Jenny Leese had the nice idea of reproducing an article by Arthur Broadhurst, whose funeral was last week, about his long life associated with cycling. So here it is…….
‘70 years of Cycling‘ by Arthur Broadhurst, 2004
I started riding in 1934 on a bike my father found on a rubbish tip. It was a no-name frame and we painted it green with normal house paint. I lived in Islington, London, and my riding was done round the streets of that borough and rides into the country around Hadley Woods.
This lasted about a couple of years and then the top tube broke at the head. With money from a paper round and help from my father, I became the owner of a Raleigh Lenton Sport. I used to ride with a boy, Joe May, who was later killed while serving in the Commandos. We started to ride further afield, Epping Forest, North Weald and the surrounding lanes. One Saturday we rode to Southend on Sea along the main arterial road, the A13, a round distance of about 65 miles. I was about 13 at the time. My parents were sceptical, so a couple of Saturdays later we did it again and brought back a stick of rock to convince them. I cannot see parents of today allowing children to do this. We continued riding further afield – St Albans, about 50 miles return, was a regular run. I swapped the Raleigh for a Saxon twin tube lightweight.
When the war broke out, I was working in an engineering machine shop doing preliminary training as a draughtsman. The firm was on essential war work and the workforce was employed on three shifts which included night work, so my riding was much curtailed. The family house was bombed and demolished. We were lucky as we were in bed at the time. I got out only slightly injured. I dug in the wreckage for my bike. I was not leaving it there to be stolen.
1941 to 1947 saw me in the RAF and so no riding was done. On return to civilian life I found that the Saxon had been stolen. Apparently my father had lent it to a man to enable him to get to work, as transport was unreliable, and that was the last he saw of it. I had put on a bit of weight whilst I was in the RAF so I bought an off-the-peg Claud Butler and started riding again to get the weight off. At this time I met Doris, my wife-to-be, who was a county hockey player with no interest in cycling. But she started to get interested, so we bought her a Claud Butler mixte and started her riding and eventually went on a tour of Scotland.
This was at the time when food rationing was still in force. We had a couple of ex-army back packs which we used as panniers. Because of the rationing, these were full of tinned food and, with saddle bags for clothing, the all up weight was pretty high. In Scotland at that time, many of the bridges like Ballachulish, North Strone and the one to the Isle of Skye had not been built and the crossings relied on ferries. These were quite often just rowing boats and loading a bike with the weight of luggage was a precarious operation with the boat sinking lower in the water.
We were using youth hostels which were very different to the present day. The majority were self cooking with paraffin Primus or coke stoves. As there were no road side cafés the normal thing was to carry a small Primus stove for roadside brew ups.
We married in 1950, moved into a flat in Clapham, South London and started riding the counties to the south of the city which were unknown to us. We became friendly with a local cycle dealer and he persuaded us to join the Southern Roads CC, now defunct.
I started time trialling and quickly decided that the bike I had was not suitable for racing, so I invested in a hand-built Claud Butler which I still have. I ride it now and again and when I do I wonder how I ever raced on it – and as for riding it for 12 hour races…it is beyond me. Doris became interested in racing so we bought her a Bates with diadrant forks and cantiflex tubes on which she raced with some success. She was in the BAR tables every year she rode and topped 225 miles in 12 hour events.
It must be borne in mind that the racing was very different then. You would ride to the start of an event on the bike you were racing on, a distance of up to 25 miles, carrying your racing wheels on sprint carriers, change on the side of the road, race possibly a ‘30’ or even a ‘50’ and then ride home. For the longer races we hired a van and carried the bikes in the back. Then the gears were much lower. I always rode a fixed wheel 48 x 16, sometimes 48 x 15, nothing like the 52 x 13 or 12 used today. When we started using gears with a five speed block, we were told the gears were much too high. The top gear was only 48 x 14!
When we started racing, I was swimming competitively and Doris was still playing county hockey. We decided it was becoming too expensive to carry on both sports. As there is nothing more boring than training for swimming, up and down a pool for hours on end, swimming and hockey were scrapped and we continued cycling. One or other of us raced most weekends and we went touring on our holidays. The tours were in this country, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, the West Country, Scotland and one to Ireland.
