Sunday, March 19, 2017

Record Aces: Raleigh-Sturmey Archer Team 1936-1940

In the often overlooked contribution of Raleigh to competitive cycle sport, other than the Tour de France winning TI Raleigh squad of the 1970s-80s, the achievements of the 1930s figure largely. Cut-short by the Second World War, the records won were quickly forgotten. Post-war, the character of British road cycle sport changed. Mass start racing became more and more popular with the Tour of Britain (later the Milk Race) showing the Continental influence and a more spectator oriented sport than the individual time trial. And it was being done on Continental inspired machines with derailleur gears.

Records aside, the Raleigh-Sturmey-Archer Team of 1936-40 represented the apogee of classic British road cycle sport in its truest pre-war form: the individual long distance time trial, the "R.R.A." record runs, the battle of man and machine against time and distance on open roads and in all conditions; the era of all-black kit, U-Win tights, Alpaca jackets, waxed hair, and roadside helpers in plus-fours offering up feeding bottles in the early morning mist.

The Team, managers and riders alike, were all "clubmen" and proven champions-- "stayers"-- of the time trial circuit of the 1920s-30s.  Charles Marshall, Charlie Davey, Sid Ferris, Bert James, Charles Holland and Tommy Godwin represented a pool of talent and sporting achievement unsurpassed in British road cycling. Instead of a Tour of Britain, there was the annual contest for British Best All Rounder (the fastest overall speed in the classic time trial events in a particular year) and the Road Records Association (R.R.A.) long distance records. It was in the later field of competition that the Raleigh men thrived, coming to hold 9 of the 15 R.R.A. records between 1937-39. One, Godwin's all-time mileage record set in May 1940, and the last for Raleigh/Sturmey Archer, remains uniquely unbroken to this day.

Cyclo's 1935 catalogue devoted a centre spread to the world's mileage record and R.R.A. records won with its derailleur gears by Australians Ossie Nicolson and Hubert "Oppy" Opperman. It was precisely to counter this publicity and sales inroads in the club and racing market that Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer laid plans to form its own professional team to win back the records for Britain and also prove the advantages of the hub gear vs. the derailleur. credit: V-CC on line archives. 

In the mid 1930s, R.R.A. records were falling like nine pins under an onslaught by Frank Southall (then the greatest All-Rounder in Britain) riding for Hercules with the new three-speed Cyclo derailleur. He won most of the medium distance records including three set by Charles Marshall. In addition, the great Hubert Opperman of Australia came to Britain and quickly broke the Land's End-John o'Groats, London-Bath-London and 24-hour records in 1935. An Australian riding for B.S.A. with a Cyclo derailleur, he represented a triple threat to Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer. Determined to restore the records to Britain and to demonstrate the superiority of the new close-ratio hub gears he had helped to develop, Charles Marshall, then the Works Director for Sturmey-Archer, laid plans in early 1936 for a new professional team sponsored by both companies. 


Manager, Sturmey-Archer Works/Team Director
Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club

The dean of Racing Raleighs was Charles Marshall through whose singular enthusiasm for the marque and hub gear not only formed the foundations for the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer team, but inspired him to personally create and supervise it.

Charles Marshall was, first and foremost, a road cyclist of proven and record breaking ability himself. A passionate vegetarian, he joined the Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club around 1925 and quickly excelled throughout the inter-war heyday of the classic time trial and came to dominate the North Road 100. In 1928, he was part of the British Cycling Team at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam, winning a Silver Medal. On 8 July 1931, Marshall set a new R.R.A. record for London-Bath and back of 10 hours 39 mins. 54 seconds on a Raleigh Record with a Sturmey-Archer K three-speed hub that he personally had tweaked to give closer ratios.

To Marshall goes much of the early credit in developing close-ratio hub gears for racing and he eventually became Manager of Sturmey-Archer's Works Department. He went on to recruit Reg Harris for Raleigh in 1948 and took an active hand in the design and specification not only of the special machines for him, but all of Raleigh's lightweights for a quarter of a century. Marshall held patents on several innovative cycling components including the Sturmey-Archer "trigger" shifter and quick-release mudguard fittings. Finally, he wrote many articles expounding the vegetarian diet, fitness and training regimes for cyclists.  

Charles Marshall as one of the VC&AC's "cracks" on the time trial circuit in the mid 1920s to early 1930s. He held at various the R.R.A. records for the Brighton-and-back and Bath-and-back. credit: Feed Well-Speed Well 

It was Marshall's unique expertise in racing, bicycle and hub gear technology that led him to put together a new professional racing team in 1936 that had, as its chief aim, the proving and the promotion of the new range of hub gears that he and Sturmey-Archer's William Brown designed. Moreover, his active participation in the VC&AC gave him the personal contacts with some of the top riders of what was arguably the leading cycling club in Britain at the time. Indeed, it could be said that the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer squad was really just a professional off-shoot of the VC&AC for, of its stable of top riders, all but one was a vegetarian and three were club members at various times.

Cycling highlighted some of the well known members of the Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club with this montage which actually shows more than those identified: Sid Ferris (on his RRA) being assisted by Charlie Davey and Charles Marshall on his Raleigh Record during his time trialing days with the club. Of the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer team, the only member who wasn't a vegetarian was Charles Holland.  credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

CHARLES (Charlie) F. DAVEY (1886-1964)
Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer Team Manager
Vegetarian Cycle & Athletic Club/Addiscombe CC

It may have only been a coincidence that Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer announced at the end of September 1937, right at the time of Ferris's first record run that was disqualified for a R.R.A. rules violation, the appointment of Charlie Davey as the team manager effective in February 1938. From then on, the team would never fall afoul of rules or technicalities and be recognised as one of the best organised and managed in the sport. 

There was  no finer organizer, trainer or manager of competitive road cycling than "Mr. Davey" who managed F.W. Southall's record rides in 1935 and was latterly with Aberdale Cycles, Ltd., and brought with him the experience of an accomplished cyclist himself.

Charlie Davey, a cycling champion and Olympian in his own right in the Edwardian Era through into the 1920s. A advert, too, for his own racing bike "The Davey Speed Cycle" of c. 1926. credit: Feed Well-Speed Well 

Like Marshall, Davey was an icon of the VC&AC, just of an earlier generation, first joining the club in 1910 and quickly making his mark. That year he set a new club record for the '100' of 5.6.22. And like Marshall, Davey was an Olympian, representing Great Britain in the 1912 Stockholm Games, clocking 11.47.06 in a 200-mile time trial. After serving in the Royal Naval Air Service in the First World War, Davey returned to track and road cycling. All told, he broke seven R.R.A. records between 1914 and 1926 as well as the 24-hour tandem paced track record, and won open time trial events from 50 miles to 24 hours. Turning professional in 1923 for New Hudson Cycles and the following year for Armstrong Cycles, he competed for more R.R.A. records and set a new mark for Land's End to London of 17 hrs. 29 mins. In the late 1920s, Davey even designed and built his own line of racing bikes in Croydon. Aged 40, Davey returned to competitive cycling and bested the London to Portsmouth and back record by 12 minutes and set the London to Bath and back record at 11h 47m 52s.

Davey wrote numerous articles and treatises on cycle training, fitness and regimens and, as a confirmed vegetarian, uniquely appreciated the diet requirements of his fellow non meat eaters on the team. He was uniquely qualified in the intricate route planning that went into R.R.A. record breaking not to mention the personal experience to know when to retire an attempt when the weather, traffic or other conditions were not suitable. Davey's "finest hour" was, in fact, a great many of them, in succession, when he was personal manager for team member Tommy Godwin's world's mileage record for Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer from May 1939-May 1940.

Charlie Davey contributed this article to Cycling on 28 April 1937 on his training programme for Ferris and James. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

As manager, Davey had to co-ordinate and integrate the distinct training habits and routines of his three riders as described in the Nottingham Journal 19 April 1937:

Sid Ferris, Bert James of Nottingham, and Charles Holland, the three famous racing and record breaking cyclists, are already in training for their attacks on the R.R.A. records in the forthcoming season.

Actually James has been training since the beginning of the year, but Ferris and Holland have now also commenced their own particular routine in preparation for their first attempts.

The three champions have surprisingly varied ideas and methods of training. Ferris and James are both vegetarians, and as such train on a strictly meatless diet.

But whereas Ferris believes in various forms of exercise apart from cycling and is always wary of the danger of getting stale James believes in cycling, cycling and still cycling as the ideal training method. For him there is apparently no danger of getting bored or stale-- he is scarcely ever off the saddle. 

Holland, on the other hand, is not a vegetarian. He take a more or less normal diet while training. For exercise, like James, he sticks to cycling, but is like Ferris in guarding against over-training by not setting himself a too rigid discipline. 

SIDNEY (Sid)  HERBERT FERRIS (1908-1993)
Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club

It was no surprise when the first man recruited by Charles Marshall on 6 October 1936 to the Sturmey-Archer Team was his fellow club member, Sidney "Sid" Ferris. Ferris was then one of the top long distance time trialling men in Britain and a perfect choice to tackle the longer R.R.A. records recently won by Opperman.

It's worth noting that in those days revoking one's amateur status as a competitive cyclist and signing on as a professional was very much a "crossing the Rubicon" for, under the stringent rules then prevailing, once a professional, even accepting any endorsement or sponsorship from a commercial entity, it was almost impossible to revert to amateur status or compete in what was then an overwhelming amateur sport. So, the candidates that Marshall considered were all men at the peak of their amateur careers and around 30 years old, far older than today. For the sponsor, it meant tapping their talent in a few years and for the professional, it meant earning enough to make it worth the rest of their cycling career. 

Sid Ferris was born into a cycling family, his parents running a cycle business in Hounslow and his brother, Harry, was an accomplished cyclist in his own right and was with, as Sid, in the Vegetarian C&AC. He, too, ran his own bike shop, Ferris Cycles, in Hounslow, specialising in custom designed racing frames

Sid Ferris joined the VC&AC in the 1920s and proved one of the club's "cracks" especially on the longer time trials like the North Road 24 Hours which he won three times in succession in 1932, 1933 and 1934. In 1930 and 1932 Ferris was on the VC&AC team that won the British All Rounder competition and was ranked 11th in all British amateurs in 1933.

Ferris's successes are all the remarkable in that he had only one eye, losing his left eye in a childhood accident and his eye patch became an instant trademark on the time trial circuit. His stamina was his hallmark as was his prowess, despite his eyesight, in night riding. In Ferris was the "stayer" that formed the linchpin of Raleigh's record breaking efforts to come.

According to Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand (Hadland), the terms Raleigh gave Ferris included 1) a permanent job at Raleigh at £4.10.0 a week, regardless of records won, and increasing to £7 during road training for record attempts; 2) a £500 bonus for each of the End-to-End and 1,000-miles records if won; and 3) a bonus of £200 each for any other records of 200 miles or more. 

Ferris as portrayed in a series in Cycling "How Stars Train", 29 January 1939. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Cycling 6 October 1936 announcing the signing of Sid Ferris to a professional contract with Sturmey-Archer and initial plans to challenge Opperman's R.R.A. records won with Cyclo derailleurs with the new Sturmey-Archer AR hub. credit: V-CC on line archives

HERBERT (Bert) JAMES (b.1906)
Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club

A perfect compliment to "stayer" Sid Ferris, Herbert "Bert" James was the quintessential "speedman" who excelled at time trials no longer than 50 miles. Yet, his greatest victory for Raleigh Sturmey-Archer who signed him in mid October 1936, was breaking the record for the "100" and it remained unbroken for another 21 years. And ironically, James never broke the R.R.A. for the "50" which was his specialty as an amateur. 

Born in Llanbradach, Wales, James started cycle racing in 1926, clocking 1.16.25 for a "25". He joined the Newport and District Wheelers in 1927 and three years later the Oxford City Road Club. By the time he joined the ranks of the VC&AC in 1934, he was already one of Britain's best time trialists and only added to the laurels being heaped aplenty on the all conquering Vegetarians. That year he placed third in the British Best All Rounder classification, was 5th the following and missed being 1st by fraction in 1936 and beaten to it by future teammate Charles Holland.

The proverbial pocket rocket, James was but 5 ft. 6 ins. tall and weighed barely 9 stone 4 lbs.. He rode his 21" RRAs, usually painted in handsome light metallic blue with contrasting trim, "flat out" with his red-haired head dipping lower and lower over the 'bars as he got into his stride. Like Ken Joy after the war, his form and riding style was the acme of tester prowess and elegance. Cycling, in particular, was dead keen on action shots of James and there were no better images of interwar time trialing. So ferocious at the pedals, James would sometime break his toenails against the toe clips and Charlie Davey custom made special clips with bars at the front to prevent this.

