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What Has Yorkshire Ever Done for Cycling?

While the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire hurtles around the county, Cycling Legends looks back at some of Yorkshire’s cycling heritage.

Part one of three.

Photos: cyclinglegends.co.uk
Words: Chris Sidwells

Beryl Burton
Was there, is there, anything more Yorkshire than Beryl Burton? The answer is no. Was she the greatest ever female cyclist? She was amazing but the question is impossible to answer because women’s cycling has suffered terrible inequality.

It was 2012 before men and women had parity in Olympic cycling, and when Burton raced there was no cycling at all for women in the Games. The world championships had a women’s sprint, pursuit and a road race, but there were few other international road races for women and no regular international women’s stage race.

Image of Beryl Burton
Burton had the worlds to go for, she had what few road races there were in Britain, plus time trials. And there was even inequality there; women’s time trials were run with the men’s, but women started first, and that meant early starts in chilly dawns. But if Burton complained, nobody outside her closest circle ever heard her; complaining wasn’t her way. Getting on with it was, and boy did she get on with it.

Ninety-six national titles, 72 in time trials and 24 in road and track racing between 1958 and 1986. She won the world road race championships twice in 1960 and 1967, and was runner up in 1961. She also won five world pursuit titles, and took three silver and three bronze medals. And she did it all while working full-time and looking after a family.

Women’s road races in Burton’s day weren’t long enough or hard enough, and certainly not big enough for her. Her major triumph was to break the British 12-hour time trial record in 1967 by riding 277.25 miles, 0.73 further than any man. Her distance wasn’t bettered by a man until 1969, and only by one woman, Alice Lethbridge, half a century later and using lots of modern aerodynamic kit.

Image of Beryl Burton 1968

Unfortunately Burton wasn’t awarded the record at that time because officially it was a men’s record. So the new holder of that was Mike MacNamara, with a distance of 276.52 miles. MacNamara finished second to Burton in the race and at one point was caught by her, whereupon she offered him a liquorice all-sort sweet, like she would.

Burton died suddenly in 1996, but what could she have done in a women’s Tour de France, or the Tour de Yorkshire, she’d have loved that. Losing Beryl so early deprived British cycling not only of one of its legends, but of a wonderful character. She embodied Yorkshire grit and endurance, her work ethic was second to none, she was a diamond inside an ordinary working mother.

ParkinImage of Parkin cake
Forget about all those carefully formulated energy bars, with all that science stuff in them. 'T’ best thing fur laikin abaht on t’ bike is Parkin'. Sorry, let me translate. That’s Yorkshire for ‘Parkin is a very good and quite convenient energy source to consume whilst cycling’. 

Parkin is a soft ginger cake that originated in Leeds. Its main ingredients are oatmeal and black treacle, so that’s slow and fast-release carbohydrates, plus some protein. It’s traditionally cooked in slabs and cut into squares, so it fits perfectly into a jersey pocket, and it’s really easy to eat. There’s brandy in it too, and butter. It slips down a treat.

They make Parkin in Lancashire too, but they use softy Golden Syrup and extra sugar instead of hard black treacle, which is why it’s rubbish. 
The Downings
‘R Dean and R Russ’, where R stands for ‘our’, meaning a member of one’s family, are central to Yorkshire cycling Two of the most approachable guys in the sport, they are both talented, both tough and both very popular. They’ve both won a sack-full of races and titles, but it’s who they are that makes the Downings special.

Image of Dean and Russ Downing

Russell raced for Team Sky in its first two years and proved he could win at World Tour level, but again, that’s almost an aside. More recently they have helped create and develop a brand new, started from scratch, Yorkshire-based pro team, Holdsworth Pro Racing. Russ, 39 now, is team leader and Dean, 43, is sports director. They’ll be part of Yorkshire cycling forever, it’s in their blood.

Top Boro’
That’s what they called the Boroughbridge-based time trial courses on the A1, where loads of competition records were set. It wasn’t just the traffic flow, although that helped, it was the smooth road surface. Also, the straight out-and-back rolling strip of fast dual-carriageway meant riders could see competitors strung out in front of them, home in on them, target them, then try to catch them one by one.

Some time-triallists thought the undulations helped too, they kept them trying. And some would stray out into the middle of the inside lane going downhill, storing up a 40 miles-per-hour back-log of cars behind them. Going up the next rise the riders moved to the left of the inside lane, letting the cars pass to create a tunnel of positive turbulence that helped push them along.

John Watson of the Clifton Cycling Club from York was one of the first to discover the Boro’s speed potential when he smashed the 50 mile record in 1970, taking nearly four minutes off it for a new record 1 hour 40 minutes 42 seconds. The last Boro’ record was Kevin Dawson’s 50 of 1 hour 37 minutes 21 seconds set in 1997. Eleven-time BBAR Dawson is also from Yorkshire, in case you don’t know. Just saying like.  

Image of Kev DawsonKev
The Flying Gate
Back in the days when time trials were the only races on public roads, and the sport was run by fusty old men wearing stiff collars, waistcoats and gold watch chains, their main aim was that racers went unnoticed by other road users. Image of baines std ecal

There was method behind what looked like madness. In 1895 a bunch of road racers startled the horses pulling some old dowager’s carriage, and it shook her up a bit. She complained to the police, so the cycling authorities, fearing police involvement in all cycling if it happened again, asked clubs to only organise time trials on public roads. They also insisted that all competitors be covered from head to foot in black clothes.

Then, not content with that, the protectors of cycling decreed that no rider in a time trial could carry any form of advertising, not even the name of the manufacturer, on their bikes. But the thing was, the manufacturers put their race bikes in front of potential customers by supplying the best riders in the best clubs with free bikes. What would be the point of doing that if there was nothing on the bikes that told one from the other?

Luckily the British bike industry is ever-resourceful, and manufacturers started producing bikes with different and very distinctive frame designs. The London firm Bates made the Cantiflex bike, with curled forks, and supplied them to the fastest members of the Norwood Paragon cycling club. The Bronte Wheelers in Yorkshire rode Hetchins bikes, with their curly chain-stays. And the Yorkshire Road Club raced on the Baines Brother’s Flying Gates, which were made in Bradford.

Image of Jack Fancourt

You have to see a Flying Gate to believe it, but briefly it has a vertical seat-tube then another much smaller seat tube behind that, which is really just somewhere to put the seat-pin. Then there are two sets of seat stays, and……….Well, I could go on, but just imagine a gate with wheels on it and you’ve got it.  The fast men of the Yorkshire Road Club could make the Flying Gate go though, and Jack Fancourt won the 1937 Isle of Man cycle TT on one.

They are still made today by Trevor Jarvis, and if you click onto his website http://www.tjcycles.co.uk/ you can find out all about them.

Image of the Flying Gate