Newsletter - 2003 Archive

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A Scrubber in Exalted Company (That is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea eh?)

Harold Bridge


The late Bill Kay was, during those years that spanned World War II, one of the fastest 50 milers in the country. We can assess that from the fact he was invited to the real Memorial 50 in 1945. It counted as post war, but disruptions and rationing still pervaded our lives. Thus Bill was one of the 6 non-starters from that select band of 12 invitees. (set off at 3 minute intervals). Twenty-one year old Bob Maitland won the event with a 2 hr 4 min ride.

Bill at that time rode for the Bath Road Club (BR). He became Chief Draftsman for British Steel and was transferred to their new plant at Corby, Northants. Thus it was a given that he would join us in May 1950. .

An event we always looked forward to was the annual Inter-Club (North Road (NR)/BR) 50. In 1946 we organised the event on our territory. I, home on leave from HMS Peregrine (aka RNAS Ford, near Littlehampton), foolhardily entered the 50 despite being unfit and overweight. Sailed up the F1 with a nice tailwind and groveled back in a sad state and felt very miserable for the second half of that 2 hr 36 min performance. Bill Kay won the event for the Bath Road. .

In 1951 I bought a Stallard Zakopane. It was all mod-con, 10 gears from 92 to 58, I think. The front changer was fool proof (unless riding in a bunch). A simple rod pivoted on a bearing clamped to the seat tube. The design had a relatively short life due to the pile-ups caused by "Massed Start" riders fumbling between their legs to change gear. The rear gear was the Simplex TdF. Standard design in those days had the cable pulling the chain onto top cog, while bottom gear relied on the spring to push the chain across. That meant the rider needed to decide what gear to use before actually loading the chain on a hill. .

That year the Bath Road organised the IC 50 and added some interest by using their Hilly 50 course around the Berkshire Downs. Bill Kay, who had sometime in the thirties designed the course, was now riding as a North Roader. In his late thirties he was in the process of winding down his racing and I think that 50 was his last event. .

Dad and I rode down to Theale on the Saturday. BandB had been booked for us. I had had a dreadful week and was considering whether I was going to start or not. But duty called. The event clashed with the Fulham Wheelers 50 on the Bath Road and our "fast" men had entered that in preference to the Inter-Club and so the NR honour had to be upheld. .

The alarm did its thing and I got up and looked out of the window. An English late spring morning at its best. Absolute silence except the twittering of the birds, not a breath of wind disturbing the leaves. Then, the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of hard pumped "tubs" came across the field from the Bath Road. The Fulham 50 had started an hour before us. It was time to have breakfast. .

I headed up the Pangbourne Lane with no real enthusiasm, just decided to ride, not race. But as I approached Wantage I ws beginning to get in the swing of things, just in time for that brute of a climb up onto the Downs as we went south toward the tricky convolutions of the course. .

In the last 10 miles there were some wicked little grunts that called for bottom gear. But I left it too late to change and got a grinding chain as I struggled on too big a gear. .

At one tricky corner with about 3 miles to go Dad was marshalling. "3 minutes down on Bill", he shouted. Despite the gear changing problems I did my best to limit the deficit and really hammered top gear on the fast finish. Geoff Edwards et al, having finished the Fulham event, were on the finish line cheering me on as my head banged on the handlebar extension as I thrashed at the pedals. My time? "2-20-02" I was told. "What did Bill do"? "2-18-59". I was second and the NR won the team race. .

1951 was the year we noticed something different about the TdF bikes in the Comic's photos. The rear gear on Koblet's bike was different. Campagnolo's development of a chain tensioning gear to replace their wheel moving gear had made its entry into out lives and they arrived in London in early 1952. I got on the Campag bandwagon straight away. To me the biggest advance was that the gear worked in the opposite direction to the Simplex and Huret gears we were used to. The cable pulled the chain onto bottom cog. That was a big step forward. .

I wonder what effect that advance would have had on my 2-20-02 ride in the Inter-Club50?