Cycling in the Sixties
Submitted by Bob Tate
I was a member of the Welwyn Wheelers, I joined in 1958 when I was about 15, and the photo was taken when I was marshalling the Welwyn Wheelers’ Road race. I think I was about 20 at the time and had discovered the pleasures of the early sixties with emerging modern music, clubs, parties, drinking and other stuff. The bags under my eyes and the pallor speak for themselves!
I am looking a bit portly and had given up ‘serious’ cycling by then. The cycling clothes were typical of the day, rolled up jeans or plus 2’s – tweedy trousers than came below the knee with elastic in them, worn with long socks and a couple of jumpers. NO ONE in the club wore shorts or club kit except for racing. Cycling shoes were leather with nailed on shoe plates. Crash hats had not been invented for road cycling and in the winter we wore little black berets – very cool!
The Wheelers had some very good riders including a National Sprint Champion, and the boy I joined with (Brendan McKeown) who became National Pursuit Champion and some very good road racers who did not come out with us much.
Club Runs were rather ferocious as I remember with no quarter given, taken or expected and every 30mph sigh and hill top had to be sprinted for. If you got dropped, too bad, and navigation was by road signs.
Destination was chosen on the day and we usually stopped at a cycling café and the better off members (not me as I was at school still) had a cooked lunch. I don’t remember eating on the rides but I can remember being hungry when I got home!
We took turns on the front and changed by the lead pair parting and the rest riding through. Four abreast for a few seconds but it worked well. Strong pairs did long pulls and the weaker ones shorter. I don’t remember a single crash on a club run.
WW was very much a racing club and my efforts were considered pretty mediocre. I managed a
1hr 05m 25 mile TT and a 24min 10 mile TT – both on fixies (the 25TT on 72” Guy)! 10’s were only for ladies and juniors. There was no way to measure your speed or effort unless your watch had second hand.
I tried a few junior road races, mainly around Whitwell but don’t recollect finishing one.
WW was a very sociable club, we had a club hut when I first joined and Friday was ‘Club Night’ and we played, skittles, darts, cards, drank tea, entered events and socialised. During my time the Gosling Stadium was built very nearby and our clubroom moved to that. Advice to young members was freely and vigorously given and you were expected to take it. The demographic was very different to today. Most rider gave up ‘serious cycling’ by their mid twenties. People got married and had kids earlier and with 40-44 hour week and two weeks holiday people did not have the time. Older members who had stopped cycling ran the club and later lots of events at the Gosling Stadium.
I remember the bike I am riding in the photo very clearly as I built it. I bought the frame new and it cost me a fortune at the time, although older members were generous in passing on used bits.
Frame: Made to measure Alan Shorter. 22in, 72 degrees parallel, Reynolds 531 Double Butted steel tubing. Nervex Professional Lugs and Campag Fork Ends. Flamboyant purple with gold lug lining and pale blue panels.
Wheels: Airlight Q/R hubs with Fiamme Sprint (Tubular) rims (built by me)
Tyres: Tubular – Clement 50s
Brakes: Mafac centre pull
Stem: GB chromes steel and alloy GM Maes handle bars
Gears: Campag 2 X 5 speed with down-tube non-indexed shifters
Chainset: Stronglight Criterium 53/42
Pedals: Lytard with toe clips and straps
Saddle: Brooks Competition Special with big copper rivets I put in and the clip turned upside down.
Pump: Full length, fitted in the frame and actually worked.
Strange: I can still remember the spec but can’t remember what day it is sometimes!
I bought the frame on un-official Hire Purchase and cycled to Alan Shorter’s shop in Archway in North London every Saturday morning to pay an instalment. It cost me all my paper-round money.
Tubular tyres were normal serious cycling gear then. We usually carried two spares in a roll behind the saddle with cycling cape if rain threatened. You could change a tyre in a minute or two. If you were doing a long ride on your own you also carried a needle and thread and puncture outfit so you could unstitch the tub and repair the puncture and sew it up again. There were no mobiles then and few phone boxes but as no one at home had a phone there was no one to call anyway so you had to be independent!
I left school at 18, started work and after few months of cycling about 8 miles to work, bought a BSA Bantam 125cc motorbike. The club secretary said to me ‘that’s you finished now’. – he was right, till about 2008 when I started up again.