Category Archives: Cycling history

Central Scotland Wheelers Cowie Road Race, 1986

Actor Greg Drysdale edited this old footage for the Stirling Cycle Hub short film competition a few months ago and I recognised some of my local roads on it.

The Central Scotland Wheelers (now City of Stirling Wheelers and still running a time trial on the Cambusbarron course) ran a race on the Cowie loope.

The loop is still used for Falkirk BC’s Billy Warnock memorial, which is one of the first races I entered.

Central Scotland Wheelers Cowie Road Race 1986 from Greg Drysdale (Actor) on Vimeo.

The course is largely flat but includes one steep little brae before the town and another incline as you come into the centre of town. If those are not enough to split the field up, an attack through the narrow twisty back roads between Cowie and the Bellsdyke Road might get away. I like the finish in Cowie, but you could never have that now with all the road furniture and speed bumps. Today’s finish on the main road is always a bit sketchy for me, with the bunch fanning out and cars invariably coming in teh other direction.

“Yes, really, 1986. I filmed it using our new (at the time) Sony CCD V8 AF E Video Camera.” explains Greg.

“I think it’s interesting not only because it’s a nostalgic record of a bike race that happened nearly 30 years ago… but also reveals some vintage cars (and vintage people!) and may be of some interest to the people of Cowie to see their old town and how it’s changed .”

Greg’s cousin Raymond was in one race (he is wearing black and yellow and can be seen on the right at the finish line.)

Please post up a comment if you were involved in the race or recognise anyone in it.

Ronnie Park, VC Stella

In one of my previous posts, I tracked the growth of the VC Stella, a club formed in Scotland as a formidable race outfit. In the 1950s in Britain, road racing was only just taking off, as a segment of cyclists sought to break away from the touring and time trialling culture and emulate their continental heroes of the Monument Classics, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

John Kennedy was one of the VC Stella’s most successful riders, winning the Scottish Road Race championship in the 50s, amongst numerous other results, and going on to a professional career on the continent. The SCU team for the Oats 8-day Circuit of Britain, and later the Milk Race, was often comprised of mainly VCS members.

One of the founder members of VCS, Ronnie Park, was an accomplished rider about whom little is known today. I hadn’t heard his name until I began researching the VCS.

Below shows the start of the Glasgow Highland Games road race, in George Square in June/July 1954. The race was won by Joe Mead of St Christopher RC.

L-R Albert Wheeler (Douglas CC), David Ross, James Kelly, Ronnie Park (all VC Stella). Continue reading

Racing in Ayrshire, 1953

These images, courtesy of William Holden, show Scottish domestic racing in 1953 in Ayrshire.

There are several of John Kennedy, a rider that regular readers of this blog will know I have developed an interest. is there racing for Velo Club Stella in a few of them.

The Velo Club Stella has been described by a few people to me as ‘the first elite cycle racing team in Scotland’ and below we see what I guess to be the leaders of the respective races depicted, with John Kennedy in the mix.

John Kennedy Ayrshire 1953

Above, Kennedy in the foreground, racing for Velo Club Stella with Harry Fairbairn (Ayr Roads CC), left, and Cathcart McCurdie Hay (New Cumnock Cycling Club), middle tackling a climb in Ayrshire.

William’s father, Thomas Moss Holden was connected to the NCCC.

Harry Fairbairn is a name riders from today should recognise, as his BMW dealership still graces the jersey of the Ayr Roads CC. One blog reader recalls that he may have started with a bike shop before diversified into cars, and that he is the brother-in-law of Ian Steel .

John Kennedy Ayrshire Road Race, Dalmellington, 1953

Ayrshire Road Race, Dalmellington, 1953. L-R Harry Fairbairn (Ayr Rds CC) John Kennedy (VCS) Curdie Hay (NCCC). Curdie punctured at Dalleagles.
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Memories of Belgium, summer 1960

A recent interview on Veloveritas with Craig Wallace highlighted how important the Belgian scene is for serious riders who may be looking for a career in bike racing and need to push themselves on. Although Jim Robinson, whose shares memories of the 1960 season below, wasn’t necessarily looking to go pro, there were plenty at that time who were.

