The Andover Wheelers
of the 1950s and 60s
Author: Barrie Austen (2012)
The Andover Wheelers cycling club was formed in 1933, and I don’t doubt for one minute that it will continue for many more years to come.
I have been associated with the club since 1957, and have, apart from one or two other old age pensioners, seen a complete change in members. By writing this article I hope it will provide a link with the club members of today to the era in which I started riding with the Wheelers, and the club members of that time. What follows, without going into too much detail, gives a flavour of ‘cycling life’ in those days, and also, via the photographs, introduces you to the members who made up the club at that time.
The 1950’s were a golden age for cycling. The country had just about recovered from the 1939-45 war, rationing had ended, industry was starting to grow and life wasn’t too bad. Few people had a television (black and white) or a phone. Colour television, video recorders, DVD, mobile phones and computers were years away. There were few cars on the road, a street of a hundred houses would be lucky to have two cars on it. Most people either walked, used a bike or a bus for transport.
At the time I lived in Anna Valley and worked in Andover, riding my bike back and forth. Taskers Trailers were then a major employer situated in Anna Valley, employing over six hundred people, the majority of whom rode bikes. As I rode home at lunch time I was very much riding against the mass of cyclists riding home for lunch, and it was the bus that gave way to the cyclists. I think for a while there where only four cars parked at Taskers, all driven by the company’s directors.
As most people rode a bike it was quite natural for them to join a cycling club. They were reasonably fit, and a steady pace on a club run enabled them to ride sixty plus miles quite easily. A lot of people would have made their first bike purchase a Raleigh, whether it be a day to day workhorse, or a little sportier model that would enable them to join a cycling club.
Raleigh was then the largest bike manufacturer in the world. Reg Harris, the sprint champion of the world, rode for Raleigh, and the advertising slogan “Reg rides a Raleigh” helped sell Raleigh bikes worldwide. Hercules was another large manufacturer, besides running a men’s professional team, they had Eileen Sheridan who attacked and established many new places to place records.
For the more serious types there were many cycle shops where one could order a made to measure lightweight frame, usually made out of Reynolds 531 tubing. The hand built Claud Butler bikes were probably the most sought after by club folk. In those days almost every bike was fitted with a Brooks leather saddle, and usually all of the component parts were made in Britain!
The basic shape of the bike has not really changed for many years in that the diamond shape frame is still the centre of the bike, and it still has two wheels, handlebar and stem, brakes, chainset, gears, pedals etc. Today of course there is the compact frame and other variations to the norm, and in the 50’s there were other styles of frames such as Hetchins, Paris, Bates, Flying Gate etc.
Derailleur gears really started developing during the fifties. By the end of the fifties, four or five speed blocks that screwed on to the rear hub were the norm, but not everybody had anything more than a single chainwheel on the front. My first ‘lightweight’ bike had a forty six toothed chainset and five rear sprockets with fourteen to twenty two teeth. For the first three years of my riding with the club, my bike was a jack of all trades, ridden to work, club riding, touring, training, with the only concession to racing being the removal of the saddlebag and mudguards. My bike was fitted with mainly steel components and tyres (equivalent to thirty two millimetres), it weighed nearer thirty pounds than twenty. Maybe my first ten mile time trial of twenty six minutes forty eight seconds wasn’t too bad on the old Andover Ludgershall course.
Whilst in a way the bike hasn’t changed a lot in concept, things have moved forward with the introduction of modern materials, lighter steels, aluminium, titanium and carbon reducing the frame weight alone by two thirds or more. My first massed produced lightweight cost just over twenty eight pounds, a hand built bike would have cost around sixty pounds. That seems quite cheap compared to my latest buy, carbon framed, compact chainset and eleven sprockets, but costing around three thousand pounds and weighing about seventeen pounds!
Although gears were readily available, many rode ‘fixed wheel’, just one gear that had to be turned uphill and twiddled down the other side, which in time made your pedalling very flexible. As most time trial courses were as flat as possible, it was very unusual to see riders using gears. With the fixed wheel counting as a brake, only a front brake was fitted making the bike a little lighter. Gear changing was a little different in those days. The gear levers were usually situated on the down tube, and there was no ‘click’ gear changing. You had to judge the movement of the gear lever just right, or you would hear a chattering sound as the chain struggled to line up on the sprockets.
