the furthest i've managed to ride in one swell foop of late was around 200km by way of reviewing rapha's brevet jersey last year. the ride of the falling rain tops out at 162km and it is of constant curiousity to many that it's possible to ride distances such as these on an island that measures roughly 35km x 35km. i cannot deny that there are occasional kilometres when retreading previous portions of roads is of necessity, but it's also true that there are many kilometres of islay road that are left untrammeled if for no other reason than they remain unconnected. they travel one way, but it's then necessary to retrace one's wheeltracks to go anywhere else.
much of this is true of other locations, for though most do not have the restriction of being surrounded by occasionally angry waters, those riding them tend to be conservative in their meanderings, rarely cycling too far from home on a daily basis. so despite the considerable advances that have been made in roadbuilding (though often not so that you'd notice) and bicycle design and manufacture, it's quite possible that the average mileage of the common or garden cyclist has actually decreased. this can perhaps be explained by the wholesale substitution of the motor car as the mode of transport du jour. gone are the days when cyclists en masse would head for the country at the merest hint of a weekend, intent on covering as many kilometres (or miles) as possible.
those years of british cycling are something of an open secret. we have lost the domination of the bicycle as a principal mode of both transport and leisure, and seemingly lost sight of that having once been the case. yet there were those in both pre-war and war years who took advantage of velocipedinal popularity, regularly accepting challenges both official and otherwise, setting records that still exist to this day. this is either because road conditions have so altered as to make new attempts all but pointless, or the tenacity of the cyclist of yesteryear has evaporated.
some of that tenacity was encapsulated in the forerunner of cycling weekly issuing a challenge to all those with nothing better to do with their time than spend all day, everyday for a year, riding their bicycle hither and thither in the attempt to rack up as many miles in a twelve month period as possible. through hail, snow and rain, on freezing, icy roads, under the brightness and the occasional warmth of what passes for sunshine in britain the intention was to have those miles pass by and achieve the status of britain's farthest travelled cyclist. this challenge originated in a copy of cycling in 1910, and all mileage required to be verified on a daily checking card witnessed by a local official. first to enter the challenge was, in fact, a frenchman by the name of marcel planes who, in 1911 claimed a fairly impressive 34,366 miles (55,305km).
'unsurpassed' however concerns the story of tommy godwin, an english cyclist who fell into the world of cycling long-distances and became progressively better and more involved in the daily task of mile after mile, eventually recording his unbeatable distance of 75,065 miles (120,805km) as the clock struck midnight at the end of 1939. despite the war years about to intervene, godwin decided to continue with his 200 plus miles per day until the magic total of 100,000 miles rolled past in 500 days.
when you consider the blackout enforcement of the war, the lighting technology that existed at the time along with the more than featherweight bicycles (godwin rode a raleigh bicycle to his record mileage), such distances are enough to bring tears to your thighs. if anyone fancies enduring just a portion of that experienced by godwin during his 1939 ride, try riding 200 miles every day for just a week and see how you get on. i will excuse myself from this trial on the grounds of sanity.
geoffrey barlow has written a truly compelling book, one that i read in one sitting simply because it was too hard to put down. it is remarkably well illustrated, mostly from the archives of the comic and written in an almost transparent yet easily readable style. barlow is a former clubmate of the indominatable godwin who realised that, if this story were not committed to paper, there was a real danger of it disappearing forever. i generally think of myself as reasonably well-informed with regard to contemporary and past cycling endeavours, yet, till this volume arrived, i was completely unaware of such exploits. that has now been consummately remedied, a situation for which i am truly thankful.
i would heartily recommend you do likewise.
all profits from the sales of 'unsurpassed' are being donated to road peace
posted wednesday 7 march 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................