1955 Oats Scotland 016

It was spring of 1960 and we were sitting in an early-morning commuter train heading from Ostend to Kortrijk. I sat listening to the chatter around us thinking how much it reminded me of the blue trains going into Queen St. Low-level every morning full of Glasgow office-workers. Flemish shares a lot of vocabulary with old Scots and as my ears got a little more attuned to the accent I almost felt at home. Also, I had spent my National Service with the RAF in Schleswig-Holstein, a part of Germany where Plattdeutsch was still commonly spoken. Plattdeutsch, Frisian and Flemish, all Low Germanic languages, are still spoken up and down the North Sea coast from Denmark to northern France.
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John Kennedy, Scottish racer in Belgium, 14th at Fleche Wallone

In previous articles I charted the story of a talented Scottish racer about whom not much is known. After winning in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, in around 1955 or ’56 John Kennedy went over to Kortrijk in Belguim aged 24 or 25 to further his racing career.

He may have turned pro in 1957 after succeeding as an amateur, and connoisseurs of the Belgian scene have noted that he rode for some decent teams in what was a tough arena. As Ed Hood noted on Veloveritas in 2007, he would have been competing for a pro contract with hundreds of keen young Belgians, all of whom were striving to avoid work in the fields, mines or steelworks. Back then as it is now, it was the toughest amateur racing in the world.

John Kennedy, Tour de France, 1960.

Back then, when you got paid to ride it was more of a profession. The idea of riders as ‘pedalling workers’ is a concept that runs through the early era of cycling. The phrase ‘convicts of the road’ was coined in 1924 by journalist Albert Londres who likened professional bike racing to forced labour.

The results I found for Kennedy weren’t stellar, but suffice to say he must have been a really good rider to achieve what he did in a hostile environment in late 50s, early 60s Belgium. Back then, contact back home was minimal to non-existent and you were virtually on your own.

Brian Robinson was an English pioneer who Kennedy would go on to ride with in the GB Tour team, who “epitomised that spirit of ‘living the dream’. Equipped with a hard-as-nails mentality and a penchant for suffering, it was all he needed to negotiate his way through the shenanigans of the professional peloton.” – (Guy Andrews, Rapha website)

In the early 80s, Robert Millar complained of loneliness and isolation when he went to Paris to ride for the famous amateur club the ACBB (Athletic Club de Boulogne Billancourt). As a foreign rider in France he found his first accommodation in a gym, before being put in an apartment. “For the first two or three months I got very depressed” he told The Face magazine in 1985. “There were a lot who could not take it, living in a strange country, and just went home. Your life came down to the last ten or fifteen seconds of a race, when you either won or lost and either had something to live on or not.” (Richard Moore, In Search of Robert Millar)

Another Scottish rider, Norrie Drummond also went over to Belgium in 1957 and rode the amateur Gent-Wevelgem, while Brian Robinson and Kennedy rode the pro event. Drummond placed 19th in the amateur Kuurne-Brussels-Kurne that year- no mean feat in itself. In 1958 Norrie was called up to National Service and that put an end to his racing career – a theme that I have heard from many who raced in the 50s.

I haven’t found details of Kennedy’s pro team for ’57, but in ’58 and ’59 he rode for Bertin-d’Alessandro-The Dura and Bertin-The Dura-Milremo, presumably the same squad with different sponsors. Below the team lines up at the Tour du Nord in France in 1958.

John Kennedy, Bertin, Tour du Nord 58

John Kennedy, centre Bertin team, Tour du Nord 58

Results are hard to come by but he rode some big races at the end of 1958, finishing 101st in Paris-Tours in a field that contained Van Looy, Darrigade and Anquetil, and 8th in a Belgian race at Anzegem, with top 10s also recorded in 1959 at  Moorsele and Izenberge in Belgium.

A Belgian adventure was a draw for other young Scottish racers though, as in 1960, Jim Robinson (a V.C. Stella rider, pictured below, second from left, riding the Oats Amateur Circuit of Britain in 1955 for Scotland) went out with Rab Dewar of the Glasgow Wheelers, and Bobby Finnie and spent a season racing there while living in Kortrai near John Kennedy.

