Thursday, March 9, 2017

A cycle trip to England


In 2011 I visited England, my second trip there.  My first visit was in 1980.
After my return, I wrote an article for this blog about cycle speedway (Aug. 7, 2011) and a brief story about joining the British Human Power Club (Feb/ 5, 2012), but until now, I didn't write about the rest of my trip.  (Two updates:  The one cycle speedway track in the U.S. as of when I wrote that article, in Edenton, N.C., apparently is no more. There no longer is a website.  BHPC dues remain £20, which includes its quarterly magazine, LaidBackCyclist, but now there's also an electronic membership for £6, which, I think, includes online access to the magazine.
   This story is headlined "A cycle trip," rather than a "A cycling trip," because although I saw LOTS of cycles there, I didn't ride them, for reasons I will explain.  
I flew from O'Hare International Airport near Chicago to Manchester (direct flight), arriving on Saturday, April 30.  I then took a train to  Newark on Trent, to visit long-time friends Martin and Alison Purser, who live in nearby Grassthorpe.
The Pursers, whom I visited in 1980, were active then and still are in the Tricycle Association (, which has about 500 (mostly British) members, most of whom ride lightweight upright tricycles with the two wheels in the rear.

Martin Purser has a large collection of tricycles and here I am on one of them. Unfortunately, I am very un-used to dropped handlebars, which for me require a very awkward position to reach the brake levers.  Plus the Pursers' driveway is unpaved, with quite a slope, so I was pedaling (sort-of) at an angle while trying to reach the brake levers.  So I staggered to reach the end of the driveway and back, which was the extent of my pedaling in England.  But I did a lot of walking.

On Sunday, Martin took me to see Eric Coles and his very large collection of cycles, in Dragonby, near Scunthorpe.  Eric owns/owned more than 110 bicycles and 12 tricycles.

Eric Coles bought this vintage recumbent in 1979.  It was built around 1933 by Charlie Thompson, who owned an auto repair shop in Scunthorpe.  It originally had 14-inch wheels and one speed.  In addition to restoring the bike, Eric converted it to 20-inch wheels (451mm) and three speeds.


This Peter Ross-manufactured bike which Eric owns dates to 1990.  He (Eric) made some modifications, including strengthening the frame where it was flexing, and had ridden it as much as 120 miles in a day.  He also owns/owned three other Ross-built cycles.  Peter Ross died in 2013; the company he started morphed into what is now ICE. (Inspired Cycle Engineering).

This bike – owned by Eric – was built by Guy Tigwell around 2006, who then raced it.  The frame comes apart in two pieces.  It's front-wheel-drive. Both wheels are 16-inch (I think).

There are two makers in the U.K. of quality upright tricycles with the two wheels in the rear (Trykit/Geoff Booker and Longstaff and one who builds them with the two wheels in front (Roman Road Cycles/Austin Shackles).  Eric Coles owns this one. For links to all three builders, go to the TA website.

Monday, May 2, was a bank holiday (Whit Monday or Pentecost Monday), which meant most people had the day off. And for TA members in the North Eastern Region, there was the 25th Mike Dixie Memorial 10-mile time trial near Newport.  Martin Purser was the organizer, so with Alison and two tricycles in or on their station wagon (one of them a tandem), off we went. (Alison competed on the tricycle with another rider.)

The course was along the edge of a four-lane divided limited access highway(!) Go 5 miles, then up the exit ramp to the turnaround, cross over to the other two lanes, down the entry ramp and then return.  BUT, the parking/gathering/registration area was at a town hall 5 miles from the start, so competitors actually had to pedal 20 miles.

With only one big turn, the turnaround, competitors in the Mike Dixie Memorial, didn't have to do much leaning.  But when making sharp turns, tricyclists trying to maintain their speed have to lean A LOT to stay upright.  (There are some TA members who ride recumbent tricycles, but this event was limited only to upright trikes.) Look close and you will see two rim brakes on the front wheel.  For reasons of simplicity and lightness, such British trikes traditionally have two rim brakes on the front wheel, but NO brakes on the rear wheels.

This is the axle of a traditional British trike – one-wheel-drive driving the left wheel.  The axle housing is part of the frame; it doesn't detach.  To transport them in a small car, all three wheels are removed.

Both Longstaff and Geoff Booker now make trikes with two-wheel-drive, such as this one.  Instead of a differential, their axles incorporate two freewheels.  When going in a straight line, both wheels are driving.  But going around a corner, the outer wheel is driving while the inner wheel is freewheeling.

