Three schoolboys pedal off to Europe in 1966
Marking 50 years since my first cycle tour in Europe, this article will be expanded every day or two.
On the afternoon of Saturday 30th July 1966, the England football team beat West Germany at Wembley in the final of the World Cup. Tom McLoughlin, a 17-year-old schoolboy from Reading, attended the match. Early next morning, Tom and two of his classmates – Martin Taylor and myself – set off on our bicycles for the continent of Europe.
It’s hard to imagine today how exotic the Continent seemed in the mid 1960s. Although by that time some ordinary British people were able to afford foreign holidays, there were still plenty, including myself, who had never left the UK. For many families, including much of the British middle class, Europe was just too expensive to visit. But Tom, Martin and I had a solution which overcame the fact that our parents could not afford foreign holidays; we got on our bikes and pedalled east, leaving our homes in the Reading suburbs of Tilehurst, Southcote and Calcot far behind. Not for nothing is the bicycle sometimes called ‘the freedom machine’.
A lot of planning went into this trip, a process which I took on and greatly enjoyed. I made numerous visits to the travel section of our splendid new public library. I wrote to national tourist offices for free leaflets, brochures and maps. I bought a fine Swiss-made Kümmerly & Frey map of Belgium and the surrounding parts of Germany, the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg. I also bought some of the new Collins pocket travel guides, which were splendidly concise, compact and affordable. And I closely studied ferry timetables and youth hostel year books.
The original idea had been a cycling holiday in France. In the 1960s popular mind, a cycling holiday on the Continent was synonymous with a cycling holiday in France. It was something Brits had heard of but which few actually experienced or wanted to. It was something a friend of a colleague’s cousin might have done a few years ago. It was generally viewed in much the same way as bungee jumping is today – an activity for intrepid people who are a bit odd.
We didn’t care about the social attitudes but we did want an enjoyable and interesting holiday, not an endurance test of how many miles we could cover on our bikes. We noticed that France is very big and major towns are generally a long way from each other. So should we opt for the default French cycling tour or something else? And if we chose something else, wouldn’t that be even more expensive than France and therefore out of our price range?
Whilst studying a school atlas, I noticed a neat and compact little country called Belgium. Like most Brits, we didn’t know much about Belgium but the more I read up about it, the more I liked it. It had a fascinating history, closely linked to our own. In the north-west it had splendid world-class medieval art cities, conveniently only a few hours of cycling apart from each other and in flat countryside. In the south-east it had rolling countryside with river valleys and forests. And it bordered West Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France. Better yet, the ferry to Belgium was no more expensive than the short French crossings. So we decided that Belgium would be where we would do most of cycling, but with a few days in West Germany and maybe the Netherlands, too. Our aim was a fortnight on the road, which was about as much as we could afford.
Day 1 – Sunday 31st July 1966
When we set off early on Sunday 31st July 1966, our target was Dover, where we were to catch an overnight ferry to Ostend in Belgium. Reading to Dover was about 125 miles, which was more than any of us had cycled in a day. In fact, it was about twice as far as we had ever done in a day.
Today, finding an easily navigable, straightforward and reasonably safe route to cycle from Reading to Dover would be quite tricky. (Yes, there are the Sustrans routes and smartphone apps but they can be frustrating to navigate.) But 50 years ago, when traffic levels were about a tenth of what they are today, we just went straight up the A4 Bath Road from Reading to London, straight through the middle of the city, and out down the A2 to Dover. It took a while to get used to the effect of being passed by trucks, which first buffeted you, then briefly dragged you along in the low air pressure area behind them. But apart from that, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it’s amazing to recall how little traffic there was on these major routes on a Sunday in ’66.
The morning went very easily. As we all came from church-going families, in which such matters were taken very seriously, we stopped off in Maidenhead to attend a mid-morning service. Haloes polished, we carried on to London. Tom, having witnessed the England victory at Wembley only some 19 hours earlier, was delighted when we spotted England captain Bobby Moore driving his car. What an amazing coincidence!
On we pedalled through the London suburbs and into Kent. The weather was good all day: not too hot but pleasantly warm, neither windy nor wet. Eventually, after cycling in built-up areas almost all the way from Maidenhead in Berkshire to Bexleyheath in Kent, we started getting into a more rural landscape. There were actually green gaps between some towns!
This was the era of offshore pirate radio, which in 1966 was at its peak in the UK. I shall always remember looking north, from the A2 near Whitstable, at Redsand Fort, a WW2 anti-aircraft installation about 7 miles away in the shimmering water of the Thames Estuary. Redsand Fort was the home of Radio 390, a very professional station with a powerful signal, aimed more at our parents’ generation. But, in the early evening, we often listened to 390, because it had the best RnB, blues and soul show on British radio, hosted by the late great Mike Raven.
