to Northampton CC - Vindec. This was a new club formed by Rowland Summerlin who was working at the time for Brown Brothers (Vindec was, I believe one of their subsidiary companies). Rowland 'invited' a few fairly good local riders to join (and me too), the objective being to help each other out and to all 'move forward'.
Pete Trotman, who scored points in just about every road race he rode headed up the 'road' team content. Dave Froy, a very respectable and extremely classy time triallist was another to join, as was Dean Butler - who probably had more talent than the rest of us put together.
I rode several team time trials with Pete and enjoyed the banter we used to have together - especially when Dave was around.
My first ever 12 hour was ridden in Norhampton CC - Vindec colours. It was the National 12 held on a course based on a finishing circuit near Thrapston. I remember riding out to the event HQ at Bythorn on my Honda 50 moped with the bike strapped to the back of it. Rowland helped and fed me. All went well until the 150 mile mark when everything started to go wrong. I was on the verge of catching the legendary Mick Ward Haverhill Wheelers for (I think) 5 minutes, when I hit the first of my many 12 hour bad patches ... and basically blew apart leaving me to grovel the remaining 7 hours or so until my time was up (a bit of an appetiser of things to come maybe?). Mick went on to medal behind Ticker Mullins and Martin Roach. I ended up 10th with 252 miles vowing never to ride another.
Three weeks later I rode and won the Luton 12 with 263.28miles.
15,421 miles for the year and 11th place in the BBAR to boot!
Any questions at the back ... or anything anyone else would like me to elaborate on ... please?
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