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Russ Mantle, Britain’s 82-year-old million mile cyclist, still riding 100 miles a week

In-depth
17 Jun 2020
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The Covid-19 lockdown hasn’t stopped the Hampshire cyclist who hit the magical one million mile marker after seven decades in the saddle

Words Peter Stuart Photography David Wren

In November, octogenarian Russ Mantle became the first person in the UK to ride one million miles, with the 82-year-old rolling into Canal Cafe in Mytchett recording his millionth mile flanked by fellow cyclists in celebration.

While many cyclists have struggled with getting time on the bike outdoors during the Covid crisis, especially older riders who may be shielding from infection, it hasn’t stopped Mantle from riding. He’s been clocking up around 100 miles per week, which he’s continued to log with the 300k club.

Mantle’s momentum has been slightly curtailed by a lack of cafes, but he’s solved that by packing a picnic with him for his longer rides, which he tends to do every third day or so.

Keeping record

Mantle has meticulously detailed every single ride in his diaries having commuted by bike, raced and cycled in Europe and North America for all his life, clocking over 14,500 miles each year since 1952.

Mantle originally recorded his miles using an old cyclometer before updating to a modern GPS unit in the mid-1990s, writing down every ride – destination and distance – in his diary.

We spoke to the man himself in the wake of his impressive landmark to find out more about just how he did it...

Q&A: The million mile cyclist Russ Mantle

Cyclist: When did you cross the million mile marker?

Russ Mantle: It was on Thursday 7th November. There were about 15 cyclists who arrived at my house and we all cycled along the towpath to Mytchett Canal Centre cafe [near Aldershot, Hampshire].

They had put a banner up across the footbridge. There was a big crowd there – 60 or 70 people – and we all went to the cafe in Mytchett together.

Cyc: How did it feel to hit the one million mile mark?

RM: I was overwhelmed by it all. I’ve had no end of phone interviews as well as interviews here at home.

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Cyc: At what point in your life do you think you clocked up the biggest share of your mileage?

RM: After 1974, when I stopped racing. From then on I was doing 400 miles a week for most of the year for a long time. My mileage consistently increased each year despite serious accidents, of which I’ve had 11.

My best year was 2001, when I did 22,550 miles. I was doing between 18,000 and 22,000 for about 20 years. Even when I was working I was doing about 19,000 to 20,000 miles a year. I still managed 16,000 miles in the year that I broke my hip.

I’ve been doing less every year since 2001. Last year I did 9,700 miles. This year I might just do 8,000, which would be my lowest ever.

Cyc: Did having 11 accidents on the bike make you want to stop riding?

RM: No, I came back each time. One time I whacked the road and broke my hip. I’ve broken my pelvis on an icy road. I’ve had many broken ribs – once a rib punctured my lung and the lung collapsed.

I was hit by a car in Farnham and it wedged me against a railing. I’ve had a caravan overtake me and knock me flying. I’ve been in Chichester hospital, Winchester hospital, Southampton hospital, Henley, Guildford and Farnham. Four of the accidents were serious; the others have been fairly minor.

 

Cyc: What has been your single biggest week and biggest day in terms of mileage?

RM: My biggest week ever was 735 miles. My longest day was a ride from here [Aldershot] to Wales and back, which was 265 miles.

I went around Monmouth in a wiggly fashion to get the mileage up, through Cirencester, Newbury and through the lanes from Theale. I also once did a 255-mile ride to Weston-Super-Mare and back.

I did a lot of mileage on fixed gears, too. I once rode all five of the highest passes of the Lake District on a 39-inch gear, including the Hardknott and Wrynose Pass. It was only 110 miles out of Cockermouth and back, though. 

Cyc: What is it that has made you so passionate about cycling such long distances?

RM: To me it’s just natural to get on a bike. Some people get in their car just to go down the road. To me getting on a bike is just convenient. You can stop precisely where you want, whether you’re on a mountain pass for a view or you just want to take a photograph. When you go shopping you can park your bike right at the doorway.

