The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 But if you want any more you must read it yourself.

The post arrived this morning and presented me with a heavy package, I opened it to find a copy of ‘Crimes and Arnold’ the story of two great racing cyclists, friends and rivals. As soon as I opened the pages and started to read, the world stopped for me.

Now hours later with my eyes coming together and my stomach making all sorts of growling noises, I have put it down, at least for a little while. I will print the first chapter of the book, (I’m sure the TA (Tricycle Association) will not mind me breaching their copywriting to do so), for each and everyone who ever straddled a bicycle will wish to be told this remarkable story.

Chapter One

A sunny and warm morning around 10.30 am on Sunday 20th June was a moment in time and space witnessed by those gathered at Ollerton roundabout on the A614 in Nottinghamshire, when unbeknown to them, the path of one’s future and two current great champions were about to cross. After winning the World Race Championship in 1965, Tom Simpson recalled that morning in June 1954 as one of the formative moments of his early years. Tom said that he was sixteen at the time and out cycling with some club-mates from the Harworty District Wheelers.

“We came across a dozen or so club chaps standing around an island near Ollerton. Thinking it might be a road race we stopped and asked what event it was. They said they were marshalling a record attempt by Crimes and Arnold on a tandem tricycle and that they were due any minute now. We waited in expectation to see a pair of old codgers ambling along about 15 mph. Instead, we saw two real athletes approaching at 25s on three wheels, taking the wide island on only two and leaning out like sidecar passengers, flattening out and tearing off down the road. That is one of my most thrilling memories of British cycling sport.”

Then at the peak of their powers, Albert Crimes and John Arnold were in the process of breaking by a handsome margin, the Road Records Association and Northern Road Records Association 50 and 100 miles record covering the 50 miles in 1h. 49m. 50S then continued on to complete the 100 miles in 3h. 46m. 30s. At an average speed of 27miles per hour. This was just one of an amazing sequence of record times and some like Land’s End to John O’ Groats tandem tricycle record broken in 1954, still stand today despite numerous attempts to better them.

These record rides were on an immense scale; achieved despite the challenges of racing tricycles as speed day and night Racing for 10 miles, racing on for 10 and 12 hours, 20 and 24 hours, 30 and 40 hours and 50 hours, when the riders had nearly realised their ambition. Oh yes and then they continued for a further 10 hours to complete 1000 miles in the fastest time ever on any form of pedal cycle. Albert endured debilitating bouts of severe stomach cramp and sickness. It was so bad at one point that termination of the attempt was seriously considered.

Crew Wheelers club-mates Chris Thorley, who worked in the same office as Albert remembered that after the ‘End to End’ Albert, told his fellow workers how his toenails had dropped off; they all sat with their mouths wide open in astonishment. Another colleague, Gordon Tatton, recounted the times when Albert came into work “having competed an endurance event and he would struggle to straighten his fingers as he had been gripping the handlebars for hours on end’

John suffered from a very painful condition in his feet and ankles, later diagnosed as a form of gout that made even walking difficult!

The mental and physical strength of these men!

In an era of continuing petrol and food shortages following WW11, and long before mobile phones, computers, digital navigation aids, and camper vans, club men and women willingly played a considerable part in John and Albert’s successes. Communication was through letters and eventually, telephones. This is the story of those two great athletes and their exploits; the high point and the low points. Self-belief and strength of character enabled them to overcome often seemingly insuperable difficulties. Humility and their almost unbelievable capacity for speed and endurance endeared them to club cyclists all over the country.

Did that wet your whistle

this is not a book for everyone, if you are not into cycle racing or have an interest in racing and record-breaking, then you may find it boring to extraction.

In every walk of life, you will find men and women that will suffer unbelievable pain and suffering for their sport or to achieve their goal, and you may wonder why they would do that. I listened to Shirley MacLaine in an interview on the Parkinson Show. She was telling us how ballet dancing was her life, from a young girl it was all she cared about at the detriment of everything else in her life. She said that one day she was warming up in the wings before going on stage, she fell, got up and danced the part all the way through with a broken ankle, only discovering it was broken when she came off and the pain hit her. She was off for three months and in plaster while it mended. She said she did not feel the pain, so immersed was she in her dancing, and added that she could now understand how soldiers that were wounded could simply ignore their wounds and carry on.

Although I never did anything close to the achievements of Crimes and Arnold, I did suffer sickness when I first started long Audax rides, spewing like a fountain and could not hold anything down. You simply had to keep going for it was further to go back then forward to your car, where you could put your head down for a while and recover enough, for what was normally, a long drive home.     

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