Most people bought a bike with normal high pressure tyres fitted, so the first real upgrade to their equipment was ‘sprint wheels’ fitted with tubular tyres stuck on to the rims. The inner tubes were sewn inside the tubular casing, necessitating the carrying of at least one spare in case of a puncture.
To race away from home, generally one stayed in a bed and breakfast near to the race course. Your bike would be well loaded with a saddlebag containing spare clothes and racing kit. The sprint wheels were carried on special brackets fixed either side of the front wheel hub, toe straps or some other fixing tied the wheels to the brake levers. On arrival at the lodgings the bike was stripped of saddlebag, mudguards and wheels and the lighter racing wheels fitted. The process was reversed after the race and hopefully one rode home pleased with a good race, it may have felt a bit hard if the race had not gone too well.
Apart from clubs’ mid week evening events, almost all open events were of twenty five miles plus starting between six and seven on a Sunday morning. The event was not to be advertised to the public and there was no mixed racing, ladies had their own events. Time trials only became mixed some years later. Although ladies could not race with men, in 1967 one of Britain’s greatest cyclists, Beryl Burton, started behind the men in a twelve hour time trial. Mike McNamara, the winner of the men's event, broke the men's National 12 hour record with a mileage of 276.52miles. However the true winner that day was Beryl Burton, who not only broke the ladies National record, but the men's as well. Her finishing mileage was 277.25 miles, a record still standing to this day 45 years later. On her way to breaking the record, as she caught McNamara, she asked him if he would like a liquorice all sort, to which he replied “Ta love” and ate it.
Most clubs covered both touring and racing. The vast majority had all day club runs, generally covering around seventy to eighty miles and were ridden at a touring pace. There was usually a morning café stop, though in the fifties not many places were open on a Sunday. Lunch was your own sandwiches, eaten in a pub, provided you bought some beer. The country pubs were quite glad of the extra custom in those days. A stop for tea was made around five o’clock about fifteen to twenty miles from home. There could of course be sprints for border signs and tops of hills, and as one neared home there was often a ‘slight ‘ raising of the pace, possibly to a local pub for a final drink after a full day in the saddle.
Clothing was quite different to current times. Lycra hadn’t been invented, most racing shorts and jerseys were made of wool and the seat pad was chamois. Depending on the quality, shorts in particular could become very baggy if it rained, and the chamois dried quite hard after washing. Race style clothing was generally only worn when racing. Neither touring shorts nor winter longs had a chamois fitted, and if you had a broken in leather saddle, it wasn’t really needed. Touring shorts were a classic cut short made out of whipcord, cotton etc, some did have a double layer in the saddle area. Longer bottoms for the colder weather had a couple of variations. Plus fours were normal trouser length, but were pulled up and fastened under the knee. Plus twos and plus ones were cut off just below the knee and were slightly closer cut. Long woollen socks finishing at the knee were worn with either type of bottoms. Clipless pedals hadn’t been invented, so light leather cycling shoes were worn together with toe clips and straps. Some, particularly racing types, would have shoe plates nailed to the soles of their shoes. A special groove in the plate clipped on to the rear of the pedal cage enabling one to pull the pedal round as well as pushing on to it.
There were some cycling specific jackets around, but nothing like the windproof clothing of today. If you didn’t have a jacket extra layers of pullovers had to be worn. A sheet or two of newspaper stuffed up the front of a jersey would give some help in keeping warm. Generally a flat cap was worn in cold or wet weather. If it rained, out came the cape, covering the rider and draped over the handlebars with the rear being tucked in between rider and saddle to stop it flapping around. One could keep surprisingly dry on a very wet day when ‘caped up’.
Because so many people rode bikes in their ordinary clothes, it was quite normal to see club riders in virtually the same clothing, not the cycling specific clothing of today. Money was a lot tighter, I couldn’t afford to buy a pair of cycling shoes until nine months after joining the Wheelers.
The Wheelers held an all day club run virtually every Sunday of the year, the only exceptions being when there was a club Championship race on, they were all held on Sunday mornings. A half day run would be held in the afternoon of Championship events, so after racing in the morning you clocked up quite a few miles if it had been a Championship 100.
Marriage played quite a part in the Wheelers in those days, several couples were married and most of those have celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversaries. More than once there was an archway of wheels outside of St Mary’s Church.