1955 Oats Scotland 016

Although Kennedy’s ’58 and ’59 results seem obscure, by 1960 he was riding for Wiels/Flandria, managed former world champion and Tour of Flanders winner Alberic ‘Briek’ Schotte.

John is third team member from the left in the photo below. Briek Schotte, centre.John Kennedy, Wiels Flandria team, (3rd rider from left), Belgium, C1960

‘Briek’ Schotte was a Flandrian hardman in the classic mould. William Fotheringham writes, in his Cyclopedia miscellany, that he “was brought out of his first communion in 1930 and as an amateur would get up at 3:30am to go to work to ensure that he could start training at 1pm.” He rode the Tour of Flanders 20 times and won it twice, also winning the world championships twice and numerous other titles. There is more information about Briek Schotte at the Flandria Cycles website.

By 1960 he was riding some of the big races, posting 35th in Gent-Wevelgem before one of his best results on the Continent, 14th in the Fleche-Wallone on 5th May. He was ranked one of the top riders on the Wiels-Flandria squad, which was 60-strong.

The route of Fleche Wallone has frequently been changed and that year it was run over 208km from Liege to Charleroi. There is a little footage of the race here: Flèche Wallonne : petit rappel historique | SONUMA.

The 1960 edition of the race was won by Pino Cerami in nearly 6 hours. Kennedy finished at 3:52 in a group of 7 going for 10th place, with this sprint won by Emile Daems. He was in very good company, with greats Rik Van Looy and Tom Simpson in the top 10, as well as being amongst five riders who would go on to be stage winners in the Tour that year, and he beat Gaston Nencini, who took the yellow jersey.

The winner, Pino Cerami had a dream season in 1960, having won Paris-Roubaix and going on to get on the podium at the World Championships behind Rik Van Looy of Belgium and Frenchman André Darrigade. In 2018, he remains the oldest winner of Fleche Wallone at 38 years old. The next oldest winners were Alejandro Valverde and Davide Rebellin at 37.

The full result is still available, while I have copied the top 20 below.

  • 1. Pino CERAMI (Bel) en 5h41’35”
  • 2. Pierre Beuffeuil (Fra) à 27″
  • 3. Constant Goossens (Bel)
  • 4. Robert Cazala (Fra) 5. Jean Forestier (Fra)
  • 6. Alfons Hermans (Bel) à 35″
  • 7. Tom Simpson (Gbr) à 2’21”
  • 8. Rik Van Looy (Bel) à 2’53”
  • 9. René Vanderveken (Bel) à 3’12”
  • 10. Emile Daems (Bel) à 3’52”
  • 11. Francesco Miele (Ita)
  • 12. Germain Derijcke (Bel)
  • 13. Louis Proost (Bel)
  • 14. John Kennedy (Gbr)
  • 15. Eddy Pauwels (Bel)
  • 16. Daniel Denys (Bel)
  • 17. Elio Pizzoglio (Ita) à 4’07”
  • 18. Tino Sabbadini (Fra) à 5’43”
  • 19. Joseph Schils (Bel)
  • 20. Gastone Nencini (Ita)

The form that Kennedy was in is evident in this result, and it was to lead to a last-minute call-up to the Great Britain team for the Tour de France, in support of Brian Robinson and Tom Simpson.  To be continued…

John Kennedy second from right

Four of the Wiels-Flandria team 1960

Thanks to the following for assistance in this piece: John Gallacher, Stephen Flockhart, Jim Robinson, Jim Hay, Gino Goddard, Norrie Drummond and Ray Green.


The Velo Club Stella and John Kennedy

In part 1 of this historical research project I looked into the Belleisle Road Club, based in the East end of Glasgow.

The story continues with the establishment of the Velo Club Stella in 1953, as a team concentrating on road racing, as opposed to the touring and time trialling that clubs tended to focus on.