The tour of Ireland meant going by train to Holyhead. It was easy by train in those days, you went to the station, got your ticket, put the bikes in the guard’s van, no trouble, no pre-booking and no query about the number of bikes. We took the ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire and then rode north through Belfast and round the Antrim coast to Londonderry, then south west to Shannon and Tralee. We were using youth hostels where we could, backed up by B and B. At Tralee we went into a shop to buy supplies, all conversation stopped, and the feeling became threatening. We left chased by some women who were throwing stones at us. We later found the reason was that Doris was wearing shorts!We rode on via Killarney through Cashel, famous for a castle called the Rock of Cashel, and so back to Dublin and ferry and train home.
In 1957, we decided it was about time we settled down and bought a house and did something about a career. A circle with a radius of 12 miles from where I was working decided the location for the house as this was the distance I could ride to work. We bought a house in West Wickham, Kent on the outskirts of London. Buying the house meant that we could not afford to carry on racing, but we still rode when we could and carried on the holiday tours, mainly in Scotland. We said at one time that there was no Scottish road we had not ridden on.
We also went to France a couple of times to the Loire valley. I still cycled to and from work but as I was shifted about to different locations at times, it was a lot further than the original 12 miles. For the winter period, thinking of snow and ice, I had a Holdsworth trike conversion on my hack bike.
In 1979, we heard of Audax UK and it seemed to us a good idea for riding. We completed a couple of 200 km rides, enjoyed them and became hooked. When I retired in 1981, you could draw unemployment pay (dole) even if you were in receipt of an employment pension. This has now been stopped. The unemployment pay was used to buy two hand built Chas Roberts touring bikes. That is the one I currently ride. We started riding Audax events in earnest. The organisation was in its infancy, events were few and far between and you knew all the other riders by sight. To get rides of 200 km, 300 km, 400 km and 600 km meant travelling all over the country. We did rides as far apart as the Dorset Coast 200 and a 600 in the north of Scotland, the route of which went through Wick, Thurso and along the north coast before finishing near Cromarty. We both qualified as Super Randonneurs.
In 1983 we decided to try the Paris-Brest-Paris. In those days, as well as doing the qualifying rides in this country, you had to do a long distance ride in France of not less than 350 km to be completed in 24 hours. We decided on Cherbourg, Brest and back to St. Malo to take advantage of the Channel ferries. This was Easter and the weather was bitterly cold with rain and snow. We completed the ride but at a cost health-wise; Doris had pneumonia. It ruined the rest of the season. We decided that the PBP was not worth the expense in either money or health.
In 1983 we decided that the south east was getting too noisy, busy and expensive and we would move. We had a caravan and we thought of the Welsh borders but not Wales. We went to the main locations, starting at Gloucester, went to estate agents and obtained particulars of possible suitable houses. We had a list of our requirements and we rode round looking at them. We did this for two years, working our way along the border, finally getting to Shrewsbury. I remember it being a wet day, we had been in the Welshpool area, rode over the Long Mountain to Marton and on to Snailbeach. As soon as Doris saw the house, she was certain that we had found what we were looking for. This was in October 1985. We then started exploring a whole new county.
We continued cycle touring, but these were now supplemented with more civilised tours. We travelled twice to Botswana, then Namibia and Zimbabwe for animal safaris, twice to India, then Egypt, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Malaysia, Sumatra and a Norwegian fjord cruise. As for the cycle tours, we had a very good one to Brittany, and a couple to the Alps and Pyrenees. For these trips we used the bike bus to reach our destination and found it very satisfactory.
In June 1996, we were climbing the Col d’Aubisque when it was obvious that Doris was suffering. She pressed on and made the top. We had intended going on over the Tourmalet but that was abandoned and we returned home. She was subsequently diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson’s disease. That cut out long tours but she continued with day rides. She wanted a project to make her get out on her bike so she came up with the idea of photographing every church in Shropshire with the stipulation that we had to ride to them. By 2000 she could no longer manage to cycle owing to the advancement of the disease. Because of her condition, I too stopped riding. By the middle of 2002 she was completely helpless. She died February 2003.
I have been a life member of the CTC for longer than I can remember but, until coming to Shropshire, had never ridden with a group – all rides were alone or with Doris. I went out two or three times on the Thursday evening rides but had to stop these because of circumstances. After February, I started riding the midweek rides for company and found them very good and enjoyable and the company friendly. I started getting a bit fit again the trouble being that at 80 one cannot ride like 50 years’ ago. Old age creeps on and I must be getting senile. I went to Stan Jones and said I wanted a bike that weighed under 20 pounds and got a bike that does meet the weight requirement but is only suitable for dry summer days so the Roberts will be my main bike for riding in company and I hope to be riding for some time yet.