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'It's about having fun on the bike' Mark Beaumont to attempt Hour Record on a penny-farthing

Jack Elton-Walters
15 Jun 2018

Searching for something different, ultra-endurance rider Mark Beaumont was attempt the Hour Record on a penny-farthing at Herne Hill

As part of the World Cycling Revival this week, Mark Beaumont is set to attempt the R.White’s Lemonade Penny Farthing Hour World Record at the famous Herne Hill Velodrome. Ahead of his training session on the historic outdoor track last month, the ultra-endurance specialist spoke to Cyclist about the challenge, and what motivated him to take it on.

'It's the absolute antithesis of riding round the world; finding that top end power for an hour,' Beaumont explained while his bike, and those of his chosen peloton, were  assembled behind him.

Beaumont's most recent record was to smash the target of cycling around the world in 80 days, arriving at the finish line in Paris after just 78, and it was at the end of that journey that the idea of this new record attempt was suggested.

'For me, the last two and a half, three years has been all about ultra-endurance, it's all been about 18,000 miles. I've done a fair bit of penny-farthing riding, and some of these eccentric friends of mine with a passion for penny-farthings, it was very much their idea.

'A couple of them came out to Paris and rode in to the finish line of the 18,000 miles on their penny-farthings.

'It was really on the finishing line that the idea was pitched: could we have a crack at the Hour Record from 1891?'

But there's more to it than just having his name listed against another record, something the Scottish rider is hardly missing from his palmares and it's something we can all relate to.

'This year for me is about having fun on the bike,' he said. 'I came off Strava on 18th September, I've stopped riding by numbers so much, I've just been loving riding my bike again.

'I've been doing a lot more mountain biking, I've been racing these ridiculous contraptions,' he said, with a wave to the line of brightly branded penny-farthings.

'Translating from ultra-endurance through to that speed and power is great fun,' he continued. 'Let's not pretend this is my next big expedition, this is a lot of fun, this is me getting back to just loving riding the bike.'

Beaumont is confident in the abilities of those who will be riding with him, but he's not complacent about beating either of the two records that currently stand.

Englishman Frank Dodds rode his penny-farthing 15.8 miles (25.4km) around the grounds of Cambridge University in 1876 but this was surpassed 10 years later by William A. Rowe, an American.

The most recently recorded paced Hour Record raced upon a penny-farthing is thought to be that of B.W. Attlee, who covered 21.1 miles (33.96km) in 1891, which stands as the English Record.

It's this record that is the first marker for new group of challengers, but Rowe's paced Hour Record of 22.09 miles (35.55km) remains the furthest and is the ultimate prize for Beaumont.

Despite being the headline name, Beaumont is open to being a domestique to another rider should they prove to be stronger on the day.

'Let's not pretend we've got Team GB here; we've got a bunch of slightly eccentric amateurs and we are absolutely going to leave it all out there, of course we are.

'But there's actually a couple of guys, including Roger from Unicycle, who are a lot more experienced at racing penny-farthings than I am.

'There's an assumption that I'm the guy that's going to get led out for the record, and I'll certainly give it my all but let's just see how it works out: the strongest man will go for the record.

'There are two records up for stakes here: there's the English Record and there's the World Record. I'm certainly not saying we're going to be able to smash this out the park.

Referring to conversations he's had in the build-up to this, he added, 'It's interesting because a number of people are saying "well surely with 130 plus years of development and experience, and physical training and the rest of it, you should take this to the next level" but I think you've got to realise how tough and well practised these boys were back in the Victorian times.

'We'll give it a crack and I think we'll get close, I really do think we'll give it a run for the money, but I'm not complacent about the fact that we're going to have to absolutely bury ourselves to get close to the records.'

When we met at Herne Hill to discuss the record attempt ahead of the training session, rain was forecast to start later that afternoon. Around an hour after I left Mark to finish getting his bike ready, and before the time he was due on the track, the heavens opened.

'We've already had two training sessions that have been snowed off or rained off, the conditions have not been ideal so we've not had the perfect run-up to this,' he lamented.

'Have a look at these contraptions: there's no air in the tyres, they're 56 inches, there's no braking on them. They're pretty lethal in the wet, we'd have to take a view on the conditions.

'They're pretty dangerous, they're pretty ridiculous contraptions, we're absolutely gunning for it on Friday 15th June,' but in case of more bad weather, he pointed out that the team has 'a contingency of moving it forwards to Thursday 14th if the weather's inclement but unless it's really biblical rain I think we'll probably still be able to race.'

Mark Beaumont will attempt the World Hour Record atop his penny-farthing at the World Cycling Revival at Herne Hill Velodrome on Friday 15th June. For more on the Revival, click here for our complete guide.