Cycling contributed this excellent resume of Bert James at the time he signed with Raleigh Sturmey Archer in October 1936. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Two wonderful "action" shots by Cycling showing Bert James' characteristic riding style on one of his pale metallic blue Raleigh Record Aces. Riding for Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer, he is still wearing his Vegetarian C&CA jacket with its trademark white markings (designed to easily identify a club rider to his helpers/feeders along the route). credit: Cycling (courtesy Peter Jourdain)

Midland Cycling & Athletic Club

Charles Holland was the most versatile member of the team, one of the first British riders to prove himself in mass start racing, including being the first to compete in the Tour de France. His four brothers were all athletes and two were keen cyclists as was his father.  Holland competed in his first race in 1927 and had his first win in a 10-mile event the following year. He soon thrived in international cycle competition. In 1932, he was picked to be on the British Olympic cycling team. Holland placed 15th in the road race, the last to be run as a time trial, and the British team placed fourth overall, as well as the team pursuit track event, Britain placing 3rd. Riding on the British team at the 1934 World Championship road race in Leipzig, he placed fourth. Holland represented Great Britain in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the 100 km road race (the first in the Olympics run as a mass start race) and in the sprint finish, Holland finished 5th. That year, which Holland said was the peak of his career, he won the first massed start race in the British Isles, on the Isle of Man. He rode a Hercules with a Cyclo derailleur on this, averaging 22 mph on the 37-mile course.  Yet, he still excelled at the classic British time trial and capped 1936  by winning the British Best All-Rounder award based on the best speeds over 50-, 100-mile and 12-hour time trials. 

Bill Mills, editor of The Bicycle, described him as:
The best all-rounder, not in its narrow sense of best average in certain particular road events, but in its real sense of best at all types of cycling. Holland's record for the year includes successes at almost every possible type of racing: time trials, massed-starts, track racing, in fact the full programme in which every clubman likes to indulge. The specialist 'pot hunter' may confine himself to his little round of events at distances that he finds brings in the rewards, but the real clubman runs through the gamut of events, taking pleasure, if not prizes, in all and sundry. Of such a type is the dusky Midlander, taking all the sport can offer in his stride.

It was this true "all rounder" quality and international presence that made Holland one of the biggest names in British cycling and among the general public, outside of the narrow "clubman" fraternity. And, he had experience and results in the nascent mass start cycle racing that was beginning to grow in Britain even if still banned on open roads. Coming off his peak year and aged 30, Holland was ripe to become a professional and extremely attractive to sponsors due his national and international recognition. 

On 25 April 1937 Holland signed with Raleigh Cycle Co./Sturmey-Archer Gears as a professional to ride in the Six-Day Race at Wembley that May. Holland was, with Frank Southall, the best-known British road cyclist, and his joining the Sturmey-Archer squad was a huge coup for Charles Marshall.

As one of Britain's best known cyclists, Holland's signing with Raleigh as a professional in April 1937 was big news, further establishing the team as one of the real contenders on the road record circuit. 

Under the terms of the contract, Holland wouldn't start riding for the team until that autumn allowing him to ride in Coronation Six-Day Race at Wembley paired with the Belgian, Roger Deneef. It wasn't a good event for the Midlander who crashed several times and on the second day he crashed again, broke a collar bone and dropped out. Holland broke the same collar bone in June when he tripped on a rabbit hole and had to miss riding with Continental stars on the motor-racing circuit at Crystal Palace, south London. 

That same year he made history as the first Briton to compete in the Tour de France, although his injuries had curtailed his training for the race. Holland was part of three-man "British Empire" team of two Britons and a Canadian, and only Holland made it past Stage Two. With no support whatsoever, he had to abandon after stage 15 after he punctured, had no remaining spare tyres and his pump broke. It would be another 18 years before another Briton competed in the tour. 

But the French, as much as the English, loved an underdog and Holland's plucky performance and engaging character endeared him to the extent he was perhaps more remembered than the winner of that year's Tour. For a true athlete, however, it was a bitter disappointment being let down by a total lack of support, manager or even the basic parts. After the Tour, Holland was Britain's most famous cyclist and one who, after this experience, probably appreciated the superb organisation and support Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer offered. 

Charles Holland first "Rode a Raleigh" during the Coronation Six-Day Race at Wembley in May 1937, the track version of the Raleigh Record Ace. 

Charles Holland profiled in Cycling 29 January 1939. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Cycling, 26 January 1938: the Raleigh Team at the Addiscombe C.C. dinner, hosted by Charlie Davey who was co-founder of the club in 1924. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

THOMAS (Tommy) EDWARD GODWIN (1912-1975)
Potteries CC & Vegetarian C&AC & Rickmansworth CC

The fact that he was a crack British cyclist and a vegetarian perhaps made it inevitable that Tommy Godwin found himself on the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer team, its last new member and the youngest, too. But it was, in fact, a chance of opportunity, fate and a little luck that landed him. But in the end, it was, fittingly enough, largely because of a Sturmey-Archer hub.

Few get to place bets on a horse half-way through a race and few have paid off the way Godwin did for Raleigh, only to have most of the real promotional advantage soon lost and forgotten in the middle of a world war. Fortunately, Godwin's achievements have enjoyed a new discovery and appreciation today. For a team all about records and record breaking, his was the singular one for Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer or for any team for it remains, 77 years on, unbroken. His sponsors have sadly left Britain, but Godwin's all-time mileage record remains enshrined in the annals of national cycle sport achievement.

Godwin was born in 1912 in Stoke-on-Trent and aged 14, using his heavy delivery bike, less the front basket, from his first job for a local grocer, won his first cycling time trial, a "25" in 65 mins. In 1926 he joined the Potteries Cycling Club and continued to pile up wins on the time trial circuit including four "25s" done in under 1 hour 2 mins and clocking 236 miles for a 12-hour run. His average speed of 21.255 mph earned him a very respectable 7th place in the 1933 British All Rounder standings. 

In 1911, Cycling began a competition for most 100-mile rides in a single year. The winner was Marcel Planes with 332 centuries in which he covered 34,366 miles. Like the R.R.A. records, this contest appealed to cycle companies eager to prove the mettle of the machine used as much as the man and reached a high level of competitiveness, again like the R.R.A. records, in the mid to late 1930s. The record was won nine times up to 1939. And like so many cycling records, it was presently held by an Australian, Ossie Nicholson, with 62,658 miles ridden in 1937. 

So it was that Tommy Godwin and A.T. Ley, owner of a small cycle shop in Middlesex, conspired to be among the three entrants for the record in 1939. In October, Godwin took the major step of becoming a professional whilst Ley laid plans for new racing machines built around the Godwin attempt as well as making the "T.G. Special" that he would ride.  It was, from the onset, a curious partnership in that Ley was a very small local concern rather the one of the big national cycle companies that normally sponsored these record efforts including for 1939, New Hudson backing Bernard Bennett from their home town of Birmingham. 

Godwin started his run for the record on New Year's Day 1939 outside Ley Cycles in Northwood Hills, Middlesex before a crowd of some 200 cycling enthusiasts, record breaking cyclist Billie Dovey and Capt. George Eyston, holder of the world's land speed record. Godwin was after miles, not speed, but the going was hard as that winter was especially harsh and January and February disappointing mileage-wise. 

Then came new opportunity in terms of contacts from Sturmey-Archer, a new hub gear and a renewed chance to renew his efforts with the coming of spring and fresh prospects. Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer was about to acquire its latest and great recordbreaker of them all. 

Godwin's run for the world's mileage record attracted scant press coverage at the onset and the most detailed report (left) came from Australia, The Worker, Brisbane, 10 January 1939.


This is the hub [Sturmey-Archer AR ] that helped me break the Edinburgh-to-London, Land’s End to John O’Groats, and 1,000 miles records. It’s exactly what we racing men have always been looking for—a totally enclosed HUB gear with a really close ratio. I’ll never ride without it. 
S.H. (Sid) Ferris

There would have been no Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer team and no frenzy of British road record breaking in the later half of the 1930s were it not for a machine. And not the bicycle, but rather the gears that both propelled it and the marketing and promotion that inspired the creation of the first Raleigh racing team. It "wasn't about the bike", but rather all about-- the hub gear. And a see-saw battle between it and the derailleur played out on the roads of Britain right up to the war, and in one case, nine months into it. 

The most important event in the history of the Raleigh Cycle Co., other than its founding, was its fostering development of the multi-speed hub bicycle gear by Henry Sturmey and James Archer in 1902 and setting up a wholly owned subsidiary, Sturmey-Archer Gear Co., to manufacture it. The first Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub proved more than "the most important novelty of 1903" for it not only continued Raleigh's tradition of innovation and domination in the cycle trade, but wedded the fortunes of the company with the hub gear for the next 65 years. That entwining both made and ultimately hindered Raleigh as its dependence on the hub gear hindered rather than helped it in the 1960s-70s when the derailleur gear reigned supreme.

The original hub gears were wide-ratio three-speed ones, ideal for the general use machines at the heart of the Raleigh line-up. But, with the tremendous growth of "club" and competitive road sport in Britain after The War, Raleigh, too, began to cater to this market with the North Road Racer (1925), Club Raleigh (1927) and Record (1930). They were selling the club machines, but not the Sturmey-Archer hubs to go with them. 

Competitive road cycling in Britain, dominated by the individual time trial when mass start road racing was banned on British roads, was not yet torn between the hub gear or derailleur gear. Indeed, the "clubman" disdained gears of any sort, preferring the classic fixed-gear with two-sided rear hub with two different sized cogs so that the wheel could be "flipped" when a gear change was needed. The size of the cogs were usually very close to each other i.e. 14t and 16t and suited the fixed wheel cycling style of an even pedal stroke and cadence that time trialing was all about. And for which the existing wide-ratio hub gears and early derailleurs were unsuited.

Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer had successfully promoted their products with the End-to-End records in July 1908 by Harry Green (top) and Jack Rossiter in August 1927. But both used conventional three-speed wide-ratios hubs and the "clubman" still stuck to his traditional fixed gear. 

Nothing sold racing bicycles better than their association with competitive cycle sport which, in Britain at the time, was time trialling and competing for the R.R.A. (Road Record Association) point-to-point, mileage and distance individual records. Cycle companies would sponsor riders to "have a go" at the classic runs like London-Edinburgh, the 24-hour, 1000-mile and especially Land's End-John O'Groats. So, as Harry Green did for Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer back in 1908, so did Jack Rossiter in 1927 to inaugurate a remarkable decade of record-breaking runs to popularise both the cycle and the hub gear.

Concurrent with the new Raleigh Record model in 1930, Sturmey-Archer sought to tap into the growing cycle sport market with a new range of closer ratio hubs.  Rossiter had used a wide ratio K hub on his record, ride, but what was really needed for time trialling was a closer ratio unit. Charles Marshall (Vegetarian C&AC)  undertook his own tweaking of the existing K unit to achieve closer ratios starting in 1930. One of these hubs was used in his record breaking London-Bath-London ride 8 July 1931 and development was continued by Sturmey-Archer engineers.

In 1932, the two new racing/club hubs, the close ratio KS (12.5% reduction/11.1% increase) and the medium ratio KSW (16.6% reduction/14.3% increase) were introduced. With racing in mind, every effort was made to reduce weight and they were the first S/A hubs with easier to change sprockets, wingnuts for easy wheel changes without disturbing the cone adjustments. These represented the most that could be accomplished with the original single stage epicyclic hub design.


The speed man is exceptionally well served with this close-ratio three-speed gear, for one secret of sustained fast riding is a reasonably uniform pedalling rate so that muscles moving in rhythm are not suddenly jerked to another output rate. This is generally, the aim of all gearing on a bicycle. When the going is hard, due to gradient or wind, the riding pace is slowed, but the pedalling is maintained by dropping to a lower gear, whereas when the conditions are easy (say, along a level road with the wind behind) the cycling speed is increased as the top gear is snicked with the feet still rotating at approximately a normal gait.

Under the leadership of William Brown, who took over Sturmey-Archer's development and design department in 1935, and in cooperation with Charlie Marshall, new racing specific hubs were developed, the first of which was the AR Ultra Close Ratio.

First marketed in November 1936, it offered what had long been sought by time-trialists and long distance racers, an ultra close ratio gear (7.24% increase/6.76% decrease) equal to adding or subtracting one-tooth from the sprocket and allowing a uniform pedalling rate against wind or gradient. Sprockets were available from 14 to 20 teeth. The AR hub weighed 2 lbs. 9 oz. and the net weight was offset by the deletion of the conventional rear hub and cogs.

As reviewed in Cycling 22 September 1937, "Nimrod" wrote: "For road racing, record breaking and club riding the AR close-ratio three-speed sports hub is certainly everything to be desired for sweet running, weather-proof and trouble-free qualities, and I have nothing but praise for its excellent conditions of racing in all weathers."

