Newsletter - 2001 Archive

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Halving The Load

Harold Bridge


Despite the gigantic cost tandems seem to have become very popular within the Club. There is good reason for this, especially for a mixed (up?) couple. Those who ride together stick together. Apply that to one bicycle and there isn't much option.

When I was seven Dad added some wooden blocks to the rear pedals of the family machine. This was so that I could ride it on occasions instead of Mum. When Mum rode the blocks came off of course. A family holiday in Hastings on the south coast of England in 1937 saw Mum, Grandma and baby sister travel there from our North London home on the bus. Dad and 10 year old me rode the tandem for the 75 mile (120 km) trip through London and down the A21. By that time I had grown enough I didn't need the blocks anymore.

As I entered my teens there were times when Dad and I would ride tandem instead of our singles simply to cut down the time on the road. Many of our trips were to go see some of the Classic time trials, especially on the famed Bath Road (A3) course west of London. I was home on leave from the Navy in Whitsun 1947 and we decided to go see the Westerley Road Club's 100 (mile time trial). We were riding east back toward the finish when the eventual winner, Albert Derbyshire, went past. We followed him and saw him finish with a new National Competition Record time of 4 hours 20 minutes, a few seconds faster than the previous, pre-war, record.

In 1948 my Club mate, Peter Bury (the nearest thing I had to a Big Brother) got married and had bought a touring tandem. However, he had other plans for the thing as well. In 1949 he suggested that he and I should ride some tandem time trials. Our first event on May 1st was the University CC tandem 30 mile. We finished in 1 hr 8 min 17 s thus getting North Road Club certificates for breaking Club Record. That didn't last long, about 4 weeks. Edwards and Blackman, both much faster riders than us, managed a 1 hr 4 min ride.

This latter pair held Club tandem 50 record as well, with a 1 hr 54 min ride. Two weeks after our record "30" Peter and I managed a 1 hr 57 min 45 s for our first 50 and a week or two later a 2 hr 00 min 13 s with which we were a bit disappointed. Peter's watch was wrong and he said as we were riding a 2 hr 2 min pace it wasn't worth struggling to try and beat two hours. I said it was, we had time. My watch was right!

There was only one tandem "100", the Oak CC event, in the calendar, on July 24 and that was on "Our" road, the Great North. It was a decent day and on a course laid out for tandems, with only two dead turns. From the start at Biggleswade to St Neots and east to Cambridge, turn round and retrace to the Great North Road and go north to near Peterborough before turning south to finish at Biggleswade. Four hours for a 100 miles might have seen optimistic by the standards of the day, but we had that in mind. We finished in 4 hr 4 min 57 s which put us 5th to the winners' 3 hr 54 min. Our time knocked about 13 minutes off the Club record. But the record only lasted 14 months or so.

1950, we didn't get off to quite as good a start and only managed a 1 hr 09 min for the 30 that year. But come the Marlboro tandem 50 and the North Road had three crews entered: Edwards and Blackman aiming to trim a bit off their 1 hr 54 min record, Peter and I and another pair of "old" riders, Rhind and Warden.

Edwards suggested to us that as we were starting ahead of them we might well beat their 1 hr 54 min record and they would come along some minutes later and reclaim it. We did indeed manage a 1 hr 54 min, but the seconds, 46, were a little too many to claim record. Edwards and Blackman, though, did beat their own record with a 1 hr 52 min.

Peter and I had RRA (Road Records Association) ambitions that year. North Roaders who broke one of the many RRA records got a gold oval badge instead of the ordinary silver one and I wanted to upgrade! Peter already had a gold badge. In 1948 he was the rear half of a succesful attack on the tandem trike version of the London-Portsmouth and Back record. We thought we would have a go at the tandem record, 138 miles with some fairly difficult climbs. We had a trial run over the route from Hyde Park Corner to Portsmouth General Post Office and back.

We flew down to Portsmouth. On Kingston Hill I remember we passed a car, albeit it looked somewhat overloaded. But the journey back was torturous and on Portsdown, the climb back from the coast, our 79" bottom gear was not a good choice, we suffered. The result was we decided not to put in a schedule to the RRA.