Andover used to be surrounded by military camps, full of national service soldiers and airmen. The club had a steady stream of riders joining the club whilst they were stationed in this area. Club members would often take extra food to help out servicemen who could not get food on a Sunday morning from the cook house. When Andover riders had to do their national service, they would often find themselves rubbing shoulders with some of the best riders in the country who were also doing their national service. Being cyclists gave them quite an advantage over fellow service men as they could ride home at weekends, often over one hundred miles, others had to hitchhike or pay for transport out of their meagre wages.
Some of the general cycling terms used have changed over the years. One used to ride either fixed or fixed wheel, now one rides a "fixey". Double chainsets used to be called double clangers. High pressure tyres have become clinchers.
Most club riders would ride bikes complete with saddlebags and mudguards, but if one rode without the saddlebag, one would be riding ‘light’. Any equipment when riding light could be carried in a musette, or if more than a small amount in a bonk bag, effectively a duffle bag.
If one had not eaten properly one was likely to get the ‘hunger knock’, or take a ‘packet’. Sometimes through either not eating or having a really bad time you would suffer from the ‘bonk’. The previously mentioned bonk bag would contain food to ward off the bad times.
One term that has not changed, and probably never will, is doing a PB, or personal best, probably the sweetest sound in most sports, and chaingang seems to have survived. If one saw a bike that was a bit special, it would be spoken about as a real ‘gen’ (as in genuine) bike.
Cycling's governing bodies have changed and evolved over the years. I can remember the National Cyclists Union (NCU) which mainly controlled circuit and track racing. Their racing was not held on public roads due to the fear of police banning cycle racing on the highway. The British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) however promoted massed start racing on the highways, meaning that the two organizations were sworn enemies. Riders then who road massed start races were either ‘Union’ or ‘Leaguers’. Eventually the two organisations merged, the British Cycling Federation (BCF) was formed to bring a modicum of common sense to the issue, the BCF then became British Cycling as it is today.
Alongside the road racing bodies there was the Road Time Trials Council (RTTC) that ran the time trial side of cycling. Much like the NCU, although one time trialled on the roads, everything possible was done so as not to bring it to the attention of the authorities or general public. Start Sheets were marked ‘Private and Confidential’, and each course had a code number for identification. Most races were run early on a Sunday morning, and in slightly earlier times riders had to ride in dark jackets and trousers so as not to draw attention to themselves. Later the RTTC became Cycling Time Trials (CTT) as it is known today.
What has been written so far has been a brief overview of cycling in the 1950’s and 60’s to give current members a flavour of those times. But the real point of the article is to introduce current members to the Wheelers of those days by means of the photographs that follow.
My first club run started in quite heavy rain at eight o’clock in Andover High Street from where we pedalled to Newbury for the first café stop of the day. After leaving the café we headed north with the rain gradually easing and the sun appearing to dry off the roads. Although the roads were dry, it was a little slippery as we turned on to the Ridgeway track, giving me my first introduction to “rough stuff”, todays “off road”. We stopped for lunch at a pub in the village of Letcombe Regis. After lunch we rode around the lanes, through Lambourne and on to Hungerford for tea. The final miles home were via Shalborne and Conholt hills on a glorious summer’s evening, arriving back in Andover after nearly twelve hours of rain, sunshine, great riding and for me, a new circle of friends with whom friendships have lasted over fifty years.
I would like to pay tribute to three people in particular who were on that club run who played a big part in introducing me to club cycling with the Wheelers.
Roy Messenger was the Wheelers club secretary in those days. Not too many people want the responsibility of being a club secretary, but Roy carried out his duties meticulously for many years. He lived in Andover and worked for Pirelli’s in Eastleigh for, I think, all of his working life. Leaving home early in the morning and returning home later than average left him little time for his secretarial duties. Roy’s bike came in very useful when British rail went on strike, he rode from Andover to Eastleigh, arriving at his desk on time. Then of course he made the return trip after work for the period of the strike. I don’t think that Roy entered many races, but there was one occasion when I believe he won a race one could say, by fair means or foul. Pirelli, like many large employers held sports days which would include both athletics and grass track cycle racing. Roy entered a race and was leading the field as it came round the last bend. Unfortunately, Roy had not ridden at that speed on a tight bend on a grass track before and could not hold his line, drifting from the inside to the outside of the track. Just at that moment the main field was starting to overtake him and had no choice in having to ride off the track. This coincided with the start of the spectator area on the finishing straight, the field was forced to ride behind the spectators leaving Roy to cross the finishing line unopposed! Roy would pack his saddlebag with clothes, tent, camera and tripod and spend his two weeks annual holiday pedalling his Raleigh Record Ace around picturesque areas of Great Britain. Later he would entertain the club with his excellent slide shows on club nights during the winter evenings. Although he took many photos, there are only a few of Roy, but he much deserves his spot in this article.