Another innovation (patented on 10 July 1937 by William Brown and Charles Marshall) was the new trigger gear changer which fitted just below the brake lever permitted simultaneous two finger control of both. This was followed in early 1938 by a quick-release for the control cable that facilitated removing the wheel/hub without disturbing the gear control adjustment. credit: 


Introduced in late 1937, the AM was a medium ratio hub for general club riding and massed start racing, then just coming into the fore in Britain. The top-gear was a 15.55% increase over normal and the bottom was 13.46% reduction or equal to a two-tooth differential in the hub sprocket compared to the one-tooth difference of the AR. It was an extraordinarily useful range and the AM is still regarded as perhaps the best overall racing/club hub Sturmey-Archer made. Indeed, except for 1942-47, it was in continual production until 1958. This was sold from the onset with the trigger shifter and quick release cable fitting as standard.


Announced in March 1939 and available the following month, the AF was groundbreaking for Sturmey-Archer being its first four-speed hub. Designed for time trialling and "fast work", it was in terms of ratios, the AR hub with an added bottom gear representing a 23% reduction from normal. Finally, the clubman had a hub gear to tackle hilly routes and headwinds and one that actually weighed a few ounces less than the AR.

Credit: Sturmey-Archer


Announced in November 1939, this was the only new hub Sturmey-Archer introduced during the war, but its production was so curtailed by the switch to wartime munition work, that very few were made. It is certainly one of the rarer hubs today but of course was widely popular in slightly updated form after the war. First gear (the lowest) offered a substantial 33½% decrease from normal low gear, 2nd was 14½% lower, 3rd was direct drive and 4th (the highest) was a 12½% increase over normal.

Cycling,  8 November 1939


Here, indeed, it "wasn't about the bike" and the team was all about proving and promoting the Sturmey-Archer hub gears. The riders even signed with Sturmey-Archer Gears Ltd. not Raleigh Cycle Co. The advertising, too, throughout 1936 and 1937 was entirely by and for Sturmey-Archer with scant mention of the bicycle except perhaps a vague reference to "riding a Raleigh". 

This subordination of corporate parent to offspring reflected an appreciation that the potential market for the hubs was greater than a specific bicycle brand or model, especially among clubmen who preferred smaller bespoke brands and would most likely be refitting their existing machines with the new hub gears. Indeed, Raleigh's own top racing/club machine, the Raleigh Record Ace, was sold with fixed/free gears as standard and Sturmey-Archer hub gears were an extra cost option. 

It wasn't until 1938 that Raleigh began to run its own parallel promotion of its bicycles in connection with the team's records and before the year was out, had developed a new bicycle for mass start racing named after Charles Holland which had as standard fit, the Sturmey-Archer AM hub. 

Even so, all of these records were indeed won on Raleigh bicycles and "real" ones, too-- off the shelf bog standard Raleigh Record Aces and Charles Holland Continentals.

1936-40 team racing bicycle

For the real enthusiast there is but one mount-- the Raleigh Record Ace. Light, fast, strong, and as the specification reveals, lavishly equipped, it is the perfect example of what a racing machine should be. In it, Raleigh design and craftsmanship reach their finest expression.
Raleigh catalogue, 1937 

The Raleigh Record Ace as portrayed in the 1936 catalogue. credit:

Not entirely by coincidence, the Raleigh Record Ace or RRA had the same initials as the Road Record Association, the governing body of British cycle time trial and long distance road records. The name association between the two RRAs took on more meaning when the Raleigh machine, the top of the range, was the obvious mount for the new team.

The Raleigh Record Ace was introduced in late 1933 for the 1934 model year and was essentially the former Record model with the rear triangle and fork blades made of HM Steel (the forerunner to Reynolds 531) instead of Molybdenum steel which was still used in the main frame triangle. In 1936 the angles were changed from 67°/67° parallel to 71°/71° parallel and the following the year the front forks were chrome-plated and the cranks fluted.  

There were very few alterations made to the RRA for team use other than colours. Saddle and 'bar choice was to individual preference. When announcing Ferris's signing with Sturmey Archer in October 1936, Cycling added that "he has already accepted delivery of his new Raleigh Record Ace models. They have 21-in. frames and are finished in flamboyant green with chromium-plated forks. The specification includes Brooks B17 Flyer saddle, 15-in by 4-in Marsh bars; and 26-in by 1⅛-in Conloy rims with Dunlop no. 3 tubulars...."  The Conloy sprint rims were already an option for the general market machines. All of the team usually rode machines with sprint rims and tubular tyres with the exception of Tommy Godwin who rode the standard wheelset with Dunlop Sprite wire-on tyres.

Ferris was quoted as riding a 21" frame, James appears to be riding a 20", Holland rode a 22" and Godwin a 21".

There appears to have been no team livery and the machines were painted to rider preference with Bert James most photographed riding what looks like a pale metallic blue with darker blue seat tube/down tube/head panels and Ferris on his green RRAs. Holland rode what looks like a conventional black RRA and Godwin rode one of these in addition to a white or ivory-coloured one.

With an AR hub, such a machine weighed just shy of 24 lbs.  and that was pretty much typical for the era.

From Cycling, 29 December 1937: (5) Bert James on his RRA showing what appears to be Shallow Highgate 'bars and his small frame size and (6) Sid Ferris on his 21" RRA showing his characteristic very highly raised seatpost, Marsh bend 'bars, top-tube control for the S.A. gears and the radial front wheel spoking which was standard for the RRA. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

The RRA was a reasonably light, strongly built and responsive machine for its era and ideal for time trialling and fast road work. By 1940, however, it had been overtaken by lighter machines with all Reynolds 531 frames and were it not for the war, it, too, would have been upgraded to all Reynolds 531 frameset before much longer.

Full details on the Raleigh Record Ace can be found here:

1938-40 used by Charles Holland

I was delighted to have the opportunity of an entirely free hand in the designing of this new Raleigh model which bears my name. It incorporates all the points that experience on the road has taught me are essential for the Clubman's 'perfect' mount, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to my fellow riders.
Charles Holland, Raleigh-Sturmey Archer Professional Rider.

Raleigh leaflet on the new Charles Holland Continental dating from the 1939 national Cycle Show, Earl's Court, September 1938.

Few cyclists have won road records or races on a bicycle bearing their own name, and to Charles Holland's other accomplishments was added this extra laurel when, in late 1938, Raleigh introduced its first bicycle built especially for mass start racing, the Charles Holland Continental.

A variation on the RRA and employing the same mix of Molybdenum tubing in the main triangle and HM tubing in the rear triangle and fork blades, it featured more upright 71° seat/73° head angles and a Russ pattern front fork, Pelissier bend 'bars on a 3" extension and came with a Sturmey-Archer AM hub gear as standard. Like the RRA, it could be run with the stock 26" x 1¼" wire-on Endrick rims or 27" (as 700 wheels were called then) sprint rims with tubular tyres. Holland used the later on all his records. The livery a medium blue lustre.

Holland won his final two records on the machine and for the first time, Raleigh promoted the bicycle as much as they did the hub gear. The "CHC" had every promise of being a most successful part of the expanded Raleigh sports/racing range, but like so much the war curtailed it all. It did, however, form the basis for the post-was Raleigh Record Ace.

Charles Holland poses on his Raleigh Charles Holland Continental. 

Full details on the Raleigh Charles Holland Continental can be found here


14 October 1936 
London-Edinburgh (disallowed)
S.H. (Sid) Ferris
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AR hub

The first effort by Sturmey-Archer to crack an R.R.A. record was an exercise in great effort and greater futility, coming up against both wind and rule technicalities.

Sid Ferris decided to ambitiously attack two records simultaneously: London-Edinburgh (386 miles) which was presently held by E.H. Brown (1931) and the 24-hour record held by Hubert Opperman. It was also decided to tack on the extra time/mileage of the '24' at the beginning of the run so that Ferris commenced his ride 68 miles from Edinburgh at Glenogle Halt Gate.

Setting off on 14 October 1936, Ferris contended with the late season conditions including the shortening daylight with 13 hours of the ride having to be accomplished in darkness. Worse, the weather proved unkind that day with cross and head winds and rain for much of it. In the end, Ferris failed to break the 24-hour record (440 miles vs. 461¾ but had thought his 21-hour 28-minute time had clinched the Edinburgh-London one, averaging some 18 mph for the journey.

This splendid photograph of Ferris taking a drink from a helper during his Edinburgh-London effort was used on the cover of the Sturmey-Archer brochure for the AR hub. credit: Sturmey Archer Heritage website. 

from Cycling 21 October 1936:

Making his first professional attempt on record on behalf of Sturmey-Archer Gears, Ltd., S.H. Ferris, the well-known Vegetarian, rode from Edinburgh to London in 21 hrs. 28 mins, beating the previous time put up by E.B. Brown, Wessex R.C., in 1931, by 21 mins.

The ride started at Glenogle Halt Gate, 68½ miles north-west of the Scottish capital, for Ferris had planned to attack Opperman's 24-hour record of 461¾ miles as well, and preferred to do the majority of the extra miles at the commencement. But the promised north-west wind failed to mature and, indeed, when air movement became noticeable in the last 100 miles of so of the journey to London it was a southerly rather than a northerly quarter and, in consequence, hindered instead of helped.

In the 24 hours Ferris covered 439.6 miles and when he reached London he had done 455.1 miles in 25 hrs. 56 mins. His starting time from Glenogle was 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning [14 October] of last week, and he left Edinburgh at 8.28 a.m., 13 mins. behind schedule. This 3 hrs. 28 mins. must, of course, be deducted from his total riding time to ascertain the new Edinburgh-London record figures.

No Wind.

The excellence of Ferris's ride is only emphasized by the lack of favourable breezes. It must be noted, too, that of the 25 hours awheel Ferris had to ride through 13 hours of darkness. Furthermore, from Thorne (8.7 p.m.) to London (5.56 a.m. Wednesday), a distance of 169 miles, his only eye troubled him seriously and it was afterwards found to contain grit.

He had only six stops throughout the whole ride, losing directly thereby 18 minutes. At Edinburgh he had to wait two minutes for Mr. W.S. Tait, the timekeeper, to come up and restart him at the exact minute. The level-crossing gates were against him at Snaith, where he had to wheel his machine through the small gates. At Thorne he stopped three minutes for a feed and a Grantham he changed machines to a lower series of gears. There was another feed (6 mins.) at Girtford, and he experienced his only puncture at Finchley, almost at the end of his task.

Some of the more notable times and distances are as follow:-- 50 miles, 2 hrs. 28 mins.; 100 miles, 5 hrs. 6 mins; 200 miles, 10 hrs. 25 mins.; 12 hours, 230 miles; 300 miles, 15 hours 50 mins.; 400 miles, 21 hrs. 30 mins.; 24 hours, 439.6 miles. 

Ferris had scheduled to cover 463 miles in 24 hours to beat record by 1¼ miles) and had he maintained this pace he would have done 20 hrs. 9 mins. for the Edinburgh-London trip.

Here are some intermediate times of interest:-- Coldstream (116 miles), 5.52 (9 mins behind schedule); Newcastle (176) 9.6 (12 mins. behind); Darlington (209), 10.55 (17 mins behind); York 257½ miles), 13.28 (23 mins. behind); Grantham (343¾ miles), 18.16 (48 mins. behind); Girtford (406¾ miles), 22.2 (1 hr. 13 mins. behind).

These times reckoned from Edinburgh instead of Glenogle read as follows:-- Coldstream (47½ miles), 2.24; Newcastle (108½ miles), 5.38; Darlington (140½ miles), 7.27; York (189 miles), 10 hrs; Grantham (275¼ miles), 14.48; Girtford (338¼ miles), 18.34. Twelve hours after leaving Edinburgh Ferris had covered 224 miles miles from that city, but, of course, he had done an additional 68½ miles and been riding for 3 hrs. 28 mins prior to his arrival at Edinburgh.

The only section of the whole ride done at 'evens' was the first three hours, which did not count within the record claimed. He then did three hours at 19s,; 8 at 18½; 4 at 18; 3 at 17½; 2 at 16 (including the Girtford stop), and finished at 17s. 

He was riding a Raleigh R.R.A. model equipped with the new racing close-ratio Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub. Up to Grantham his gears were 74.3, 79.7 and 85.5. There he changed to another machine with 72.7, 78 and 83.7.

“The splendid performance of S.H. Ferris, latest recruit to the ranks of Nottingham’s ‘star’ cyclists, in beating (subject to EEA confirmation) in the early hours of this morning the national Edinburgh-London record for unpaced road riding is expected to bring a new phase of prosperity to the works of Messrs. Sturmey-Archer Gears Ltd.. Ferris, who is riding professionally for this Nottingham concern, is expected to attach further records next year. His object is to emphasise the greater efficiency of the product of the British gear industry against many foreign types of chain gears which have invaded the country in recent years” Nottingham Post, 14 October 1936

Press cuttings prematurely heralding Ferris's breaking the Edinburgh-London record. 

