The North Cotswold Cycling Club

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In the 1930’s, the bicycles, clothing and cycling accessories used by club riders bore only a passing resemblance to those found today. There was no skin-tight lycra, aerodynamic headgear or polarised designer sun glasses. The bicycles themselves were generally of a heavy roadster type rather than proper racing cycles. The aluminium and lightweight composites used in construction today were unheard of. Frames, forks, and handlebars were made of steel, and it was only during the 1930’s that manufacturers began using the lighter, high tensile, Reynolds 531 High Manganese steel tubing in cycle build. Bicycle wheels were generally steel rimmed, although a wooden rimmed alternative, fashioned from cane or bamboo, was offered as an option on some models. These were used principally for track work rather than time-trialling or touring, and required special tubeless tyres which needed to be kept well inflated to prevent them slipping from the rim.

Holdsworth Cyclone - An example of bicycle constructed with Manganese tubing

Almost without exception club riders rode a fixed rather than a free wheel, the conventional wisdom being that it was better to develop a regular rhythm when riding. Few riders bothered with gears, although there were a variety of systems available: the Villiers 2 speed and the Cyclo Derailleur and Sturmey Archer 3 speed being among the most common. On some models cycle manufacturers offered the option of a reversible single gear, so that a rider could choose to ride either free or fixed. Some cycles also had a second cog on the opposite side of the rear wheel which allowed the rider a single change of gear through the simple expedient of removing the back wheel and turning it the opposite way round. At this period wheels were generally hand-secured with wing nuts, and the switch could therefore be quickly and easily done.

For riding at night – common when club cycling - illumination was usually provided by a battery or a dynamo lamp, often of Lucas brand, although some members of the old school still preferred the pre-battery acetylene and oil lamps, examples of which include the now collectable Lucas Silver King and King of the Road.

Very little safety protection was worn. Nor was the limited amount available very sophisticated. Protective headgear came in the form of a padded leather hat, which was largely reserved for track racing. For time-trialling or touring, if a head covering was worn at all it was more for comfort than for the protection it afforded. Generally, riders only covered their heads when the weather was inclement.

Some riders wore goggles, because it could be a painful experience to be struck in the eye by an insect when pedalling at speed. There is, however, only one photograph that shows a North Cotswold club member in goggles: a snap taken of a group relaxing near Snowshill, among whom is Cyril Invine in his tinted shades. Bill Tustin, who lost his right eye in an accident at work, generally rode in glasses and with a patch over his missing eye.

(Left to Right, standing) Charlie Taylor, Norman Parsons, Phil Grimmitt, Harry Bennett, Cyril Invine. (Seated) John Parsons, Bill Winfield.

During the 1930’s the required garb for event riding was a black alpaca jacket and black racing tights. On club runs riders wore shorts, or in cooler weather long socks with plus-fours; the latter being especially convenient for cycling since they were baggy at the knees and allowed free movement of the legs. There were alternative jackets available of weatherproof suedette, corduroy, or fleece-lined black rubber, and beige coloured zippers jackets. But during those times of economic depression people often wore what they could afford, or what was immediately to hand, and riders tended to dress for comfort rather than for conformity or fashion. The wide range of costumes used by cyclists is amply illustrated in the photographs of the North Cotswold riders. The top dress, for some, included a continental woollen sweater, which had a slight roll at the neck. In wet weather, riders would sometimes put on spats to protect their legs from road spatter. And in a downpour they would invariably fetch out the oilskin capes and sou’-westers. As the rain began to tumble there would be a sudden shout of 'Cape Up' from one of the group, which would be the signal to stop and don protection.

When it came to a choice of cycle, there was a machine available to suit every purse and purpose. Bicycles were by far the most common type of ‘irons’, although tandems were popular at the time, and many clubs held tandem races, although the NCCC did not. And, harking back to the dawn of cycling, most cycle manufactures still offered tricycles as part of their standard range.

The 1930’s was the heyday of the small independent cycle manufacturer, among which were the likes of Armstrong, Holdsworth, and Claud Butler, who sold their machines direct to the general public from their workshops, as well as through appointed cycle agents. During the 1930’s they managed to vie successfully with the likes of volume producers such as BSA, Rudge-Whitworth, Humber and Triumph, although in the 1940’s and ‘50’s most were eventually swallowed up by the ubiquitous Raleigh.

Cheltenham Road, Broadway. From left: Bill Tustin, Harry Bennett, Theo Parsons, John ParsonsTo purchase a new bicycle suitable for club riding would have cost between ten and fifteen pounds, or several weeks wages for those in ordinary employment. Most cycle manufacturers and their agents, offered purchase on easy terms. One could, for instance, acquire a new tourer for an initial deposit of eighteen shillings - equivalent to £45 today – with an additional fifteen monthly payments. Those unable to commit to these amounts would perhaps opt for a second-hand cycle, in which there was a ready market. Four or five pounds (£200-£250) would normally be sufficient to buy a fairly respectable machine. The choice of cycle naturally depended on whether it was intended for competitive riding, or whether what was needed was a reasonably serviceable machine for touring. In either instance, the investment involved meant that cycle owners generally treated their irons with care and respect.

The average frame size was, and remains, 21” – 22”, and cycles of this specification could always be purchased ‘off the peg’. A cyclist whose physical build departed significantly from the average might have needed a custom-built frame. One of the first North Cotswold members to have such a cycle was Phil Evans who, being somewhat on the small side, commissioned a bicycle with a 19” frame from a Coventry builder. As proof that mere lack of height is no bar to successful riding, Phil achieved some impressive times on his machine.

"The Colonel" Harry Bennett, tests Pat Weguelin's new Claud Butler in Cheltenham Road, BroadwayIn the 1920’s most cycles were finished in black enamel, principally because it had proved, over time, to be an extremely durable coating. Other paint applications tended to mark or chip. But in the early 1930’s, led in no small part by the demands of fashion, a series of hard-wearing coloured finishes were developed. This allowed bike owners an opportunity to individualise their irons. Particularly popular was the ‘flamboyant’ range of colours, which included mauve, ruby red, emerald green, bronze and gold. By the mid-1930’s most manufacturers offered some or all of these as options. The innovative Claud Butler Company was known for its silver finishes, which it marketed as being harder wearing than the standard enamels, with the added safety feature of making the rider more visible when cycling at night. Claud Butler was also one of the first manufacturers to introduce a range of powdered lustre finishes.

The North Cotswold members owned cycles in a variety of makes and colours. Ron Bartlett rode a pillar-box red Royal Enfield, and Myfanwy Jones a white BSA with a ladies frame and drop handlebars. Pat Weguelin was the proud owner of a silver Claud Butler, whilst Theo Parsons’ first bicycle was an Armstrong Moth. Theo later owned a Holdsworth in a Red Flamboyant finish, as did Bert Sullings. Norman Parsons’ first bicycle was a black BSA (see studio photo), which was a good basic machine suitable for touring, though not especially well fitted for competition. Norman subsequently bought an Armstrong Aeolus; the same make and model of that ridden by his friend and fellow club member Bill Tustin. In a youthful burst of enthusasm he decided to customise his reserve cycle – the BSA - by painting the frame and the pump an arresting shade of yellow with green stippling! In the late 1930’s, a year or so before the club folded, he purchased an ex-demonstration lightweight Rudge-Whitworth, incorporating the modern 531 manganese steel tubing.

Proud owners and their cycles:

Norman Parsons with his first bicycle, a BSA (1934)Bill Tustin with his red Armstrong

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  © The text and photographs contained in this site are the copyright of D. Parsons.