David Sanderson, otherwise known as ‘Sandman’, was the club captain for many years. He led every club run from the front, however many miles it was, he rode at a steady pace into the sun, wind, rain, snow or ice.
During the summer months he would ride his four speed Claud Butler, and in the winter months his Armstrong with a single fixed wheel. I rode so many miles behind him that, whenever we met in later years, I would ask him to turn round so that I could check his rear view, a rear view that I knew so well. Sandman never raced, but played his part as a club member to the full.
Whenever there was a club event he would normally be the turn marshal, so he always rode the event, though not in competition. He did have a bit of a sprint in his legs though, as he proved on the club runs when border signs etc appeared. For some years I used to be the puncture king of the club, and although I often rode the same John Bull Safety Speed tyres that Sandman rode, I only ever remember him puncturing twice!
With various other members of the club, Sandman toured extensively in Great Britain and Ireland, he also rode the mountains and valleys of Norway – on his four speed Claud Butler of course. One ‘sad’ tale of the Norwegian tour was that the group completed the tour without mishap - until the train journey home. The plastic mudguards in those days were a little more brittle than those of today, British Rail managed to break his beloved Bluemels mudguards whilst ‘safely’ stored in the guards van.
Often when returning from their holiday tours, club members came back a changed person, visually at least. They always forgot to pack their shaving equipment and returned home sporting some fine beards.
During his time in the club, Sandman continued the tradition of meeting his future wife, Christine, in the club and marrying her. Later Sandman and Christine took up walking instead of cycling, and then because of work commitments, they moved to Shaftesbury. At a later stage they bought new bikes and mixed cycling and walking.
Roy Boyt, otherwise known as ‘Chunky’ was another club stalwart who turned out for every club run and marshalled alongside ‘Sandman’ at the club races. Like Sandman, Chunky was not really a racing man, though I think he did race a few times in his early days.
Chunky accompanied Sandman on many touring holidays and Youth Hostel weekends. In fact it was he who introduced my school friend and fellow club member Phil Sherrin and myself to youth hostelling on a trip to Arundel hostel.
Sandman took many photos over the years, and as you can see in the following photos Chunky ‘posed’ for Sandman to bring a touch of humour to the photos.
The club was formed in 1933 and though it has been through a low patch or two it still survives today, thanks to people like Roy, Sandman and Chunky. Sadly all three and others now are no longer with us, but hopefully this article and photos will both introduce past members to current members and be a lasting memory of past members.
Thanks must go to Malcom Hook, Les Hawkins, and Jamie Briant for their input in helping me out in producing the article. Most of all though, thanks must go to Christine for lending me Sandman’s photo albums so that his photos could add so much more meaning to the article.
The main photo feed at the top of this page shows many club members who rode with the Wheelers in the fifties and sixties. Sandman took many good photos and recorded where, but not so often, when, but that matters not. The photos appear roughly in an alphabetical order by place and are followed by a list of members who appear in the photos. Hopefully I have listed everybody and apologies to anyone if I have missed them.
Peter Andrews - Barrie Austen - Alan & Joan Baker - Roy Barlow - Richard Barnett Yorky Blackburn- Den & Joy Borrett - Roy Boyt - John Bryant - Dave Brown Ken & Sheila Butcher - Dave & Dianne Cosham - Bob Cox - Den & Cynthia Ellison - Jim Fleet Ron & Jeanette Foster - Geoff Foss - Brian & Angela Gilbert - Fred & Olive Harris John Hawkins - Les Hawkins - Bill Hayes - Mike Higginson - Malcom Hook - Barry Hunt Mick Jeggo - Jacques Kimberly - Roy Messenger - Jack Osborne - Dave Oxford - Ann Read Ruth Roberts - John & Doreen Rowles - Dave & Christine Sanderson - Phil Sherrin Cecil Soper - Les Teale - Stan Speck - Clive Theobald - Geoff Vincent - Len Waldren Jack Webb - Tom Willis - Mick Wood - Dave Wright