But alas, it was not to be for in December, the R.R.A. rejected Ferris' claim to the record owing to a technicality: his leading support car "failed to maintain the stipulated distance of 100 yds." (a rule designed to prevent pacing) over a substantial portion of the ride. This was appealed and the rules later changed, but the record books remained unaltered and the following June Ferris officially broke the Edinburgh-London run and by a greater margin.

credit: Feed Well- Speed Well, Oxbow

25 May 1937 
H. (Bert) James 
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AR hub

The first R.R.A. record to be broken by the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer team, London-Portsmouth round trip, was by Bert James on 25 May 1937 with a time of 6 hours 33 minutes 57 seconds. James had beaten Australian F. Stuart's previous record, held for two years, by a scant 10 seconds, the narrowest margin of victory for an R.R.A. record to date.

"It was a magnificent effort," said manager Charlie Davey, "Then, when over fifty miles from home on the return journey, James had a puncture. This was followed seven minutes later by another. Then he actually had to slow up for a few seconds, owing to traffic. In the following car we had almost given it up for hopeless, but in the last two hours we saw the most tremendous fighting effort any of us have ever seen, and James pulled up across the line with seconds in hand. At the end of the trip James looked surprisingly fresh, and the first thing he did was to send a telegram to his wife." 

from Cycling 2 June 1937

The Story of a Magnificent Fight Against Wind and Punctures

Although delayed more than three minutes through two punctures, H. James, the plucky little Welsh professional, broke his first national bicycle record early on Tuesday [25 May] of last week when he rode from London to Portsmouth and back in 6 hrs. 33 mins. 57 secs.-- 10 secs better than the previous record put up by W.F. Stuart, of Australia, in 1935. This is narrowest margin by which any national has ever been beaten of the whole 50 years of the Roads Record Association, yet this in no reflects upon the greatness of James's ride, for Stuart's effort was a sterling record (beating as it did F.W. Southall's record by 15 minutes); rather does it add further glory to the epic account of one of the finest and pluckiest performances ever listed upon the books of the association.

Herbert James has been dogged with ill-luck ever since he turned professional in October of last year, and this was his second attempt upon Stuart's figures. The ride was timed and observed practically throughout by Mr. R.W. Best, the famous R.R.A. timekeeper, who has timed more road records than any other man living, and when Mr. Best gave him the signal to go at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, the morning was warm and cloudy, the prospects being of a faint wind would spring up later to assist him from Portsmouth. As is often the case the weather prophecy was inaccurate. The journey from the start at the 14th milestone, to Hyde Park Corner (where he turned after 33½ mins.-- half a minute slower than schedule) was almost in a dead calm, but soon after he had repassed the starting point, heading towards the sea, a strong cross breeze sprang up, sending the clouds scudding across the sky, and causing James's advisers some apprehension.

James, however, using his gears of 74-79-84, continued to ride strongly and, after covering 22 miles in the first hour, reached Guildford (38⅓ miles) four minutes outside a schedule planned to beat record by five minutes. Two heavy showers of rain had not perturbed him, and although it as still raining as sped down Guildford's steep and famous, but now deserted, High Street, the big yellow moon was peeping bravely through the heavy clouds.

Dawn came as James began the ascent of Hindhead. Up he climbed at a steady 18 miles and hour, the win, now nearly due south, blowing stronger. Half a mile below the top of this famous beauty spot James had covered the first 50 miles in 2 hrs. 24 mins (the first 25 miles in 1 hr. 9 mins.), but he had little time to admire the fine view of Surrey scenery spread below, nor the beauty of the shining moon hanging in a pale bluish sky of early morning, and down the other side he pedalled at brisk speed until a puncture in the back tyre caused his first dismount.

Quickly another machine was unstrapped from the following car and, delayed by a minute and a half, James rode hurriedly on his way again. Seven minutes later he punctured again-- in the back tyre. This time no machine was readily available, the official car having been slightly delayed, and impatiently James had to wait more than two minutes before the car screeched up with another bicycle, Yet, notwithstanding the delays, James reached Petersfield only three minutes outside schedule, having covered nearly 63 miles in the three hours. 

There was still no sign of the wind veering round to south-west as required for the return journey from Portsmouth when James negotiated the early traffic, with a longer route than usual owing to market day regulations, to the Post Office in the famous seaport; but the plucky Vegetarian kept plugging away hopefully.

He turned at Portsmouth two and half minutes behind schedule, having covered the 80¼ miles in 3 hrs. 52½ mins, with the wind on the his side and the strong sun dazzling in his eyes, yet he rode determined to get the record, and by the time he reached Petersfield, having climbed Butser at a steady 13 miles an hour, he had reduced his arrears on schedule to within a minute and a half. He had covered 100 miles in 4 hrs. 48 mins. Then his bad time set in. The next 19 miles up to the top of Hinehead were miles of suffering, and when he reached the summit he had fallen three and a half minutes behind, and the prospects of the record were beginning to fade. But the Welshman was not done yet. He had 27½ miles to go and 72 minutes in which to do it to beat record by seven seconds-- and James gripped firmly his handlebars and trod hard on the pedals. An hour from the end 22 miles still remained to be ridden-- the same number of the miles he had ridden in the first hour-- and now he was tired after more than 115 hard miles.

At Guildford (122 miles) he was exactly five minutes behind schedule, running almost dead level with the record, but the wind was still sweeping across the road, and it looked as though James, in view of the weather, was not to gain the coveted honour, but he still struggled gamely, faced with the prospect of having to cover the last five miles in 13½ minutes. The traffic by now was beginning to hinder him, and although he swept through Esher pedalling franactically at 28 miles an hour, cars and lorries were causing concern to his followers. Yet he just did it. Ten seconds before the time was up James sped past the little group that waited anxiously at the milestone-- and one of the first to congratulate him was a sporting policeman. Well done, James, a plucky ride! This was the first record beaten by a professional since Stuart and Milliken, of Australia, best the York to Edinburgh and "12" tandem records in 1935.

James was handed a drink of Emprote, or orange juice and honey, or grape juice and honey, or lemon juice and honey every 12 miles. The whole arrangements for the record were in the hands of James's manager, Mr. C.F. Davey, who held the record himself 11 years previously. James rode a bicycle equipped with a Sturmey-Archer three-speed gear. 

Bert James at the end of his first record with his wife and left, Charlie Davey, and right, Sid Ferris. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

All about the hub... the first Sturmey-Archer advert to herald a record run makes nary a mention of Raleigh. All of the promotion around the team c. 1937-38 was centred on the gears. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

3 June 1937 
S.H. (Sid) Ferris
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AR hub

A man not to be denied, at least a second time, Ferris's second effort at the Edinburgh-London record on 3 June 1937 was as much a success as the first in October 1936 had been a disappointment. With no attempt to also challenge the 24-hour record this time, Ferris rode the 378-mile course from the Scottish Capital to the British one in 20 hours 19 minutes,  besting the previous record by E.B, Brown which had stood for six years by 1½ hours despite headwinds in Northumberland and Yorkshire.

from Cycling 9 June 1937

The Sturmey-Archer Professional Put Up Such an Apparently Effortless Performance that This Great Ride was almost Without Incident

S.H. Ferris, the well-know long distance Vegetarian rider, who last year turned professional and joined the Sturmey-Archer organization, set up a new record on Wednesday-Thursday last [3 June] when he rode from Edinburgh to London, a distance of 379 miles, in 20 hrs. 19 mins. It was really a splendid performance, beating the previous record (put up by E.B. Brown, of the Wessex R.C. in 1931, who clocked 21 hrs. 49 mins) by no less than 1 hr. 30 mins. 

Ferris averaged nearly 18¾ miles an hour all the way, despite the fact that the wind, generally favourable from a northerly quarter, became erratic over the south Yorkshire area, and for a time actually opposed the rider.

He rode consistently throughout the trip with an ease that made the long trial appear almost effortless, and resulted in a performance that was virtually devoid of incident. Ferris schedule for the Edinburgh-London ride as 'training spin' for his attempt upon the 866-mile record from Land's End to John o'Groats which he is planning to make later this season. (The record is at present held by the famous Australian, Hubert Opperman, whose End-to-End times, set up in 1934, is 57 hrs. 1 min.)

When the Vegetarian dismounted at the G.P.O. London, 25 secs. before 3.19 a.m. last Thursday, he certainly looked fit enough for a further and longer session, such as will be demanded of him when tackles the journey from Cornwall to Caithness. He only regret was that he had not 'pipped' the tandem figures for the Edinburgh-London ride, which are only 1 min. faster than Ferris' time, and were recorded at 20 hrs 18 mins by A.R. Smith and F.E. Maston (North Road C.C.) early last year.

Ferris's machine was equipped with the new Sturmey-Archer A.R. ultra-close-ratio three-speed hub, providing him with gears of 74.3, 79.7 and 85.5. ins. He rode one machine throughout and had no mechanical or tyre trouble whatever.

It will be recalled that in October last Ferris did the same journey in 21 hrs. 28 mins, beating the record by 21 mins, but the R.R.A. rejected the claim, it having been proved 'that over a considerable portion of the course the following car failed to maintain the stipulated distance of 100 yds.' It was nevertheless, a sterling performance in adverse weather conditions. Owing to the lateness in the season, furthermore, Ferris had to contend with 13 hrs. of darkness and his eye troubled his seriously over the last 170 miles of the trip. This latest achievement, faster than the former by 1 hr. 9 mins, gives a truer measure of the stayer's ability.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain
The Schedule.

The schedule prepared for Ferris was an interesting one. He started at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and down to arrive in London at 3 a.m. on the Thursday, which made an elapsed time of 20 hours, average speed for the 379 miles of 19 m.p.h. As has already been stated, he was timed in at 3.19 a.m., 19 mins behind his schedule. The intermediate times, however, were notable in that the rider was called upon to do 21 m.p.h. for the first 202 miles (to Ferrybridge) and then 17 m.p.h. over the remaining 177 miles. By the time he reached Ferrybridge he was 43 mins. behind schedule, and anyone without the 'key' to the time-table might gained the impression that Ferris was going to beat the record by no more than an hour. But from that point he steadily raced his schedule and, regaining what were seemingly lost minutes, due the fast timing for the early stages, he finished only 19 mins down on his timetable, but, of course, 1½ hours better than the previous record. Ferris's averaged for the two sections of the journey were: -- Edinburgh to Ferrybridge 19.6 m.p.h. and Ferrybridge to London 17.7 m.p.h.

Wonderful action shot of Ferris "at speed" showing his characteristic high seat post and shallow drop Marsh bend 'bars. No mudguards except for the front spear point extension. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

The rider stopped four times on the way. His first was at Aycliffe (132 miles), where a sit-down meal occupied 8 mins. Between Newark and Grantham he had two halts, one of a minute, where he sat across his machine to take a drink, and an arranged stop of 5 mins. for massage, wash and food. He was off the machine again at Girtford for 2½ mins., where he washed and ate.

He reached the exact half-way point, 189½ miles, in 9 hrs. 38 mins, and took 10 hrs. 41 mins for the second half of the journey. His first '100' was covered in 4.48½ and his final century in 5.29

Sid Ferris in front of the G.P.O. in London at 3.20 a.m. after his record breaking ride from Edinburgh. Note the team car in the background with the spare Raleigh Record Ace on the back. In the event, Ferris rode the same machine for the entire journey with nary a puncture or mechanical issue. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Cycling, 14 July 1937

17-19 July 1937 
Land's End-John O'Groats
S.H. (Sid) Ferris
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AR hub

Indicative of anticipation and appreciation for his own abilities and ambitions, Ferris' Edinburgh-London record was considered a mere "training ride" preparatory for tackling what had always been the biggest prize in British long distance time trialling-- Land's End to John o'Croats-- 860 miles from the western limits of England to the far north of Scotland. It was the British Tour de France in cycling endeavour and publicity. And for Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer, it held special meaning given that its present involvement in road cycle sport dated from Jack Rossiter breaking the record for the ride in August 1929 on a Raleigh Club with a Sturmey-Archer K three-speed hub gear, 21 years after Harry Green did so also on a Raleigh with a Sturmey-Archer hub gear. Now, in 1937, fittingly Raleigh's 50th anniversary, it was time again to prove the supremacy of Raleigh, Sturmey-Archer and the mettle of its new professional racing team.

No less importantly, the present Land's End-John o'Groats record was held by Hubert Opperman, the great Australian champion. An English road record held by an Australian was sufficient to stimulate the sports rivalry already existing between the two countries, but Opperman was riding for Raleigh's rival, BSA, and used Sturmey-Archer's great competitor, a Cyclo derailleur.  

It was always to fall to Sid Ferris to undertake the ride, even if its distance and duration was far in excess of his previous records as Bert James was the more traditional "50-100" time trial man.

