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Back to the future with a 1960 issue of 'Cycling and Mopeds'

Trevor Ward
1 Apr 2021

A 60-year-old artefact provides a glimmer of light from cycling’s glorious past and offers hope for the future. Illustration: Clear as Mud

A dusty relic arrives from my friend Myles in Northern Ireland. Anything from Myles – who raced 10 editions of Ireland’s fearsomely tough stage race, the Rás, and now designs cycling kit for the Galibier brand – is always worth attention. He appreciates cycling heritage with all the reverence of an oenophile uncorking a 1982 Petrus Bordeaux.

His gift does not disappoint. It’s a copy of Cycling And Mopeds dated 3rd August 1960 and the black and white cover photo sums up everything that is beautiful and mythical about our sport: a rider in two-tone woollen jersey and leather mitts is bent over the bars and grimacing with a suffering that is almost tangible. The bike he rides is a wafer of anorexic steel tubes, its simplicity and efficiency betrayed only by sprouting brake cables and, touchingly, a bell attached at the stem.

The report inside informs us this is Best All-Rounder Brian Wiltcher winning ‘Britain’s greatest time-trial classic’, the Bath Road Club 100, with a time of 4:01:17. The details are recounted breathlessly:

‘Suddenly, under the strain, Wiltcher’s left toe-clip broke after 60 miles. The sparkle went; but the guts remained. This was the moment when lesser men, unable to inflict torture on themselves any more, would stop and sit on the roadside. But not Wiltcher. Clamping his teeth together in fierce determination, and changing up to his highest gear, 112in, he ground up the long lane to the finish.’

Who doesn’t want to jump on their bike after reading that?

This souvenir from the past offers a glimmer of light in our current dark times. I have pored over every word and image like a prisoner-of-war savouring a love letter. Elsewhere in its pages, JA Bailey of Nelson Wheelers and J Forrest of North Lancashire Road Club set a new record for riding a tandem from Land’s End to John O’Groats – two days, four hours and 49 minutes – and ‘at Stirling, the riders (and most of the helpers!) were regaled by steak pie and chips by the Central Scotland Wheelers’.

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Elsewhere bike reviewer ‘Nimrod’ is taken with Elswick-Hopper’s latest model, the Continentale, featuring Benelux Super 60 five-speed gears and Weinman 999 Vainqueur brakes ‘that have the latest quick release’.

The subjects on the letters page range from the optimal length of rain capes to the growing popularity of tandems. Letter of the Week – winning the writer ‘one guinea’ – is a call to change the rules regarding support vehicles on end-to-end record attempts (which appear to be almost weekly events).

It’s also clear that cycling in 1960 was not an exclusively male domain. As well as a report of Beryl Burton’s latest record-breaking success on the eve of her departure for the World Championships Road Race in East Germany – which she would win – there is a story from regular columnist Eileen Sheridan on cycling in Wales in which she discovers ‘surf-riding’ and finds it ‘to be rivalled only by the joy of gliding windswept down a glorious hill on my bicycle’. Elsewhere, the heroine of the regular comic strip is a resourceful female called ‘Ruby Lustre’.

The Classifieds are a treasure trove of stories, dreams and ambitions. An ad from a recently formed group of mavericks reads, ‘If you enjoy cycling on byways, tracks or on rough, tough or easy crossings, the Rough Stuff Fellowship will be pleased to cater for you.’

Under clothing, you could find a ‘Handicape, the cape with sleeves’ for 27 shillings and twopence. There are bespoke services aplenty, with Pedalsport in Glasgow offering customised wool racing jerseys: ‘10 days delivery. Please send sketch.’

Meanwhile a simple yet touching appeal is posted under Wanted: ‘Cyclists – Apollo CC. Details: Miss Simmons, 12 Woodside Avenue, South Norwood.’

By the time I’d devoured every word of the magazine’s 32 pages I was rejuvenated. But this wasn’t just from the rose-tinted glow of ‘the good old days’. It was from the realisation – reassurance, even – that the riders of 1960 experienced the same joys and frustrations, the same pain and pleasure, as the riders of today. In many ways, I was looking back to the future.

In these difficult times it’s comforting to know there always have been and always will be new bikes, new records, new routes, new heroes and new adventures to inspire and thrill us.

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