Jimmy Rae recalled: The Stella Maris was around when I was a lad and was one of the first Road Racing clubs with the old SCU/BLRC, it had Hugo Koblet as its Patron. It changed its name to the VC Stella in ’53, amongst its members were John Burrows, John Kennedy, Bobby Dykes, Ronnie Park, Joe Linden, Archie Fitzgerald, Brenden Roberts, John McLaren, John Fraser, the Downes brothers. They were among the trail blazers for road racing at that time who faced a ban by the NCU/RTTC for taking part.

1955 Isle of Man018
“Velo Club Stella L to R: John Fraser, John Burrowes, Ronnie Park, Archie Fitsgerald, David Ross, James Kelly (all founder members) and Gordon Watson of Belleisle R.C.”

The Stella Maris was formed as a road racing club from the St Christopher’s CC, which itself was a Catholic club, former member Joe Linden told me. While the Stella Maris wasn’t deliberately closed to non-Catholics, the membership was predominantly Catholic, and he remembered some dubiety about the acceptance of non-Catholics. The VC Stella seems to have been established as a club that was specifically available to all, with it’s main objective being competitive road racing in the continental style.

VC Stella

John Burrowes, one of the founder members, wrote to Swiss rider Hugo Koblet, winner of the Tour de France in 1951 and the Giro d’Italia in 1950, to ask him to be honorary president of the new Velo Club Stella, and he agreed.

La Perle - Hugo Koblet - Le Pedaleur de Charme - lui-meme 1951

The background to this is the restrictive ethos of the NCU/RTTC federation, who were against racing on the open roads and wanted to keep the status quo of the past 50 years, where only time trialling took place. The BLRC was a breakaway federation which, since 1942, held controversial road races and wished to emulate and ultimately compete against their continental heroes of the Spring Classics and the Grand Tours.

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What is an ‘Oppy Cap’?

Ever since I read an interview with Jimmy Rae by Ed Hood on Veloveritas I have wondered what the phrase ‘oppy cap’ meant. I took this to mean a cycling cap, buy why ‘oppy’?

Isle of Man International Cycling Week, 1961.

As Jimmy explained to Ed, in 1953 a new type of cycling was on the rise. The Scottish Cyclists Union was formed and the struggle between the BCU (who banned road racing and wanted to focus on time trialling) and the BLRC (who wanted to emulate the continental style of road racing) was over.

‘It was variable gears and oppy caps for us – we wanted to be like the continental roadmen of the day’.

During my research into Scottish clubs in the 50s, I asked former Belleisle RC and VC Stella rider Joe Linden about the Oppy Cap.

Hubert ‘Oppy’ Opperman was the first Australian pro to move to Europe in the 1920s and had a stellar career.

He rode the Tour de France in 1928 and 1931, finishing 18th and 12th. He won the 1928 Bol d’Or, a 24 hour track race, the 1931 Paris-Brest-Paris, and broke numerous place-to-place records.

His white cap was distinctive, as was his out-of-the saddle climbing style, Joe told me. ‘Oppying up the hill’ was a term that pervaded into the 50s, as was the slang for white ‘Oppy’ caps.


The Belleisle Road Club, 1950s

I was given scans of some old Scottish cycling photos, which have led me down a trail of discovery. After investigation, I found that two of them are of the Belleisle Road Club.

I have had some trouble finding out when the club started. The photograph below was not dated but is from the early Fifties, definitely pre 1955 and probably pre 1953. A notable rider, John Kennedy, is sixth from the right, with a chimney pot behind him. He went on to ride the Tour de France, of which I will write more later.

Click on the image to see an annotated copy with the names of most of the people pictured. I spoke to David Ross, who was briefly a member of the Belleisle CC, as well as Joe Linden who also knew some of the members. Between them, and their friends and contemporaries, we been able to identify many of the faces in this image.

Back row, L-R: older man with hand on saddle, unidentified; hand on saddle, Angus Cameron; standing behind, unidentified; hand on saddle, Frank Wiggins; standing behind, Jackie Mullen (aka “Chossie”); hands on top tube and handlebars, Jackie Todd; standing behind, hand on shoulder, John Kennedy; behind, Martin Bonnar(sp?); hand on handlebar, Alex Campbell; behind, unidentified; Jim Crawford; unidentified.

Front row, L-R: kneeling, hand on top tube, Roger Wallacott; kneeling, arm round shoulder, John McNee; kneeling, Charlie Fleming.