In an article in Cycling, 19 January 1938, Ferris described the arduous and extensive training and preparation for the epic ride:

Before I started from Land's End on what proved to be the record ride in the middle of July last year, I had nearly 4,000 miles of riding in my legs. This total included two 50-mile time trials on the Bath Road with Bert James in the early April, London to Land's End, and Land's End to Carlisle, occupying about five days. Here my training ride over the actual ride was halted, as my manager, Charlie Davey, with whom I was in daily touch, asked me to make for Edinburgh, from which the northern capital the following morning out on my successful record ride to London. Almost immediately after this 'speed test', I turned my wheels northward again, and going via Edinburgh to Carlisle continued on the End-to-End route to John o'Groats, this Scottish section of the ride occupying three days. 

Throughout the journey from Land's End to Carlisle, and then later from Carlisle to John o'Groats, my machine was fitted with a revolution counter previously calibrated, and I noted down the intermediate distances between all the principal places en route. My manager and I had, of course, surveyed the course by car earlier in the season. When one notes what Menzies and the other year's record riders are doing daily I find it remarkable to compare my own daily trips of 150 to 170 miles undertaken on about 10 days only during this training period. For the rest of the time, including the fortnight at Land's End before the actual start, I did 30 miles day.

Incidentally, readers may be interested to know that I trained on the same gears as for the record itself, my Sturmey-Archer A.R. hub having a normal of 78 inches. 

This classic and widely republished photo (including as a Churchman's cigarette card) of Ferris being sent off on his epic ride by his brother Harry was actually taken on 14 July during his weather aborted first effort which ended at Blackwater owing to high winds. credit: Cycling, courtesy of Peter Jourdain.

Leaving Land's End at 10.00 am on the 17 July 1937, Ferris reached Bodmin on schedule at 12.50 pm but was an hour down by the time Bristol was reached and no time made up by Lancaster after 403 miles. After Carlisle (470 miles), he was still 80 minutes down, but it was very fast running after that and upon reaching Inverness (728), Ferris was 30 minutes back and rode the remaining 142 miles to John O'Groats in 9 hours 33 minutes to reach there 57 minutes ahead of schedule. His total time for the 860 miles was 2 days 6 hours 33 minutes averaging 16 mph, beating Opperman’s time by 2 hours 28 minutes and standing for 21 years.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

from Cycling 21 July 1937:

In a great ride, the merit of which is amply proved by the lack of incident, S.H. Ferris, the Vegetarian professional, riding machines equipped with Sturmey-Archer close-ratio hub gears, copleted, over the week-end, the 870-mile journey from Land's End to John o'Groats in 2 days 6 hrs. 33 mins., beating the previous record set-up by Hubert Opperman, the Australian, in 1934, by 2 hrs. 28 mins. Ferris had no mechanical troubles and suffered only one puncture.

As for the man himself, this ride of twice the distance of his known staying capabilities stamps him as distance rider of world fame. Through the journey he rode strongly without any signs of distress. All but one stop were of duration for sitting -down feed, the exception being a halt of 37 mins.  Near Blair Atholl where had actually scheduled to stop for an hour.

Ferris started at 10 o'clock on Saturday morning last and reached John o'Groats at 4.33 on Monday afternoon. He was scheduled to arrive there at 5.30 p.m. From John o'Groats, after a three-hours' halt for rest, he was due to leave on series of detours to complete the 1,000 miles, which record is held by Opperman in 3 days 1 hr. 52 mins. As we go to press we learn that Ferris may start on these last 130 miles with less than three hours' stop, as he is in such splendid condition.

Ferris's first attempt on the End-to-End record was made on Wednesday last, but a promised south-west wind failed to materialize and the Vegetarian started into a 20 m.p.h. opposing breeze. He rode only to the party's headquarters at Blackwater, covering the 31 miles in 1 hr. 47 mins. Here Manager Charlie Davey, called the attempt off.

Better conditions prevailed on Saturday last and at 10 a.m. Mr. B.W. Best signalled the time to start and Ferris got moving in splendid fashion.

It will be remembered that when Opperman did this ride in 1934 in addition to setting up new time for the End-to-End (2 days 9 hrs. 1 min.) he also broke the 24-record with 431½ miles. The Australian was very much slower during the second half of his ride, due to sickness which caused delays amounting to about two hours. This after covering 431½ miles in the first 24 hours (18 m.p.h.) he took 33 hours for the remaining 433½ miles (13 m.p.h.), making an average speed of the whole trip of just over 15 m.p.h.

Although he had scheduled for an attempt on the '24' record (which now stands at 461¾ miles) Ferris made out a timetable coinciding with Opperman's first day of riding and then planned beat 13 m.p.h. over the Scottish roads where the Australian's record was in fact beaten.

The Vegetarian was not favoured with quite good wind conditions as Opperman, however, whilst furthermore he is not so brilliant a pedaller for the part of a stayer's job as the Australian so that the Englishman got behind the schedule he had set himself to Kendal. Where Ferris showed to advantage, however, was in the later stages where he ability to plod without too great a loss of pace and with few stops brought him level with Opperman's times and then gradually showed a gain over the previous record figures.

The breeze on Ferris's back at the start was but slight, its right direction being the best recommendation. Penzance, 11 miles, was reached in 27½ mins. And Redruth (27) in 1 hr. 20 mins. So that the Vegetarian not only got inside his schedule at once, but was beating Opperman who took 28 mins. And 1.22 respectively to these points. By the time Bodmin (57) was reached, the wind had veered with north in it and Ferris was 1¼ mins. Behind his timetable and half a minute slower than Opperman, his time here being 2.51½. He made good going to Launceston (79), however, doing 3.55 compared with the Australian's 4.1, but at Okehampton (98), where he was scheduled to do 5 hrs., he was clocked 5.17 (Opperman 5.3)

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

From that point to Bristol, and more particularly after Exeter where the road turned more northward, Ferris got behind the Australian, but better conditions prevailed after Bristol, the slight air movement coming from a helpful quarter. At Exeter (120) he was doing 6.37 against Opperman's 6.15 and he passed through Bristol (156) after 11 hours riding. This was at 9 p.m. on Saturday. His schedule time at Bristol was 8 p.m. Opperman on this ride had 10 hours 8 mins. To that city, between Bristol and Gloucester, when 210 miles had been covered, the 12-hour time elapsed, which total was exactly 15 miles fewer than Opperman's figures for 12 hours.

Then followed a period of most consistent riding. From Gloucester right up to North Lancashire, Ferris rode at his scheduled speed, preserving almost exactly the 50-55 mins he had lost. He was due at Gloucester (231) in 12 hrs. 10 mins; he took 13 hrs. 6 mins. His time at Worcester (257) was 14.32, 52 mins behind schedule, and at Whitchurch (321) he had been riding 18 hrs. 20 mins, 55 mins down on schedule. His time at Warrington (354) was 20 hrs. 9 mins., 49 mins  behind timetable. Ferris was  due at Preston (383) at 7 a.m., 21 hours after the start and he reached there at 7.49 a,m. with an elapsed time of 21.49 compared to Opperman's 21.5.

On the stretch from Carlisle to Lockerbie, where the route turns north-west, a west wind hindering the rider, but from that point a following breeze sprang up, which gave welcome aid to John o'Groats.

Interviewed at the finish, Ferris told reporters: "I am feeling very fit. I had a lot of rain on Saturday, and it was very cold cycling through Grampians on Sunday night. I am pleased that the run has been a success." His wife, who followed her husband in a car, added "It was a strain watching the clock all the way, but I am glad he broke the record. He had no sleep, and only short rests occasionally." After three hours rest at John O' Groats, Ferris was back on his RRA to make a run for the 1,000-mile record which he broke in a time of 2 days 22 hours 40 minutes, three hours faster than the previous mark.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

from Cycling 28 June 1937:

To say that Sidney Ferris's latest record is full of special interest is superfluous. No record over the End-to-End course could help being a feat of extraordinary interest, and now that that Ferris has beaten the figures made Hubert Opperman three years ago in a ride that was, rightly, the centre of tremendous glamour at the time, we must accord the limelight to Ferris and hail him as the outstanding long-distance rider of the day. My immediate concern is to examine Ferris's ride in which he came to bring off so successfully a coup which, notwithstanding the handicaps that barred Opperman's way, was nevertheless considered to be a task of fearful severity.

Let us recapitulate. Opperman rode from Land's End to John o'Groats and on for the 1,000 miles. He set up what was then a new 24-hour record of 431½ miles on the first day, and although his illness caused stops amounting to about three hours afterwards, he rode fast enough between stops to cut over four hours from Rossiter's record at Groats, afterwards reducing the 1,000-mile record by 10 hours, notwithstanding a six-hour rest at John o'Groats House.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

In setting out to beat the record the next man was faced with the problem of getting ahead by riding an even fiercer first 24-hours, and this taking more out of himself than he could spare, in view of the following ordeal, or of riding a shorter '24' and this entering Scotland well behind schedule, risking everything on the hope that his stamina and fortitude would enable him to dispense with the stops that Oppy made, and forge ahead in the latter part of the ride.

What Ferris did was to for both methods in part, but in practice the conditions prevented it. He could not do the first, but did the second. He was behind at the end of 24 hours, but his ride through Scotland was a tremendous performance, for he was over three hours faster than Opperman from Carlisle to John o'Groats.

On the first day, after working through a cross-win all the way from Land's End, Ferris became troubled when, after Exeter, he began to hit the wind three-quarters, late in the afternoon, and at Collumpton he actually stopped to discuss whether it was worth going on. At seven o'clock that evening he felt happier, although the win had not yet improved.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Again, on the next day, the approach of afternoon and a close westerly wind heralded a long slow spell which, added to the stop of 16 minutes near Carlisle, caused him to enter Scotland behind record when he might have been ahead. The lag did not end there, and for many more miles through Gretna, Kirkpatrick and Ecclefechan he was worried. The wind hit him and the air stifled him, and after several short stops he made a halt of 12½ minutes between Ecclefechan and Lockerbie which he announced he would 'borrow' from his next scheduled stop. It was at this time that the sight of Ferris lying on the grass started a rumour, which spread along the road with remarkable celerity, that he had retired!# Complete was the transformation when, at Lockerbie, a welcome south-wester freshened, vivified the air, and began a blow that lasted to the very end of the road northward. Heavy rain over the Lammermuir hills quite refreshed him. From that time nothing went wrong with Ferris except a puncture near Dunblane and some lost time in Inverness. Having surveyed the route in detail some weeks earlier, he fancied he could improve on the usual way into Inverness, and he had everything planned.  He threaded his way from one street to another, looking round for his followers, to whom he was then the sole guide of the road. Unfortunately, in the excitement, he made a wrong turn which to the loss of some 10 minutes. With that loss he had, however, already dropped behind record again. He had got inside Opperman's figures before Perth, and the 36 hour had given him a couple of miles more, and he had a further possible gain by Opperman's two lengthy stops at Blair Athol and Aviemore. But he did not ride the Grampians so slickly as did the Australian, and his own two stops, with slower speed, brought him outside the record when he left Aviemore, where had rested for a few minutes on one of the portable beds carrier in a following vehicle.

Ferris's time at the 800th mile was exactly 2 h. 28 m. faster than that of Opperman (which included one long stop, of course), and it was that margin by which he beat the record. However, the afternoon of that third day again found him listless, so that he was glad to revise his optimistic plan, formed when he was feeling 'good' a little earlier, to stop only an hour at Groats.

Ferris' record was big news in Australia as they were at the expense of the Australian Opperman. Here cuttings from the Sporting Globe (Melbourne) show Ferris with his RRA. credit: Trove, Australian National Library newspaper archives

Ferris's ride attracted national media attention both in Britain and Australia. credit: British Newspaper Archives and Trove, National Australian Newspaper Library

H.H. Collin, Advertising Manager of Sturmey-Archer, had perhaps the most enviable of jobs in summer 1937, harvesting a bumper crop of records won with his products, by his riders and all just in time with the National Cycle Show. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

The second of two two-page spread Sturmey-Archer advertisements in Cycling. It was difficult to overstate the case for the qualities of the AR close-ratio hub in light of a flurry of road records and in the event, the maker did not. What is missing is any mention of Raleigh or the Raleigh Record Aces used. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

On 2 September 1937, Mr. & Mrs. Ferris were feted at a celebratory luncheon at Nottingham's Flying Horse Hotel given by Raleigh Director Sir Harold Bowden. Among the 60 guests were Harry Green (who broke the Land's End-John o'Groats record back in 1908, the first won with a Sturmey-Archer hub), Mr. C.J. Mather (another past End-to-End record holder), G.H.B. Wilson (Raleigh Works Manager),  W.H. Raven (Sturmey-Archer Director), Charles Davey (team manager), Charlie Marshall (Sturmey-Archer Works Manager), L, Ellis (Sec. of the R.R.A.) and R.R.A. timekeeper B.W. Best. One guest, Rev. D.M. Ross, cycled 600 miles from Scotland to be there. The ever modest Ferris remarked "It was easy how the miles roll along once you get into the stride, provided you got a band of willing helpers", adding his appreciation to Manager Davey and his team. Sir Harold observed how the time for the End-to-End record had been cut by two days in 34 years: "Bicycles and roads are improving all the time, but the three-speed gear also had a lot to do with the tightening up of the record." Cycling's Editor H.H. England then invited Ferris to sign his new entry into The Golden Book of Cycling recognising not just End-to-End record, but a lifetime of achievement in cycle sport. 

