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Sunday, 28 May 2017

An odd half-life

Time trial: A pedal-bike race against the clock; racers set off at one-minute intervals and ride for 25, 50 or 100  miles: 12½, 25 or 50 miles in one direction, then the same distance back. In extreme cases they ride for 24 hours. See MikeM's account (Time Trial) about what it feels like.

When I left newspapers and joined Cycling and Mopeds (now Cycling Weekly) in London I reported time trials. Harder than it sounds. The concept of riders racing each other was notional; the winner might be the last chap to set off, or the first. Overtaking was rarely observed since in a 25-mile time trial it could occur a dozen miles away from where the reporter was standing. A strange fictional prose was employed to create an "of the moment" environment which didn't actually exist.

For the reporter the logistics was severe. Time trials took place on Sunday mornings on flattish lengths of public road, often distant from built-up areas; to avoid traffic they started at 6 am or even earlier. I had neither a car nor a motor-bike so, in order to get some sleep, I would go by train (with a pedal bike) the night before to a nearby B&B then cycle out to the start/finish on Sunday morning. I would construct the report from interviews with riders as they finished: gasping and knackered, having given their all.

I was courting at the time. Faced with covering a time trial I simply wrote off the weekend. It was an an odd half-life and after a year I'd had enough. I moved to a magazine about tape recording thinking that my social life would improve. Then that mag went bust.

Journalism was and is ever volatile.

6 comments:

Sir Hugh said...

Strange to remember now having a job involving traveling outdoors using only public transport and legwork. I worked in Halifax and had to call on all the motor sales outlets down the Calder valley. I caught a bus to the furthest town, about fifteen miles from Halifax, then perhaps four successive buses to call at various places on the way back. In 1959 I was given my first company car, a Ford Popular. My bus journeys gave me the opportunity to read nearly as much literature as one doing a degree in English.

MikeM said...

Flattish huh? We used to do some flattish 10 milers, but here is a result from my prime with 600m of climbing in it over 50k. As you can see I was no Sir Bradley even then. Nor Froome. My best 10 mile avg. speed was about 41kph. Fitness was a good courting tool.

https://us.mapometer.com/cycling/route_4547272.html

Roderick Robinson said...

Sir Hugh: My circle of operations at Bingley was more radiative than linear. Harden, very occasionally Wilsden, Eldwick, v occasionally Morton, Cottingley, Crossflats. None of them long enough to get stuck into a book. Later I used motor bikes which meant turning up at people's doors drenched with rain and presenting them with a dilemma as to whether I should be invited in; I used to wear sandals on the theory that the water drained away more quickly.

MikeM: Hills were included; it depended on the region. But cycle racing was pretty popular nationally, then and now, and the emphasis was on headline-catching performances. Everyone was waiting eagerly for someone to break four hours for the 100 - eventually achieved by Ray Booty, more remarkable since he used a Sturmey Archer hub gear unit with only four gears (it was thought he was being slipped cash by SA to do this). The 25-mile was the most competitive, with plenty of people getting under 1 hr. The fastest guys didn't carry spare racing tyres since they reckoned the race was all over if they punctured.

41 kph seems pretty good to me.

MikeM said...

I've never read much about the history of TT'ing in Europe, other than the hour record. I will be catching up. I suspect the 4 gear unit was employed as a means to lighten the bike a bit. I'll bet I can even find Mr. Booty's gear ratios somewhere online, and correlate them with his course profile. And find out what the current 100 record is. And...and..Clearly the race is done if one punctures. Even with a chase car and a team to supply a fresh bike there are many seconds lost in the exchange. At least a patch kit and tire levers are appropriate, unless an auto ride home is assured.

MikeM said...

Wiki claims he rode a fixed gear for the 100 and a Sturmey Archer of some sort for a "straight out" record. I've no doubt that Wiki could be wrong. In any case, don't miss the Booty quote here on post race refreshments.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Booty

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: How curious all this seems, harking back to my annus mirabilis - 1959 - when I finally exchanged the mean-minded confines of Yorkshire for the excitements of London, dining out, visiting the House of Commons (my flatmate was political correspondent of The Times), all in wonderful weather that persisted until October. Not forgetting that I also met VR (then VT) whom I married the following year.

Looking back I realise I knew more about cycle racing than I realised. With Cycling's deputy editor I attended a track meet at Herne Hill and saw Fausto Coppi and Rik van Steenbergen in action. Later I was to meet Reg Harris (champion track rider into his forties), Brian Robinson (first Brit to win a stage in the Tour de France) and, even more more momentously, Tom Simpson who died so dramatically on the slopes of Mont Ventoux in the TdF.

Time-slips inevitably occur. I see Booty did his major stuff before I joined Cycling.

The sour milk episode turns my stomach even now.

We seem to have lived parallel lives.