The Virtual Peleton

I wrote this piece based on an earlier blog post as an entry for the velobici writing competition, it didn't make the shortlist but I offer my congratulations to fellow Berkshire Bike Blogger, Mike Butcher for his winning entry in "The Race" category

My introduction to the bicycle came to me in the same way as it did for many of my vintage. As a boy in the 1960s whose parents had cycled out of necessity and for pleasure during and beyond the war years, my first machine, a splendid Sunbeam Tricycle with a boot, appeared as a simple rite of passage.
As I grew, replacement bikes seemed to just appear, it didn't need to be a birthday or Christmas. Of course having an older brother played its part in terms of hand me downs, but it did seem that the need to have a properly fitting bicycle carried the same degree of importance and respectability as owning a serviceable pair of shoes. Maybe it was as a result of the introduction of free school milk and cod liver oil that I grew taller at a rate that was eventually to exceed my shoe size. The trike was soon superseded by two Royal Enfields, an Elswick Hopper, a Raleigh and a Carlton Corsair with more than a few pairs of Clarks and Start-rites and in between.

Aldersley Velodrome
It didn’t take long to realise that not only were these fantastic machines someting to marvel in their own right, but that they were capable of transporting a youngster distances far beyond the “end of the lane”. Then a visit to a track day at Aldersley Velodrome in Wolverhampton was the revelation that presented cycling not just as a utilitarian and recreational pursuit, but as the gladiatorial sport of iron willed heroes aboard lightweight stripped down machines in high speed races paced by motor bikes.

A few years later in early adulthood I bought my first lightweight bike, designed for distance rather than speed the choice was deliberate, although I admired cycle sport I was more interested in how far as opposed to how fast.  The Claud Butler Tourer took me on my first reliability trial with Doncaster Wheelers in 1981, I wasn’t even sure exactly what a reliability trial was when I joined the handful of riders on a 150 mile 12 hour ride through the Northern Counties. With so many stops for tea it seemed more of a reliability trial of the bladder than one of man or machine. But 150 miles in 12 hours it was and though it was by no means a race, there was something about being a part of this small peloton clad in woollen tights and stylish Italian knit jerseys that bought cycling as a sport and pastime closer together, except perhaps for the one chap who was wearing brogues and trouser clips. 
Tour de Flanders
No matter if it were a trip to the shops or a Sunday afternoon club run, there was always some part of the journey when thoughts would turn to cycling legends like Coppi, Hinault and Merckx and the epic tours of France, Spain, Belgium and Italy. A rainy day in Doncaster, slogging up the great North Road, could with very little imagination transform into a stage from the Tour de Flanders.

Even in later years with many thousands of miles behind me, the simple joys of cycling remain undiminished. Even when the going does get tough, there’s the thought that someone has gone further or higher before to inspire and when things get really tough there’s always the achievement of British Endurance Cyclist Tommy Goodwin to spur you on. In 1939 Goodwin rode a grand total of 75,065 miles, a world record that’s unlikely to ever be beaten. 

You don’t have to be a sports fan to take inspiration from these legends and now we even have one to call our own. So, the next time you’re having a hard time in the saddle why not drop back for a while in your virtual peloton and let Wiggo take the strain!

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