Sid Ferris signs The Golden Book of Cycling before Raleigh Director Sir Harold Bowden and Cycling Editor H.H. England at a celebratory luncheon in his honour at Nottingham 2 September 1937. His End-to-End Record was a milestone in this, Raleigh's 50th anniversary year. 

More honours for Sid Ferris (left) as he accepts the Bidlake Memorial Prize during the April 1938 50th anniversary dinner of the R.R.A and (right), the Cycling artist depicts Ferris, Charlie Davey and Charles Marshall at the dinner. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

19 September 1937 
H. (Bert) James
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AR hub

Bert James set a new Liverpool-London (200.5 miles) record on 19 September 1937 of 9 hours 27 minutes, beating the previous time (which had stood for 48-years) by three minutes. Starting at 7.00 a.m., James did the first 100 miles in 4½ hours, but was later challenged by winds and 60 miles from London by rain, but was described as being "quite fresh and plenty in reserve" when he reached the London G.P.O. at 4.27 p.m.

from Cycling, 22 September 1937:

The last British road record held by an amateur fell on Sunday [19 September] when H. James, the diminutive Welsh professional, fighting a cross wind practically the whole of the 200 miles, rode from Liverpool to London in 9 hrs. 26 mins. 7 secs.-- officially 3 mins. faster than J.K. Middleton's record time of 1932.

James gave ample evidence earlier in the year of his remarkable grit and courage in face of unfavourable odds; his magnificent effort from Liverpool to London confirmed that he is one off the pluckiest riders who have ever thrown a leg across a bicycle. When he was dispatched on his long journey at seven o'clock by Mr. M.P. McCormack, the wind was nothing more than a favourable drift, not strong enough to stir the mists that hung over the fields; yet James rode so determinedly that he reached Whitchurch (38 miles) after 1 hr. 39½ mins., and went on to cover approximately the first 50 miles in 2 hrs. 11 mins.

First '100'

This was a promising start, but the farther he rode the harder became the conditions. The second 50 miles occupied 2 hrs. 19 mins.-- which meant that the first 100 miles had been reeled off in approximately 4 hrs. 30 mins. But the second 100 miles too 4 hrs. 57 mins. The two '50s' were 2.19 and 2.31-- the last 50 miles including, of course, the wet and slippery tramlines and heavily trafficked roads in London. The whole of those 50 miles were ridden in the rain, some ten of them in a blinding storm.

Riding to a schedule planned to beat the record by half an hour, James at Newport (59 miles) was, with 2 hrs. 36½ mins 5½ mins in hand on schedule, and he increased this at 65 miles, at the junction of the Watling Street, to 6 mins, clocking 2 hrs. 51 mins. Sixteen miles later, at Brownhills Common, he recorded his greatest gain on schedule, just over 6½ mins., his time of 3 hours 32½ mins theoretically putting him 36½ mins. inside record.

Soon afterwards, at Oscott, he was delayed by traffic lights. He had slow right down again at Edrington for the same reason, and was hindered by traffic slightly at Castle Bromwich (94 miles), which he by-passed after 4 hrs. 12½ mins of riding. Traffic lights and more traffic caused him delay in Coventry (110 miles) through the fairly busy streets of which he rode in 4 hrs. 56 mins.-- now exactly level with his schedule. The loss of the 6½ mins he had gained on schedule was not accounted entirely for by the traffic delays; the wind was now stronger and blowing mostly across his path on his left shoulder. Over the 18 had miles from Coventry, soon after which he made his first stop of a minute and half, to Daventry (128 miles), James lost 10 mins. on schedule. He used his Sturmey Archer close ratio hub gear, arranged to give ratios of 74 ins, 79 ins. and 84 ins., to good effect, for one moment the strong wind would be slightly favourable, then hindering, and then, as the road swung more easterly, definitely against him. But the sun was shining, James was still full of courage, and he was 72 miles from London and 20 mins., theoretically, inside record.

But although James struggles gamely the conditions became more and more unfavourable, the wind veering until for miles it was blowing dead in his face. At Towcester (140 miles) he 12 mins. outside schedule, at Stony Strafford (147) 15 mins.

credit: Cycling, author's collection


Then came the rain, and at Fenny Stratford (155 miles) the roads were streaming with water. Sheltered somewhat from the win James climbed up most of Dunstable Cutting at a steady 20 miles an hour, but when he reached Dunstable (166 miles) in 7 hrs. 43 mins., he was 20 mins outside schedule. He passed through the town in a terrific rainstorm, and had rain, although not so heavy, for the remainder of his journey to London. The effort was beginning to tell on James, and at Barnet (189 miles) he was, with 8 hrs. 50 mins, only 8 mins inside record. And he was faced with the prospect of 11 miles of wet and slippery setts and tramlines and at least half a dozen traffic lights!

But James was not beaten yet. Traffic lights held him up twice at Finchley, and at the foot of Highgate Hill he had to dismount and walk past a number of buses held up in a traffic jam, and at the Angel crossing at Islington he was again whilst the colours changed. But pluckiness won though, and wet and bedraggled, and very tired, James rode up to the General Post Office at 4.26.7, officially 9 hrs. 27 mins after leaving Liverpool.

James wished to thank, through Cycling, all the helpers who turned out to assist him along the route. 'Tell them I don't pick this weather purposely,' he ruefully told a Cycling reporter who followed the record throughout. 

A three-minute "smash"-- an original Sturmey Archer poster heralding James's ride. credit: Sturmey-Archer

On Tuesday morning of last week S.H. Ferris, the Vegetarian professional and a member of the Sturmey Archer record-breaking team, made a start at Dalnaspidal, 1,506 ft. up in the Grampians, on the 24 hours record. The conditions were not as promised in the previous day's eather forecast, however, and Ferris made a training ride of it as his headquarters at Guay, 31½ miles from the start. He covered this distance in 1 hour 29½ minutes, five minutes inside evens. 20 October 1937 Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

19 March 1938 
H. (Bert) James
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AR hub

On 19 March 1938, Bert James cut 9 minutes 53 seconds off the 100-mile record on an RRA with an AR hub, clocking 3 hours 45 mins and 51 secs between Stirling Corner, on the Barnet bypass, and Attleborough, breaking the record held since 1934 by Frank Southall. This worked out to an average of approximately 27 mph.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

From Cycling 23 March 1938:

H. James, a member of the famous Sturmey-Archer team of record breakers, accomplished the outstanding performance of his career last Saturday [19 March] when he smashed Frank W. Southall's 100 miles R.R.A. record by the colossal margin of 9 mins. 53 secs. When Southall put up the record of 3.55.44 in 1934 he became the first man to ride 100 miles unpaced on the road inside four hours, and at times it almost looked as though James would put up an even more sensational performance by getting inside 3¾ hours for the distance. He actually clocked 3.45.51

Scheduled to commence his ride at 12 o'clock, there was a delay of 12 minutes before the word 'Go' was finally given by timekeeper B.W. Best, and with a brilliantly shining sun and that 'lightness' in the air that is so conducive to speed for a fit man, James was soon into his stride. The course used starts at Stirling Corner, on the Barnet by-pass, carried through to Baldock, just over 26 miles, and then turns towards the north-east, and is more or less straight, to finish seven miles before Norwich. Fortunately the wind proved more favourable than usual on the stretch from Baldock, so that up to this point it did not help James quite to the extent as in previous rides.

The schedule was planned to beat record by 1¾ minutes, and at the top of Digswell Hill (12¾ miles) James was some 24 seconds down on his scheduled time of 28 minutes. At Stevenage (22¾ miles) he had regained most of this and from this point he never faltered and began an ever increasing gain both on his own schedule and on Southall's corresponding figures.

The first 25 miles were covered in 55½ minutes and Baldock, 26¾ miles, was reached just inside the hour. Southall on his ride had taken 58½ minutes to this point. The first substantial gain was noted when he passed through Royston in 1.17.45., a minute and a quarter up on schedule. Then came Whittleford and a level-crossing, fortunately clear, and the half-way stage of 50 miles, at which he was just inside 1 hr. 51 mins., well up on plan and a minute faster than Southall. Another level-crossing was encountered at Six Mile Bottom, but again the gods favoured the diminutive vegetarian, and he sped past this point, 52¾ miles in 1.56.48.

Riding brilliantly now, at more than 30 miles an hour for long periods, he had covered nearly 54¾ miles in two hours, the second hour having yielded a greater mileage than the first, and it became increasingly obvious as he kept up this very even speed during the third hour that, barring mishap, such as a puncture, the record would be broken.

The famous horse-racing town of Newmarket was passed in 2.10.12, and a further gain of a minute between here and Barton Mills, approximately 67¼ miles, saw him go through with nearly five minutes in hand. Still maintaining his even speed the third 25 miles was reeled off inside 57 minutes, and three hours riding produced the amazing total of nearly 80½ miles, representing an average of 26.8 m.p.h.!

A goodly number of the last 20 miles are hard one, but James never slackened and went through Attleborough, eight miles from the finish, with nearly eight minutes in hand. So well was he riding now that 10-minute beating of record seemed probable-- even had he been feeling the effects of his great effort the last dozen miles of more could have been ridden at 'evens' (20 miles an hour) and still he would have beaten record. 

And as one of the finest rides ever witnessed was drawing to its conclusion timekeeper's car went by the rider shortly after Attleborough, and with a short time that characteristically bobbing head of James went even a little lower over the bars as he flashed over the finish line, a few yards past the milestone reading 'Norwich 7,' in 3 hrs. 45 mins. 51 secs. An average speed for 100 miles of 26.56 m.p.h.!

James's Raleigh bicycle was equipped with a Sturmey-Archer 'A.R' ultra close-ratio three-speed hub, his gears being 77.2 low, 82.8 normal and 88.8 high.

Throughout the ride James was fed with orange juice, grape juice, coffee and Emprote, all of which was sweetened with honey.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

A very natty looking Bert James out on a training ride obviously. His RRA is painted in what appears to be a pale blue metallic with darker blue head tube and panelling around the "RALEIGH" on the down tube and the top-tube control for the Sturmey-Archer hub is clearly seen. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

Not a record every time of course and in addition to the usual frustrations of weather, wind, traffic there was... 50 cases of empty beer bottles strewn across the road... to cut-short James's attempt at the 50-mile record on 31 March 1938. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

12 May 1938  
H. (Bert) James
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AR hub

Bert James' 12 May 1938 effort broke both the London-York and 12-hour records. His London-York time of 8 hours 44 minutes clipped 16 minutes off Frank Southall's 1934 record and he covered 260 miles in 12 hours, adding seven miles to the previous record and averaging 20.7 mph.

Left: Bert James about to set off from London, Manager Charlie Davey holding his machine. Note the team car in the background with two spare Raleigh Record Aces. These are all painted a light colour with the "RRA" on the seat tube and "RALEIGH" on the down tube again darker panelling. James used the AR hub for this ride and for first time used the trigger shifter instead of the top-tube control he usually used. Right: James passes through Thursk. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

from Cycling 18 May 1938:

Thirty-three-year-old Herbert James, fastest 100 miler in the country, proved conclusively on Thursday of last week [12 May] that he was a stayer as well as speedster, when he rode from London to York 16 minutes faster than anyone else ever has, and then carried on to add another six miles to the 12-hour record. Both these records were held by Frank Southall, who also combined the London to York record when he set up a new 12-hour record. James's new figures are 8 hrs. 43 ins. 41 secs. for the London to York ride and 259½ miles for the 12 hours.

Conditions were favourable throughout and although James was stopped once or twice for traffic he had no mechanical or physical trouble from the time he left the G.P.O. in London at 6 a.m. to when he finally came to a standstill, still smiling and cheerful as ever, in spite of the rain, at the little Yorkshire village of Crosdale. He had passed the point when Southall had finished his 12-hour record four years before, with 18 minutes still in hand.

His First '50'

Using for the first time a trigger control for his Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub gear, James, riding gears of 76, 81 and 86 inches, covered 21½ miles in the first hours and this, of course, included all the London streets. The first 50 was ridden in 2 hrs. 17 mins. and he passed through Buckden (59½ miles) in 2 hrs. 42 mins. and reached Stamford (88½ miles) after riding for 3 hrs. 57 mins. The 100 miles went by after 4 hrs. 29 mins. and at this point James was already seven minutes ahead of Southall's corresponding time. James's third hour, incidentally, was his fastest of the day-- he rode 24½ miles.

