Eileen Sheridan: The Mighty Atom

Land’s End to John O’Groats is a classic cycle touring route. But it was also the blue riband distance among the long distance record-breaking heyday of the 1930s to the 1960s. In 1954 Eileen Sheridan, a diminutive cyclist from Coventry sponsored by the huge Hercules Bicycle Company, set a new record that stood for decades. Now 88, Eileen recounts a truly epic journey and tells the story of how she became one of the best-known, and best-paid, cyclists in Britain.

Edward Thomas on waterproof cycling gear

A hundred years ago, on Good Friday, 1913, a London-born Welshman, writer and cyclist set out on an Easter cycle tour from Clapham Common to the Quantock Hills in Somerset. Four years later, having enlisted in the British Army to fight in the Great War, he was killed by the shockwaves of one of the last shell explosions in the battle of Arras.

Edward Thomas is best known (and to too many, only known) as a ‘war poet’, but he was also richly observant of nature and the countryside. His work owes much to the time he spent  outdoors, walking or cycling, travelling at the speed of the land. His verse is regarded as among the best in the English language. Former poet laureate Ted Hughes described him as ‘the father of us all’.

Thomas wrote a book about his cycle journey, called In Pursuit of Spring, published just before the outbreak of war.

With all the foul weather we’re having, this seems like an appropriate passage to quote, and reveals something of Thomas’s lighthearted side:

The rain ceased just soon enough not to prove again the vanity of waterproofs. I have, it is true, discovered several which have brought me through a storm dry in parts, but I have also discovered that sellers of waterproofs are among the worst of liars, and that they communicate their vice with their goods. The one certain fact is that nobody makes a garment or suit which will keep a man both dry and comfortable if he is walking in heavy and beating rain. Suits of armour have, of course, been devised to resist rain, but at best they admit it at the neck. The ordinary (and extraordinary) waterproof may keep a man dry from neck to groin, though it is improbable exceedingly that both neck and wrists will escape. As for the legs, the rain gets at the whole of them with the aid of wind and capillary attraction. Whoever wore a coat that kept his knees dry in a beating rain ? I am not speaking of waterproof tubes reaching to the feet. They may be sold, they may even be bought. They may be useful, but not for walking in.

For moderate showers one waterproof is about as good as another. The most advertised have the advantage of being expensive, and conferring distinction otherwise : they are no better, and wear worse, than a thing at two-thirds of the price which is never advertised at all. In such a one I was riding now, and I got wet only at the ankles. It actually kept my knees dry in the heavy rain near Timsbury. But if I had been walking I should have been intolerably hot and embarrassed in this, and very little less so in the lighter, more distinguished, more expensive garment. Supposing that a thorough waterproof exists, so light as to be comfortable in mild weather, it is certain to have the grave disadvantage of being easily tearable, and therefore of barring the wearer from woods. Getting the body wet even in cold weather is delicious, but getting clothes and parts of the body wet, especially about and below the knee, is detestable. Trousers, and still more breeches, when wet through, prove unfriendly to man, and in some degree to boy. If the knees were free and the feet bare, I should think there would be no impediment left to bliss for an active man in shower or storm, except that he would provoke, evoke, and convoke laughter, and ninety-nine out of a hundred would prefer to this all the evils of rain and of waterproofs. It is to save our clothes and to lessen the discomfort of them that a waterproof is added.

At first thought, it is humiliating to realise that we have spent many centuries in this climate and never produced anything to keep us dry and comfortable in rain. But who are we that complain? Not farmers, labourers, and fishermen, but people who spend much time out of doors by choice. We can go indoors when it rains; only, we do not wish to, because so many of the works of rain are good in the skies, on the earth, in the souls of men and also of birds. When youth is over we are not carried away by our happiness so far as to ignore soaked boots and trousers. We like hassocks to kneel on, and on those hassocks we pray for a waterproof. As the prayer is only about a hundred years old – a hundred years ago there were no such beings – it is not surprising that the answer has not arrived from that distant quarter. Real outdoor people have either to do without waterproofs, or what they use would disable us from our pleasures. Naturally, they have done nothing to solve our difficulties. They have not written poetry for us, they have not made waterproofs for us. They do not read our poetry, they do not wear our waterproofs. We must solve the question by complaint and experiment, or by learning to go wet – an increasingly hard lesson for a generation that multiplies conveniences and inconveniences rather faster than it does an honest love of sun, wind, and rain, separately and all together.

You can read the whole book for free at archive.org.

Podcast special: Did Cycling Kill Kraftwerk?

On the eve of Kraftwerk’s eight night residency at the Tate Modern, Jack is joined by David Buckley, music writer and author of a new biography of the German electronic pop pioneers. Among the revelations in his book is evidence that a serious obsession with cycling contributed to the slowing of the band’s musical output in the 1980s and, ultimately, the break-up of the group’s classic line-up. Jack and David talk about Kraftwerk’s journey from experimental music-making to the pinnacle of influence over pop, rock, hip-hop and dance music as well as their love affair with riding their bikes.

Raleigh Recall

In the third and final instalment of the Raleigh mini-season, listeners to The Bike Show share their recollections of Raleigh bicycles they have loved – and loathed. Jack Thurston is joined by broadcaster and artist Ruby Wright and London man-about-town and Raleigh Twenty owner Jean-Marie Orhan. In a podcast-only bonus feature, Tony Hadland shares his thoughts on restoring old, neglected Raleigh bicycles.

Apologies to ‘Fun Run’ Robbie who is of course not ‘Fun Boy’ Robbie at all (or maybe he is?!) and yes, the town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders is pronounced like this.

Raleigh (part two): The Fall

In the second of a two-part feature on the Raleigh Bicycle Company, historian Tony Hadland and Jack Thurston look at Raleigh’s post-war success as the world’s biggest bicycle manufacturing company and its long decline to a point where it was sold off to overseas investors and abandoned manufacturing in its home town of Nottingham. The Raleigh name lives on as a brand owned by Accell, a larger Dutch company.

Tony Hadland is the author of Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand.

Please share your Raleigh recollections for next week’s show.

Raleigh (part one): The Rise

In the first of a two-part feature on the Raleigh Bicycle Company, historian Tony Hadland and Jack Thurston chart the rise of the company from a small backstreet workshop in Nottingham in the mid-1880s to the mid-1950s when it was seemingly unassailable as the world’s biggest bicycle manufacturer.

Tony Hadland is the author of Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand.

Live from Belgium House

In a live broadcast from Belgium House, a temporary Olympic Village and ‘cycling paradise’ in London’s Middle Temple, Jack finds out about Flandrien cycling culture from Rik Vanwalleghem, director of the Tour of Flanders centre in Belgium. At the launch of the Rapha Cycle Club in Soho, Rapha founder Simon Mottram reflects on the eight years since the company was launched in 2004. London cyclist Nick Hussey of the recently launched Vulpine clothing brand talks about designing and making top quality, stylish apparel for the discerning cyclist. And Resonance FM engineer Chris Dixon rides up a virtual Koppenberg.

Photo credit: Belgium House

This is the last in the current season. The next season begins in October though there will be a few off-season podcasts to keep an eye out for.