The Oak Tandem 100 had been moved to September. It was also going to use the regular North Road course with its greater number of dead turns and more twisty roads. Two weeks prior to the tandem 100, Alan Blackman and I had just ridden our first 24-hour event. He finished with 430 miles and was 5th I think. I was half way down the finishing list with 405 miles, 4th fastest Club member. Blackman made the winning team, (fastest 3 from one club) I didn't, as another member Arthur Wilkins did 408 miles. The winner was our own Bob Mynott who broke National Competition Record with 460 miles.

With the 24 over I was looking forward to the tandem 100 and the chance to beat 4 hours. It was a bit of a blow when Peter announced he didn't feel fit enough to tackle a "100". He offered me a choice, I could borrow the tandem and find another partner or we could ride a "30" down in Hampshire. If I had been as generous in nature as Peter I would have gone for the "30". But with the 24 in my legs and 2 weeks of recuperation I felt ready for the longer challenge. Standing right by during the discussion was Alan Kennedy, who was on a par with Blackman and Edwards up to 50 miles. Kennedy said he would ride the "100" with me. With that settled we took the opportunity to get in one or two riders together and seemed to "nick" well.

The day of the "100" dawned wet and chilly. We set off, Edwards and Blackman ahead of us by a few minutes. Up the North Road to Cross Hall where we were to turn left onto the Kimbolton detour. There is a sharp little hill to descend to a bend a few miles along there. There at the bottom were a torn and tattered Edwards and Blackman complete with bent tandem. Kennedy on the front of our tandem took the corner very slowly!

In the first 25 miles we were passed by a well-known and accomplished pair out of the Viking Road Club, Williams and Crowley. They went on to win. (3 hr 53 min?) It created in me an urge to do better and I started to upset the smooth rhythm so essential to efficient bike riding. I was called to order by the Captain; "We are getting very ragged, Harold!" Just getting on with stoking the boilers don't worry about the torpedoes! Another detour up the Thrapston Road, and we headed to the top turn up near Peterborough, Somewhere along there we were 2 hr 2 min at the halfway point. Also along there were some clubmates out to give us a cheer. The biggest and loudest cheer (and sundry obscenities) from the owner of the tandem himself. Once we turned south the blessing of a tandem became apparent. We just ploughed our way through that head wind and passed several teams who had flashed past us earlier in the event. On a tandem there is much less penalty for racing on touring tyres (Dunlop Sprites).

There was the obstacle of Chicken Hill back up to Cross Hall before the final few miles to the finish in a lane near St Neots. We survived Chicken on our 79 inch bottom gear and put in a grandstand finish on the 104" top. We were 5th with another 4 hr 4 min, this time it was 4 hr 4 min 42 s, a new Club record. Peter was put out we had done him out of his record by a measly 15 seconds, he was cheering us on to a sub four hour ride! That record lasted 31 years. After all that time it was only beaten by a minute.

I have often wondered why most of those tandem rides were of a better standard than anything I managed on my own. (Yes, alright I know what you are thinking). Take the 50 mile times in 1950; On solo bikes Blackman, Edwards and Kennedy all did 2 hr 7 min rides. Bury was at 2 hr 13 min and I was at 2 hr 17 min. And yet Peter Bury and I were only two minutes slower than Geoff Edwards & Alan Blackman when on tandem. Broadly speaking it was considered that a good Club pair on tandem were equal to most of the top solo riders of the day. In 1949 National Competition Record for solo 100 miles was 4 hr 17 min. Peter and I did 4 hr 4 min 57s.

To digress a moment. Even as a teenager I was barely able to touch my toes with my legs straight and yet others were able to put their palms on the floor. On the back of a tandem I was sitting more upright than when on my bike. The front rider was my aerodynamic fairing! Were my legs better able to work when not worrying about streamlining? What does our kinesiologist think?

Under present circumstances I can only sign myself:
Crash Test Dummy.