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Wartime Head Banging
by Harold Bridge

Teenagers should not try to be racing cyclists while living on wartime rations. It is a pity, because the roads were almost devoid of vehicles and the mass sprints to the tea place were usually unencumbered by motor traffic.

An 1894 collision between some racing cyclists and a pony and trap caused the National Cyclists Union to ban road racing. Some rebels decided to continue road racing but under a different format. Thus the time trial was born.

About 50 years later, in 1943, another rebel, Percy Stallard, promoted road races as “Red Cross Benefits” under the auspices of the “British League of Racing Cyclists”, to get round the arcane rules that allowed time trials only. This angered some of those who were away fighting the Second World War and thus had no say in the matter. The BLRC/NCU squabble lasted through to, I think, 1959.

It was under this format that I started competitive cycling in 1944. Youth is often more enthusiastic than sensible and so we rode time trials, not more than 50 miles (80kms) and my name appears on some of the Club’s trophies.

Older members would donate trophies to the Club and the committee would have to think up way to use them. One such trophy has my name on it once. It should have on there twice, 1945 and 1953. The trophy was the “50 mile Handicap Cup”.

We normally had 3 50mile time trials each year. The handicapping system was based on past performances. In 1945 I think I was the only rider to ride all 3 50s. and should have been a shoe in for the 50 handicap trophy.

But the day was one of the worst. We flew up the North Road to the 25 mile turn with a gale behind and grovelled back “defying gravity”. It was rumoured that the late Eric Rainbird was seen in a field chewing on a turnip!

The 50 handicap trophy had a proviso attached to it; “Provided the performance was sufficiently meritorious.” Under the existing conditions all I needed to do was finish. But suffering as I was I didn’t think my final 50 that year would be ”sufficiently meritorious” and so I quit.

Memory is flawed and I forget why, in an “Out and Home” event, I able to cut the route short.


January 6, 2011