Cycling club life at this time revolved around the social side of things- group rides, drum-ups and evenings in the club house. The Belleisle RC met in the East End of Glasgow, with a clubhouse in a converted tenement on or near the London Road and Fielden Street. Celtic Park is just a stone’s throw away. As the SpokeyDoke Blog discussed, rides were often a way to get out of church of a Sunday, but some clubs were not free of religion – the St Christophers CC was one Catholic organisation. With a club hut in this part of Glasgow you might assume that the Belleisle was a Catholic group, but it was non-denominational and there were an equal number of Catholic and non-Catholic members.

The picture above may be a meeting in the clubhouse of the Belleisle Road Club, likely in the early 1950s, and possibly in the London Road club house.

Many of the guys pictured above are sadly no longer with us. Joe Linden, who was a member for a short while, recalled that like many riders, National Service got in the way. John Kennedy was stationed with the RAF at Ballykelly in Northern Ireland around 1952-3. Joe himself spent two years in Pakistan from ’53 to ’55. David Ross was another who was a member briefly, but who told me his racing career took a downturn after his stint in the army.

The club was still going into the 1960s and their colours at this time were a copy of the Italian National Championship jersey: green, white and red. At this time, the Belleisle RC won the Scottish 25 mile team time trial championship in 1960 and broke the team record. The 50 mile team time trial record also fell that year, according to Steven McGinty.

Fraser Connell (who is more associated with the Johnstone Wheelers) was part of those teams and also won the National Road Race and 100 mile time trial championships in 1963 when he also broke 100 mile record. The championship team also incuded ome UCI Commissaire-to-be, Gerry McDaid.

Ian Sharp recalls that this team may have actually been specifically put together to win the team time trial championships, with Fraser Connell reverting to the Johnstone Wheelers and Gerry to the Glasgow Nightingale after. Another memorable member was Willie Anderson, described by one as a ‘firebrand that was the scourge of Centre meetings’.

As I drift in to the 1960s, some readers may recall that the Belleisle Road Club was revived in the 1980s. However, I wish to stay in the 1950s to pursue the next chapter of this story: the emergence of Scotland’s first elite road racing team.

[12 Feb 2012, edit paragraph 5, to reduce emphasis on idea that clubs were formed on religious grounds]

A Mechanised Tramp

Found on the Epicurean Cyclist blog, and pointed out to me by local rider Crispin Bennett are these videos of Bill Houston, who called himself a “mechanized tramp.”

He was from Dumfries and Galloway, an area with a heritage of pioneering off-road cycling, in the form of Rough Stuff “Highwayman” Davie Bell, who charted his exploits in the Ayrshire Post between the 1930s and the 1960s.

According to Wikipedia the pits closed in the 80s (High House in 1983 and nearby Barony in 1989) so this video might be from the late 70s or early 80s.

Scottish Cyclist: Archie Craig, 1930s

I competed in the Lothian Flyer Race in June and Archie Craig, the Lothian Road Club rider, after whom the race is named, was represented in the form of his daughter Sheila and her sister’s grandson Massimo, Archie’s great grandson. He died in 2000 aged 87.

Born 27 August, 1912, he was a member of the Lothian Road club, with day rides and drum-ups a part of the cycling culture in the 30s and 40s. There are several pictures of Archie and his clubmates below, that give a feel for club life.

A young, wet looking rider competing in a club, or an open TT?

His daughter Sheila told me: Dad went cycling on the continent, on a few trips in the 30’s, staying at hostels and sleeping out. Few did this back then, and on his return fellow club members and everybody wanted to know all about it. There were some great stories – unfortunately the war stopped a great deal of cycling, but in 1950 Dad went with a few Lothian CC friends cycling through France, Pyrenees to Andorra and down through parts of Spain(travel to Spain had just been authorised again and you needed a visa to go to Spain.

Thanks to Sheila for sharing these photos. Although Lothian Cycling Club and Edinburgh Road club were rivals in the past, LCC no longer exists, and ERC now promotes the race in Archie Craig’s memory.

The Lothian Cycling Club members

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