Keeping closely to his schedule the Vegetarian crack, who was fed throughout entirely on food drinks, rode through Doncaster (161 miles) at lunch time, having then been in the saddle for 7 hrs. 12 mins. He was then 31 miles from York and well in sight of record. York streets were busy, as usual, and James lost a minute through traffic delay, but he reached the Post Office at 52 minutes past two o'clock, having been beaten the record by more than 16 minutes. He stopped at the Post Office for 3 mins,; then on again for the 12-hour record. James rode two miles out of the city before he eased up again, and for 11 minutes he drank his foods, had a massage and a wash.

In spite of this halt the 200 miles were passed in 9 hrs., 10 mins. Soon after Thirsk (220 miles), which James rode through 10 hrs. 10 mins., after leaving London, it began to rain, but the wind was still favourable and James was still keeping consistently fast and he passed Darlington (245 miles) with 42 minutes still to play with; and in this time he was content to pile up 14½ miles, knowing full well that he was ahead of record.  When he stopped at the end of the 72 hours he was in way distressed and among the first to congratulate him was the timekeeper, Mr. B.W. Best, who had timed every London to York  record since 1926.

James and his team in rainy Crosdale, Yorkshire, at the end of his 12-hour run. Charlie Davey in the background with the mac and hat and Charles Marshall on the left with his RRA. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

Weight Lost.

As usual, James rode his Raleigh bicycle, and the record was organized by Mr. C.F. Davey, the Sturmey-Archer team manager. Charles Marshall, the record breaker of 10 years ago, was among the several well-known clubmen who helped on the road. Weight at the end of the ride James discovered that during the ride he had lost 12 lb. in weight! Here are some interesting figures taken during his ride that show his remarkable speed consistency:--
  • 1st hour 21½ miles 
  • 2nd hour 21½ miles 
  • 3rd hour 24½ miles 
  • 4th hour 23 miles 
  • 5th hour 22½ miles 
  • 6th hour 22½ miles 
  • 7th hour 22½ miles 
  • 8th hour 23 miles 
  • 9th hour 18 miles 
  • 10th hour 18½ miles 
  • 11th hour 21½ miles 
  • 12th hour 21½ miles

It wasn't until James's May 1938 record for the 12 hour/London-York that Raleigh began to promote its own product in connection with the team's accomplishments whilst Sturmey-Archer continued its own parallel advertising. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

9 June 1938  
Charles Holland
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AM hub

Charles Holland broke his first road record on 9 June 1938, Liverpool-Edinburgh, clocking 10 hours for the 210 miles, 12 minutes faster than the previous record held by Frank Southall and averaging 21 mph.

from Cycling 15 June 1938:

Maintaining a steady 15 miles per hour up the 1,400-ft. climb to the top of the 10-mile-long Shap Fell-- the fastest ascent ever made by a record breaker-- Charles Holland, winner of the 1936 Best All-Rounder Competition, went on to break his first national road record on Thursday [9 June], when he completed the 210½ miles from Liverpool to Edinburgh in exactly 10 hours. This is a 12-minute beating of the previous record held by Frank Southall; Holland's time is 25 mins. faster than the tandem record.

Hill Climbing

It was Holland's remarkable hill-climbing ability, coupled with the careful choice of appropriate gears-- he used a Sturmey-Archer A.M. hub with gears of approximately 69, 79 and 89 ins.-- that gained him the record. When he left Liverpool at 6 a.m. the gentle breeze was south-west and the sun was shining brilliantly. In these conditions he covered the first 50 miles in 2.14.30, reaching Lancaster (53 miles) in 2 hrs. 23 mins. An hour later he rode through Kendal (74). Then began the long climb to the top of Shap.

At the bottom of this famous fell he was exactly 7 mins. behind the time Southall had taken to reach this spot, but when he pedalled easily through Shap Village, at the other side of the climb, practically unwearied by his fine effort up the long drag, he was actually 3 mins. ahead of record. Southall, it will be remembered, rode up Shap Fell in a terrific storm on an 86-in. gear.

At Carlisle

At Carlisle (118), the wind became stronger and the road took a more westerly direction and Holland, in consequence, began to find the going considerably harder. Nevertheless, he still increased his advantage on record and, having passed the 100 mile point in 4 hrs. 41 mins.-- Southall took 4.44-- he negotiated the early morning traffic at Carlisle happy in the knowledge that he was now 10 mins ahead of record. It was along this stretch to Carlisle that Southall on this rode lost a lot of time. The next 18½ miles to Ecclefechan (136⅓ took Holland 57 mins.,) and although he was here level with schedule he was still well up on comparative time. He made his first and only stop just outside the village to express his feelings about the wind and gradient, neither of which were helpful, and to take a drink from the officials in the following car.

From Ecclefechan to Lockerbie the road veers even more westerly and at times Holland was finding the wind actually in his face. A consequent drop on the schedule (at this point rather ambitiously framed) was therefore expected, and at Lockerbie (142½) he was 5 mins. behind, but still more than 10 mins. ahead of the actual time Southall took to reach here. He lost a further minute on his schedule at Moffat (158½), and the advantage on record had slipped back to 7 mins.; yet Holland seemed as confident and strong as ever. Every little hill he tackled without hesitation, getting out of the saddle and dancing on the pedals with vigour and determination; and when he started up the long, steep climb to the top of the Devil's Beef Tub his helpers were hoping that he would repeat his performance he had put up going up Shap and arrive at the top with a still further gain on record.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

At the Top.

Feeding bottle in hand, Charles Marshall, the famous Vegetarian record breaker of a few years ago, waited anxiously at the summit, his eye on the watch. A little black speck could be seen coming round the corner; it drew nearer and nearer. There could be no mistaking the figure of Holland. He looked untroubled as ever. He swung the bottle to his lips as Marshall shouted '46 miles to go.' Holland had 11 mins. in hand with the comforting prospect of a fast run down to Edinburgh. Over this stretch Southall on his record ride was delayed with punctures, but Holland throughout the whole of his journey had no mechanical or tyre trouble whatsoever.  Realizing, however, that he now had the record well within his grasp he was content to keep his wheels moving steadily and he covered those last 46 miles in 1.56. Holland's last 25 miles, which included the busy tram-lined streets of the city and several miles ridden in a heavy storm of hailstones, occupied him 1 hr. 9 mins.

He passed the timekeeper, Mr. B.W. Best, at the finish at the post office without the slightest sign of of distress or fatigue after riding for exactly 9 hrs. 59 mins. 11 secs. Thus he became the first rider to average 21 miles an hour for the whole journey from Liverpool to Edinburgh. He rode, as usual, his Raleigh bicycle equipped with a Sturmey-Archer hub gear with the new trigger control. The manager of the Sturmey-Archer professionals, Mr. C.F. Davey, organized the ride in his customary efficient manner. 

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

20 August 1938 
Lands End-London (tie)
Charles Holland
Raleigh C.H.C. w. Sturmey-Archer AM hub

Equal in disappointment to Ferris's disallowed Edinburgh-London record in October 1936 was Charles Holland's attempt at breaking the Land's End to London record failing by... 19 seconds.... and but tying the existing mark held by Hubert Opperman. It was, however, by any standards, one of the great long distance cycling efforts of the age, under trying circumstances and further cemented Holland's reputation as a "stayer" of sterling caliber. 

Ironically, this was the first record attempt by Holland on his very own "Charles Holland Continental", the first Raleigh lightweight built for mass start racing. Henceforth, he would use this machine whilst Ferris and James stuck with the their Raleigh Record Aces.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

The tale of this thrilling ride, literally down to the last seconds, was well told in Cycling, 24 August 1938:

Charles Holland of the famous team of Sturmey-Archer record breakers left Land's End at 8.15 a.m. on Saturday [20 August] morning last to attack the record ride to London held by the Australian, Hubert Opperman, with a time of 14 hours 9 minutes. Holland therefor needed to reach Hyde Park Corner before 10.24 pm.

He arrived at 10.23 and 19 seconds! A forty-one seconds beating of the figures on the books of the R.R.A.-- but this is one of the national road records timed to the next whole minute, so that failed to put up a new time by 19 seconds! He equalled the best-ever performance for the 287 miles between Land's End and London.

And what a dramatic finish it was. 

With only 23 left to cover-- 23 miles of London Saturday night traffic-- he dismounted, calling for a drink. He had been without refreshment for 20 miles. The feeding car, owing to road repairs on a detour, had failed to get ahead of him. As he halted he had 67 minutes left before the record time expired. The prospects appeared hopeless. The halt for a drink looked like being the end of the attempt. The rider was wrapped in a rug.'How far have I to got to go now?' asked Holland 'Twenty-three miles,' was the answer. 'How much time left?' 'One hour, five minutes,' he was told, for two precious minutes had ticked away.'Gimme that drink, I can still do it!' And Holland flung off the rug; snatched his machine; took a gulp of the much needed refresher and rode into the night heading for Staines, Hounslow and London like a demon on wheels.

Only Holland, the massed-start expert, the Tour de France rider, could tackled such an undertaking with any hope of success-- and only a fervent hope remained to sustain the anxious followers.

Traffic, crossing lights-- the latter miraculously kind-- the intricate circuit of turnings at Hammersmith. The cars could not hold him. It was the most skillful, the most inspiring 23 miles' ride imaginable.

And what a disaster when it failed to beat all the previous delays over nearly 300 miles of riding by a mere 19 seconds. What Holland felt as sat dejected in the timekeeper's car at Hyde Park Corner no one can tell. He said not a word.

The finish of the ride provided a true measure of Holland's capabilities on that day. Continuous streams of holiday traffic in both directions were cause of his comparatively slow ride over narrow roads of Cornwall,  Devon and Somerset.

Even the darkness did not hold him when wider road permitted him to show his paces. Nowhere did the traffic abate, but it could overtake without stalling and cutting-in the rider was able to skim along unimpeded.

Opperman covered his last 87 miles (from the 200-mile point) in 4 hrs. 44 mins., Holland took 4.24 for the same distance. From the expiration of the 12 hours Opperman did 40 miles in the remaining 2 hrs. 9 mins. Holland 43½ miles in the same time. 

Here are the comparative timings between the two riders that finished on equal terms:--

                    Opperman         Holland
50 miles      2.4                       2.13
100 miles    4.31                     4.42
Exeter          5.35                     5.35
200 miles    9.25                     9.45
12 hours     247 miles            243.5 miles
London       14.9                      14.9

Holland was scheduled to ride a more evenly spaced performance than the Australian, somewhat slower over the early section, but designed to maintain the pace with very little trailing off in the later stages. His time-table allowed for a 19 minutes' beating of the record.

Traffic conditions apart, the day was as near ideal as one could wish for. A good breeze was blowing from a westerly quarter most of the day. It dropped only with the coming of darkness.

As the rider was sent off at 8.15 a.m. by Time-Keeper M.P. McCormack the sun shone brightly, but there were threatening clouds ahead. Rain fell heavily at Penzance (10 miles), reached in 24 minutes, 4 minutes inside schedule, but it soon cleared and there were no further showers for the rest of the journey.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Holland covered 23½ miles in the first hour and clocked 1.4 for the first 25 miles.

Redruth (27) was reached in 1.10 (schedule (1.16) and after two hours' riding 45 miles had been achieved. The '50' was timed at 2.13.

With seven minutes in hand on the timetable Bodmin (56 1.2) was passed after 2½ hours' riding and 65½ miles were covered in three hours.

Holland's progress now began to show the effects of the passing traffic. In both directions the processions of cars crawled at little more than a cyclist's pace. It must have been a nightmare of dust, fumes and acrobatics.

Launceston (78½) was reached in 3.35 (schedule 3.38) and 86½ miles had been covered in four hours.

The rider now got behind his timetable: Okehampton (97) 4.32 (due 4.30); 100 miles, 4.42; Exeter (120), 5.35 (due 5.33); Honiton (126 1/2), 6.30 (due 6.20).

Then followed an unfortunate series of delays. At 148 miles the rider halted-- his first dismount-- for an extra drink losin a minute. Continuous riding in an atmosphere polluted with car fumes had upset him. At Illminster he was 13½ minutes behind schedule, having taken 7.23½ for the 153¾ miles. Over the next section he halted again and was slowed by sickness. His times showed how serious were the delays: Ilchester (165¾), 8.1 (19 mins behind)-- he was now level with the record; Wincanton (179¼), 8.43 (21 mins behind); another stop for a drink at a wayside fountain; Mere (186¾), 9.7 (24 mins down).

With exactly 100 miles still to cover Holland had 5 hrs 1 min. left in which to equal record. But the traffic congestion and resultant sickness were still taking tool of time. He reached Andover (223¾) after 10 hrs. 56 mins.' riding, 25 minutes outside schedule, whilst at Basingstoke (241½) he was 29 minutes down in 11.50. In 12 hours Holland covered 243½ miles.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

And now the followers saw a turn in the tide. The real Holland was pedalling again. The traffic was easier to negotiate and the sickness had passed.