One of the Mike Dixie 10 competitors brought this beautiful Reg Harris bike to show.  The rear hub is a rare Sturmey-Archer 3-speed fixed gear (no freewheel).  My notes say "1964," but I don't know if that's the year the bike or the hub was made, or both.  (Old S-A hubs have the year of manufacturing on them.)  Harris (1920-92) won the world sprint  (velodrome) championship four times. His bicycle manufacturing business lasted only three years.

Next on my list was to visit Brooklands, west of London, which when it opened in 1907 was the first purpose-built auto racing track in the world.  Before then, racing was done on roads and horse racing tracks.
But after leaving the Pursers, I would have an extra day or two to kill, so in planning my trip, I e-mailed British Human Power Club Chairman Richard Ballantine, who lived in London:  "Can I come visit?"  (
Ballantine was the author of several books about bicycles, including Richard's Bicycle Book, of which there were several editions (the first in 1972), which in total sold more than 1 million copies worldwide, and (with co-writer Richard Grant), Richards' Ultimate Bicycle Book (1992).
He also started two British cycling magazines and imported the first 20 mountain bikes into the U.K.
He not only was nice enough to agree to meet, he and his wife, Sherry (both Americans), invited me to dinner, at their home so I got to see his personal cycle collection – many of them built by Mike Burrows. That was on Tuesday evening.  (My bed and breakfast was within walking distance of their home.)
Then on Wednesday, Richard and I rode a bus to Bikefix, a shop in central London that sells many interesting bikes, including recumbents and folders.  There, we met Mike Burrows, who took the train from Norfolk just to meet  us.

Mike Burrows (left) and Richard Ballantine outside Bikefix in central London.  Mike took his 2D bicycle on the train from Norfolk, then rode it to the shop.  The 2D is made of carbon fiber and aluminum and has one speed, a fully-enclosed chain and dual hub brakes.  It weighs 22 pounds. Notice the single blade front fork, typical of many Burrows designs. 

A promotional flier for Burrows' newest book (co-written with Tony Hadland), From Bicycle to Superbike, describes him as "Britain's most innovative, most successful and most opinionated cycle designer."
We spent time talking to Bikefix owner Stuart Dennison, then enjoyed lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant. (There were bikes at Bikefix I would have liked to test ride, of course, but since I obviously wasn't going to buy anything, I didn't think it was polite to ask, so I didn't.)
Sadly, Richard Ballantine died of cancer in May 2013 at age 72.  Mike Burrows is now 73 or 74 and still designing and building bikes and racing his creations in BHPC events.

Spotted in London:  The Itera was a injection molded plastic bicycle manufactured in Sweden from 1983-85. About 30,000 were produced.

Then on Thursday, it was off (by train) to Brooklands, southwest of London. The last auto races were held there in 1939.  In addition to auto racing, Brooklands was the hub of early aviation in England – the first flight from there was in 1909 – and the site of airplane manufacturing from 1908-87.

The main circuit at Brooklands was an approximate oval shape about 2.75 miles around. The lap record of 143.44 mph was set in 1935.  The track was never rebuilt for racing after World War II, but this section was restored as part of the creation of the Brooklands Museum.  (

The buildings, track, etc., devoted to auto racing deteriorated, until a trust was created to restore the buildings and part of the track.  The Brooklands Museum opened in 1991.
In addition to old race cars and airplanes on display, bicycle racing took place there from 1907 into the 1980s, so there's also bicycles on display.

Alberto Santos-Dumont, from Brazil, was a pioneer in early aviation, flying dirigibles (steerable, powered airships) and then airplanes in Europe.  This is a 1999 recreation of Demoiselle, built by Santo-Dumont in 1909 of wood and bamboo.  Wingspan was under 17 feet. Various engines were used, including a 20 hp two-cylinder.   Look close and you can see where he sat, the seat spanning the two lower fuselage tubes, behind the wheels. 

At Brooklands:  The three-wheel Sinclair C5 was an effort by Clive Sinclair to bring efficient transportation to the masses.  Propulsion was by pedal power and an electric motor. He had visions of selling 100,000 C5, but only 12,000-14,000 were made in 1985 before the company went bust. And of those produced, according to Wikipedia, only about 5,000 were sold.

At Brooklands:  A record you didn't know existed.  Bruce Bursford pedaled this bicycle to a world record speed of 207.9 mph ON ROLLERS in 1988,  breaking the old record of 153 mph.  The obvious question:  Since the only part of Bursford that was moving was his legs, aerodynamics was not a factor, so why did he need such a bike.  Couldn't he have gone as fast on an old Raleigh fitted with a BIG chainring and aerodynamic wheels?

There will always be an England.  The Stockport Grammar School was near the bed-and-breakfast where I stayed in Stockport. Notice the founding date. I attended a cycle speedway race in Stockport on my final full day in England. and returned home on Sunday, May 8.  

1 comment:

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