Category Archives: Cycling history

Dirt roads and climbing: from Aberdeen to Ayr


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.


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- 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 – 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

Scottish Cyclist: Davie Bell

Davie Bell was a pioneering off road cyclist and tourer/randonneur extreme, and now has one of Scotland’s toughest one-day races held annually in his honour.

Between the 1930s and the 1960s, Davie wrote weekly articles for the Ayrshire Post about his cycling exploits and club run adventures. Following his death these were published as “The Highway Man” and “The Highwayman rides again”. The name Highwayman was probably a bit misleading, for David was an exponent of the byway and of rough-stuff cycling – abandoning recognised routes for tracks and open hillsides.

David Bell, The Highway Man cyclist, offroad cycling pioneer

Continue reading

Wallacehill CC drum-up, 1954

This shot is lifted from the flickr stream of Robert, aka ‘paris-roubaix’. Click on the photo to go through to his flickr if you are interested in Scottish Cycling history or vintage road bicycles, there is a wealth of great stuff there.

Scottish Cycling Magazine

Here’s a 1954 front cover of the old Scottish Cycling magazine. Pictured are the Wallacehill Cycling Club having a drum-up. No Chryston Wheelers type fire. A bit more sophisticated, they’re using a Primus stove.

Drum-ups explained
More drum-ups
A modern drum-up

Peace race 1952 extended footage

This film was mentioned in the Rouleur 18 article about Ian Steel, but disappeared from Y0uTube. It has since reappeared- It’s in four parts, in Polish, but patience will reward enthusiasts of this era. It’s the most sustained footage of one bike race from that age that I’ve seen. You get to see the bikes, kit, pace and attacks all at close quarters. And of course Ian Steel won it – the toughest amateur stage race in the world.

Part 1 is mainly background and preamble, but worth a watch for the ceremonial start in the Polish Army Stadium, at 7min. The sheer number of spectators, and the noise, is incredible, and gives you a sense of the scale of the race. Part 2 focuses on riders I don’t know, but by parts 3 and 4 you are getting good chunks of Steel against his rivals.

I’ve blogged quite a bit about this, mainly as I share the discoveries I make. It’s a part of our cycling history that few seem to know about, and should be celebrated. Almost like the Tom Simpson of Scotland. Thanks to “Ivan” from the Braveheart forums for the heads up. Read this thread for the story of the race.