Category Archives: Cycling history

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.

457px-Hubert_Opperman

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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Dirt roads and climbing: from Aberdeen to Ayr

PT_070

Kindly uploaded by David Martin, a fairly regular contributor to this blog, comes this photo from the 1971 Scottish Tour of the Grampians Milk Race. Note the dirt road – if anyone knows where this road is, please post in the comments. A web search for this event revealed that there a race manuals was for sale on eBay pretty cheap- so for the history buffs the info is still available if you can find it.

David referred to this as a Milk Race but on Braveheart forum Steven McGinty recalled that it was sponsored by Sunblest and christened “The Piece Race”. Again the race manual would clear this up but if you remember more info, please post up a comment.

Rider 27, who is receiving service in the right of shot, is Phil Templeton of Dundee Thistle RC. Incidentally, I was looking at another of David’s photos from the 2011 Snow Roads Auduax today, which also features Phil Templeton. He is seen below piloting a tandem on the Cairn O’Mount, with legendary long distance rider George Berwick.

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In the above shot, Phil and George are riding the Snow Roads Audax is a 300km/186 mile ride also held in the Grampians, taking place this weekend. With 4800m/15,750ft of climbing, taking in the Cairn o’Mount, the Cabrach, the Lecht, and Cairnwell, it is probably one of the toughest rides in the UK. And the best value, with the cost to enter a mere £8.00. Bring your own food though!

interactive map with climbs

Rider 19 in the top photo, receiving wheel service on the left is I Thompson of ‘Glasgow B’. David informed me that there were centre teams, and National Teams as well, in this race.

Another race taking in dirt roads is the South Carrick Davie Bell. Traditionally one of the toughest one-day road races in Scotland, last year Ayr Roads brought in sections of dirt road to honour the pioneering highwayman that the event is named after.

The event has stepped up to National A status this year, with a high quality start sheet littered with pros and elite riders who will do battle on 10th June. Unfortunately the dirt sections will not feature in 2012 due to road repairs but we are sure they will be back, and in future the event is seeking to achieve Premier Calendar status. 2012 features 100 miles of racing, nearly 7,000ft/2369m of climbing, several passes through Girvan and the Nic o’ the Balloch climb.

photo by David Blockley
2011 winner James McCallum, Rapha Condor Sharp, left
photo by David Blockley

More great dirt road photos
more info about the 47th South Carrick David Bell

Joe Christison, Edinburgh Comet RC 1950s

Courtesy of Jennie Wells comes an image of Joe Christison of the Edinburgh Comet RC lining up for the start of a race.

There is a great set of images of the Edinburgh Comet RC riders in the 1950s – click through and explore them. Jennie’s father is John Gilliatt, who raced along with Joe Christison.

Joe Christison and Ian Greenfield
Joe Christison and Ian Greenfield

Joe Christison is pictured above- a rider who it seems little is known, these days, which does not seem commensurate with his ability. I blogged about his story in a post last year- Tour-racing.co.uk republished some archive articles about his lost chance to go to the Grand Prix des Nations– back then then the unofficial World Championship time trial.

Click through for my post, and the piece on tour-racing.co.uk – interesting story.

On the Braveheart Forum, former pro and recently-retired race organiser Jimmy Rae commented:

I remember as a junior riding out to the Tour de Trossachs 1953 with my clubmates in the Thistle and watch Joe winning, knocked he minutes off the course record, I followed his career and witness the sad demise of the pro and independent class, The last time I raced with Joe was in the the Tour of Scotland in 1958, I was in the race wining break with him and John Lackey, Joe offered to work and help me win the race which contained all the Empire Games riders.

Information is required for identifying the riders in the photos – please help if you can.

This week in cycling history

To my delight, the Velocast is back with a music-and-cycling banter show called Velocast Race Radio. Check it out.

One of the gems of the show are the ‘this week in cycling history’ snippets from Irish fount of historical cycling trivia, Cillian Kelly. He posts good articles over at his Irish Peloton blog, but the radio snippets are something interesting and different that you won’t find elsewhere. Every week he will enlighten us with facts from cycling history, ranging from the 1880s to the 1980s. His twitter feed is also good for some really interesting facts and trivia during the big races.

In 1975, Sean Kelly, Pat McQuaid and Kieran McQuad and two Scots broke the apartheid boycot and travelled to South Africa incognito to get some winter racing miles in the Rapport Tour. If you don’t know, all sporting contact with South Africa (and trade imports and exports for that matter) was banned. This boycott was in force right up until the mid-90s and the end of Apartheid. I remember my Mum tutting when Cape and Jaffa oranges began to appear in the supermarket.

The Scots were Henry Wilbraham and John Curran – some mention of them along with other Scottish riders banned for various other transgressions are mentioned on a typically delightful misty-eyed thread on the Braveheart forum.

They were photographed by a journalist covering then A-Listers Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s second marriage. The photo of the riders alongside Burton and Taylor was published and the riders recognised. The Irish initially got 7 month bans and lifetime exclusion from Olympic competition. (although Pat McQuaid now apparently sits on the Olympic governing body)

There’s more on this story over at the Cyclismas blog. Thanks to Cillian for flagging it up.

Jean Bobet cycling book, Tomorrow We Ride

Jean Bobet’s book, Tomorrow We Ride

Jean Bobet’s book, Tomorrow We Ride is written by the brother of three-time (1953-55) Tour de France winner Louison Bobet.

A very strong cyclist in his own right, Jean hesitated before pursuing a professional career as a bike rider. With good school grades and a degree in English (during which time he won the student world championships) he went on to spend time teaching French at Robert Gordon College in Aberdeen in Scotland.

I went cycling – for I had packed my bike all the same – in the superb Highland countryside with the Aberdeen Wheelers, who made my life difficult: not because of their cycling potential, but because of their fearsome local accent.

Written with dry humour and subtle wit, I found it an entertaining read, far from a formulaic blow-by-blow account of the more famous brother’s career. Jean’s own story as faithful domestique to his brother is interesting, and it’s rare to get a view from inside the peloton that is as well written as this.

One of the most revealing insights for me was the examination of race-fixing that was par for the course in the lucrative professional post-Tour criteriums, but also de rigeur in many amateur races at the time.

I can recommend this book if you are interested in cycling history, but equally Bobet’s eye for little details that will chime with anyone who has trained hard and raced a bike, can still give the reader pleasure today. Find Jean Bobet’s book, Tomorrow We Ride on amazon.

Jean Bobet book, Tomorrow We Ride

Further reading
excellent review by twmp
Aberdeen Wheelers cycling club