Plus I get to meet people out on the road – you can be recognised on a bicycle. Yesterday a lorry driver overtook me and shouted, ‘Well done, you million miler!’ When I was younger I could go out every day continuously. It’s different now – it’s every other day on average. Sometimes it’s two days in succession, but less mileage.

I call it a good habit. For my last three years of owning a car I only drove 50 miles each year because I cycle everywhere. I decided the car was taking up garage space, so I got rid of it.

Cyc: Did you always keep records of all of your riding?

RM: I keep records of everything – all my mileage and all my race results. I even keep records of my accidents. Some were in the paper. It’s just natural to me. Here’s one magazine article about me back in the 1970s.

Here’s one of the write-ups of my accidents. That’s a list of members of the 300,000 mile club [a club for cyclists who have ridden 300,000 miles or more and kept detailed records] with me up there at the top of the list.

Cyc: When did you join the 300,000 mile club, and when did you realise that you may be within reach of one million miles?

RM: Well, when I joined the 300,000 miles club, back in 1977-ish, I was already well over the 300,000 mark. I probably knew back then that it was just a matter of time before I’d get to a million without really trying. It was just inevitable, really, that it was going to happen. 

Cyc: You mentioned racing – did you race much?

RM: Yes I did. I won 36 time-trials within the Border Cycling Association, which is this area of Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire. I won 10 road races, I also won 24 Open time-trials. This was all between 1953 and 1968. I then had a rest from racing, but I came back again and I won my last three races in 1975.

My fastest 10-mile TT was a 22:19. That was in 1954. That wasn’t far off the comp record. My fastest 25 is 57:10 – that was in 1960, Newark to Tucksford and back. My best 100 is a 4:18:49 in Essex.

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Cyc: Have you cycled much outside of the UK too?

RM: I’ve toured many times in Spain, Italy, France, Ireland, the whole of the British Isles, the Rockies in Canada and America, Yugoslavia, Norway, and all sorts of other places. I keep a record of everything on my holidays – villages and towns I’ve gone through, cafes I’ve stopped at. It’s all there.

My last tour was about four years ago. I last went to Salzburg and rode south through Austria. Nothing was booked. I’ve always just headed for the tourist office and told them I’d like to stop somewhere nearby. Then all I had to do was follow a street map they’d give me.

I take photographs everywhere I go, too. I use a Pentax Spotmatic, and sometimes use the timer so I can get myself in the shot.

Cyc: Have you had to do a lot of repairs by the roadside over the years? Has it made you a keen bike mechanic?

RM: I could always mend things. I’ve broken a couple of bikes but that was when riding to work, where a frame tube has sheared. I’ve had tyre blowouts, spokes break, put my gear in the wheel. Nothing big.

I’ve broken my cranks a few times, through the thread. I always build my own wheels; I make my own cassettes sometimes too. I always repair my inner tubes rather than buying new ones.

A technique I’ve got to find a pin-prick puncture is to wet around your eyes and it will pick up the air, because your eye is so sensitive.

 

Cyc: How did you fit your work around all of your riding?

RM: For a very long time I worked for the Ministry of Building and Public Works, which became the Property Services Agency. I was a clerk of works, a site inspector, and I used to cycle to building contractors around this area.

Work used to pay for the mileage I cycled, so it was like being a professional cyclist. In 1994 I was made redundant, so from then onward I could go cycling every day of the week, which I liked.

Cyc: Of all of your rides around the world, and throughout the years, which sticks in your mind as your favourite?

RM: I have to really think about that one, but I’d probably say it was when I came 6th in the National 25 Championship. Yep, that’s the one.

Russ Mantle is a lifetime CyclingUK member. To join CyclingUK, which offers cycling insurance and numerous other benefits, visit cyclinguk.org/join

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