On we rode and, by early evening, the strain was beginning to tell a little. Martin, who was younger and smaller than Tom and myself, struggled a bit to keep up. But by about 9.00pm, as light was starting to fail, we finally arrived at Dover ferry terminal. In fact, we had done very well. We had covered about 125 miles in approximately 14 hours, including about an hour in a church service and a few short breaks for food and drink. So our average speed while in the saddle must have been about 10mph. There were no punctures or mechanical failures, no navigational errors and the weather had been kind. As we embarked on the passenger ferry, we were tired but elated and very excited about the next stage of our journey.
The next stage will be added here soon!
Le Tour de France starts in a few hours. Which reminds me that, last autumn, Prof. Lessing and I were called in by Dorling Kindersley to help them finish off this book: DK’s ‘The Bicycle Book – the definitive visual history’
It’s worth every penny for the super pictures of a huge range of bicycles old and new from around the world. Fabulous value at £20 RRP.
If you go to the section of this website that provides detailed information on how to repair old Sturmey-Archer hubs, you’ll find new content on the K-series 3-speeds of the 1920s and 1930s. Not all the material is explicitly about repairing the hubs but it may prove useful and interesting to some readers.
There is now an 18-page PDF file (zoomable and easily printed) that includes all the following content:
- The late great Jim Gill’s description of the type K hub and the changes made to it during its production run (2 pages).
- A cutaway drawing of the 1922-1933 model.
- Jim’s simplified instructions for dismantling and re-assembling the type K.
- Jim’s analysis of the type K’s “no intermediate gear” feature, which went AWOL in 1935.
- Jim’s tabulated analysis of 20 type K hubs manufactured between c.1925 and 1937 (2 pages).
- S-A’s 1925 parts list and exploded diagram of the type K .
- S-A’s 1935 exploded diagrams and parts lists for the type K, type KS and type KSW hubs (5 pages).
- S-A’s 1937 exploded diagrams and parts lists for the type K, type KS and type KSW hubs (5 pages).
Go to the Cycling tab above, click on Gears and scroll down the list to “How to repair old Sturmey-Archer hubs”. Or just click on this link: https://hadland.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/how-to-repair-old-sturmey-archer-hubs/
Update 22 June 2016: I’ve also added material on the K-series brake hubs (KB, KC and KT) and on S-A’s 1930s drum brakes (BF, BR, BFT and BRT).
Interested in the history of Raleigh, Sturmey-Archer, Brooks, Pashley or Moulton? Or maybe in the wider development and changes the British cycle industry has undergone in the last 50 years? Then this interview, which I recorded on 23rd March 2016, is for you.
John Macnaughtan spent 48 years at Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer. Early in his career, he was sent to Raleigh South Africa and he soon became Director of Raleigh Industries East Africa. Later, with David Duffield, he set up Raleigh Australia. John joined Sturmey-Archer in 1977 and became Sales and Marketing Director in 1981. After the sale of Sturmey-Archer to Sun Race, he became Managing Director of Raleigh International. He was instrumental in saving the Brooks saddle company and became a co-owner of Pashley. Today, he spends much of his time at Bradford-on-Avon, dealing with the export of Moulton bicycles.
The interview, in two parts and full of unique insights and recollections, is now on the Veteran-Cycle Club YouTube channel.
Part 1: John Macnaughtan interview Part 1
Part 2: John Macnaughtan interview Part 2
You may have seen elsewhere on this site (in the comments on John Allen’s hub gear table in the Gears section) that Wiel van den Broek has created some very useful Excel spreadsheets for gearing choices involving hub gears and bracket gears. You can enter the tyre format, chainwheel and sprocket sizes and instantly compare the results given by different gears.
The gears covered range some more than 100 years old to others that are in current production. There is a metric- and an inch-chart, both of which you can download from these links:
Metric (development): http://www.velofilie.nl/_fpclass/gearchartenglishmetric.xls
Inches (equivalent diameter of direct-drive cranked wheel): http://www.velofilie.nl/_fpclass/gearratioenglish.xlsx
Many thanks to Wiel for creating these spreadsheets.
For the full and most up-to-date version of my article on the recusant Hydes of Berkshire, see the 10-page PDF file here: Hydes
It’s amazing to think that 28 years have passed since my book The Sturmey-Archer Story was published. You can still buy it from the Veteran-Cycle Club’s sales officer (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) or from Dorothy Pinkerton (telephone: +44 (0)121 350 0685). Remarkably, the price has hardly changed, despite decades of inflation.
Whether you are a new purchaser of the book or bought it years ago, don’t forget to read the free supplement. It contains a host of information, some of which is not available elsewhere:
- Product developments by Sturmey-Archer and its competitors in the period between publication of the book and the closure of Sturmey-Archer’s British operations.
- How Sturmey-Archer ceased to be a British company and became Taiwanese.
- The auctioneer’s detailed list of Sturmey-Archer plant sold off when the British factory closed.
- Additional information about the period covered by the book.
The supplement is available free of charge on this website by clicking on the Cycling tab above and following the drop-down link to Gears. But if you want a printer-friendly version, so that you can print out a tidy 26-page A4 version, click here: S-A Story supplement
You can also save the supplement as a PDF file to read on your desktop computer, tablet or phone by right-clicking the link above and ‘saving link as’.