Bagshot (261) was reached in 12 hrs. 50 mins. With a gain of 2 minutes on the lost time. And in spite off the missed drink and halt near the 23rd milestone he reached Staines (270¾) in 13 hrs. 21 mins,; now only 25 mins behind schedule and with 16½ miles to do in the remaining 47 minutes. But he took 47 mins. 19 secs.!

A dramatic, yes, tragic end to a very great performance.

Holland was riding a Raleigh bicycle equipped with a Sturmey-Archer A.M. medium ratio hub, providing gears of 71, 82 and 94 inches.

The expression on Holland's face says it all. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Cuttings from the Australian press on Holland's besting but not beating Opperman's record. credit: Trove, National Library of Australia.

13 October 1938  
Lands End-London
Charles Holland
Raleigh C.H.C. w. Sturmey-Archer AM hub

Holland's second record for Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer, Land's End-London, was hard won and required three attempts. These were all ridden on his new Charles Holland Continental model with an AM hub. The second effort, made in September, was cancelled owing to bad weather.

Between these efforts, there was more frustration and if there was ever a case of crying over spilt milk it was in late September 1938 when Holland attempted to break Southall's record for the London-Brighton-London record of 4 hrs. 38 min. 27 secs. Rounding a hairpin turn into Hyde Park Corner, he skidded on a pool of... milk... from a diary lorry which had dropped half its load onto the road. Crashing hard, he damaged his CHC and was forced to abandon the challenge. A pair tandem riders, also racing to beat the tandem record for the same trip, likewise crashed on the "great white way" at Hyde Park Corner in one of the more bizarre episodes in British road records.

Undeterred, Holland set for the third time from the Land's End Hotel, Cornwall, on 13 October 1938, on his CHC, destination, The Capital.

As reported in Cycling, 19 October 1938:

At his third attempt on the Land's End to London record, Charles Holland, the Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer professional, was successful in reducing the Australian, Hubert Opperman's, time of 14 hrs. 9 mins by 25 mins. Holland's actual time was 13 hrs, 43 mins. 35 secs., but on this record fractions of a minute count as a minute. It will be remembered that in August he equalled Opperman's time after a thrilling finish and his second attempt was abandoned owing to unsuitable weather.

On Thursday (8.15 a.m.) of last week (October 13) Holland was started by Mr. B.W. Best, the timekeeper, from outside Land's End Hotel in a miserable drizzle, but with a favourable south-westerly wind of encouraging strength and a temperature that very good for riding at speed.

Wet roads with fallen leaves and tricky corners made the going treacherous, but Holland is an accomplished bicycle rider and he covered the first 25 miles without a mishap in 1 hr. 6 mins. At 50 miles he was showing 2 hrs. 10 mins, which was 6 mins slower than Opperman's time to this point, but faster than on his own previous ride.

Swooping down hills at 40 m.p.h. and 'dancing' up comfortably at a speed that seldom dropped below 'evens,' Holland clocked 4.32.30 for '100,' which included a change of machines after puncturing at Lifton (83 miles). The Australian was 1½ mins faster for the century; but Holland was moving well and easily.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Exeter (120 miles) was reached in 5 hrs. 28 mins (Opperman 5.35), representing a gain of 5 mins on schedule, planned to beat record by 19 mins, and in 6 hrs. he had ridden 131 miles. Practically dry roads were reached for a time and then once again light rain fell. A short stop just before Amesbury to  fit lamps and Holland was off again as strong as ever. At Basingstoke a 6 mins. Deficit on schedule was shown, but this was accounted for by two punctures sustained with a mile of each other just before reaching that town.

By the time 12 hrs. had elapsed Holland had covered approximately 252 miles, and at Bagshot (261 miles) he had regained some of his loss on schedule, being only 1 min.  down.

Easy roads and the following wind enabled Charles to step on it to good purpose and gradually he gained on his schedule. London traffic caused little delay and a handsome reduction on the record appeared obvious.

Within two miles of Hyde Park Corner he experienced yet another deflation, but a quick change of machines and he was off again to reach his goal just after 9.58 p.m., beating the record by 25 mins.  As already stated. At Hyde Park Corner, by no means distressed, was congratulated by a little group of clubmen gathered there to meet him.

Holland's bicycle was a Raleigh, 'Charles Holland' Continental model, with a 22½-in frame, equipped with a Sturmey-Archer A.M. three-speed hub, giving gears of 71, 81 and 92 and operated by the trigger control. Apart from the four punctures already mentioned Holland experienced by other trouble, his feeding arrangements, etc., working smoothly without a hitch.

The official time for 292-mile-journey was 13 hours, 44 mins, handsomely beating Opperman's time of 14 hours 9 mins set in 1935. Holland average a speed of 20.91 mph.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

News reports from Australia on Holland's toppling another of Opperman's records. credit: Trove, National Library of Australia.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

27-28 October 1938  
S.H. (Sid) Ferris
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AM/AR hub

Of all the records won by the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer team, the 24-hour victory by Sid Ferris in October 1938 was the closest and most thrilling, a veritable race between he and Cyril Heppleston, riding for Hercules, that was so close that the R.R.A. didn't formally certify it until the following spring. 

From an equipment perspective, this was also an unique ride in that Ferris used both the AM hub during the first hillier part of the journey and then switched machines to one with an AR hub for more level section of the course and as this was at nighttime, and for the first and only time, fitted with one of the brand new Sturmey-Archer GH8 dynohubs. This had been introduced the previous month as the "clubman's dynohub", being lighter than the original GH12 unit from the previous year. The hub itself was smaller (3⅝" dia. vs 4½") than the GH12 and 1½ lbs. lighter whilst the headlamp was uniquely made of moulded white celluloid so that the whole unit weighed 3 lbs 1 oz. and, less the 6 oz of the ordinary front hub, resulted in a net gain of 2 lbs 11 oz.

from Cycling 2 November 1938:

One of the most remarkable stories in road record history was unfolded last Thursday and Friday [27-28 October], when Cyril Heppleston and Sid Ferris both attacked the Edinburgh-to-London and 24-hr. records. They started from the Scottish capital in the order named. Heppleston at 6.2 a.m. and Ferris at 7.17 a.m. Throughout their rides the separation of 1 hr. 15 mins. was so closely maintained that at London their riding times differed by only 5 mins., Heppleston being the victor, whilst that end of 24 hours. their performances were only 2¾ miles apart, but this time Ferris had the advantage. 

Previous figures for two R.R.A. records were:-- Edinburgh-London, held by Ferris in 20 hrs. 19 mins (1937); 24 hrs. held by the Australian, Hubert Opperman, with 461¾ miles (1935).

The new records are: -- Edinburgh-London, Cyril Heppleston, 19 hrs. 13 mins; and 24 hrs., Sidney H. Ferris, 465¼ miles. Heppleston being the first on the road held the '24' record with 463 miles for 75 mins. on Friday morning last. Ferris beat his own time to London by 1 hr. 1 min., clocking 19 hrs. 18 mins.; but, of course, by the time he reached the G.P.O. Heppleston had set up the new time of 19 hrs. 13 mins.

All the times and distances quoted are subject to confirmation after investigation by the hall-marking body, the Road Records Association.

Some adjustment in the mileages appears to be certain. The 24-hr. distances we give are based upon the respective riders' schedules. But it should be noted as an obvious discrepancy that even over portions of the route where they ride the same course, the intermediate mileages do not agree in the two schedules.

Ferris rode by way of Carter Bar to Newcastle, a hillier way than Heppleston's route via Coldstream, but with a slight savings in mules. Heppleston's schedule gave 107¼ miles to Newcastle, whilst Ferris's time table claims 105 miles to that point. But from Newcastle to London they covered the same roads (except the minor variation between Girtford and Hitchin, Heppleston going via Henlow and Ferris by way of Shefford), yet Heppleston is said to have done 384½ miles to St. Martin le Grand, London's G.P.O., and Ferris 384 miles!

From London Ferris went via Westminster, Putney, Mitcham and Purley Way to Crawley. Heppleston followed the usual Brighton route via Hyde Park Corner, Streatham and Croyden to Crawley. Thence the riders completed their schedules by way of Horsham, Buck Barn, Steyning, Bolney, Cowfold and Henfield. Heppleston's time table gives his total at Henfield at 461½, and he rode approximately 1½ miles beyond this point. Henfield on Ferris's schedule is shown as 465½ miles, and he was stopped after 24-hrs.' riding a few hundred yards short of the village.

Times, distances and all the essentials of a 'race' are by no means the whole story of this late October battle for record honours, which ended with a win for each. It was day of gales, rain, hailstorms, flooded roads and bitterly cold conditions; anything but record weather, with the single exception that the strong wind was helpful from a northern quarter almost throughout the 24 hrs.

How cold and wild were the conditions, especially over the Cheviots, is confirmed by the fate of another starter from Edinburgh that morning. Charles Holland was also concerned in this 'time trial' of record attempts, his objective being York. He was started from Edinburgh at 7.2 a.m., but 'packed' three miles south of Lauder when he had covered 30 miles only. His shorter journey called for a sustained higher speed than the stayers. Very soon he was stiff with the cold and wet to skin with hail and rain. He was unable to move fast enough.

The Edinburgh-York is held by F.W. Southall (1935) and stands at 3 hrs. 37 mins. Heppleston, who had included this record also in his multiple attempt, took 9 hrs. 20 mins. to the Minster City; Ferris's time here was 9 hrs. 28 mins.

Heppleston was attacking yet another record: H. James's 12-hour total of 260 miles. But Heppleston did 241 in the half-day, whilst by way of comparison Ferris cover 239½.

Mr. B.W. Best timed all the seven record attempts by three men.

Ferris clears one of several level crossings that impeded his progress. credit: Cycling, courtesy V-CC on line archives. 

There is little to choose between these two great rides and the honours are rightly shared. Heppleston rode exactly at 'evens' (20 miles an hour) all the way to London, whilst Ferris averaged 19.4 m.p.h. over his magnificent 24-hour performance.

Because the timekeeper could not be in two places at once and there was otherwise a shortage of official R.R.A. observers in the cars, Heppleston did many miles without being followed within visible distance Throughout his ride he had five punctures and as he was alone when two of these occurred he had to change tyres himself-- no easy task with hands numbed with the cold. Furthermore, south of London, Heppleston at the G.P.O. London, where stopped 12 mins. and had a further deflation on Vauxhall Bridge. 

There is a similar story of misfortune to tell of Ferris, who punctured three times, the stops being at Otterburn, Newcastle, and two miles from the London G.P.O. Ferris also skidded and fell on the shiny wet surface of Westminster Bridge. But did not know his route at all. He was excellently marshalled by F.W. Southall who had turned out to help, but at Streatham Heppleston took the wrong road and went a mile off the course being caught and brought back to the route by car. One of Heppleston's punctures was perhaps his greatest sequence of ill-luck was caused by closed level crossing gates. One such incident held him up for 4 mins. This was near Newcastle, and constituted an additional delay to the puncture already reported. Ferris, discouraged by these delays and the appalling weather, wanted to stop here, but he was persuaded to continue, and after Newcastle did the next 25 miles in 1 hr. 5 mins. But crossings halted him again at Northallerton and twice near Selby.

Ferris, who already holds the 1,000 miles and Land's End to John o'Groats records, is a member of the famous Raleigh-Sturmey-Archer team of record breakers. His Raleigh machines were equipped with A.M. (medium ratio) Sturmey-Archer gears for the hillier daytime portion of the trip, providing ratios of 69, 79 and 90 ins. For the southern portion of his record ride when it was dark he was provided with an A.R. (close ratio) hub, giving gears of 74, 79 and 84 ins. This machine was also equipped with one of the new 8-volt patented Dynohub lighting sets.

Heppleston wins his first single bicycle record with this performance, although he has made attempts on this and the Portsmouth and back records earlier in the season. He rode a Hercules bicycle, and although he has been linked professionally with this concern since his record programme commenced, his status and trade connection have only now been officially announced. His Hercules machine was equipped with a derailleur gear providing ratios of 74, 84 and 90 ins. 

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

From Cycling's 1939 Earl's Court Cycle Show special number, 2 November 1938. Ferris's epic duel with Heppleston was perfectly timed with the opening of the Show during which he, Holland and James were on hand with their machines at the Raleigh exhibit stand. credit: Cycling, author's collection

The 24-hour winner was contested and it wasn't until March 1939 that the R.R.A. finally declared Ferris the record holder.  The "most sensational battle in modern road record history" finally had its victor. credit: Feed Well- Speed Well, Oxbow

Raleigh advert in the RRA awards programme 21 January 1939. credit: V-CC on-line library

Sturmey-Archer advert in the RRA awards programme 21 January 1939. credit: V-CC on-line library 


1939 started with the surprising news that Bert James had quit the team and retired from professional cycling. This was reported by a number of papers on 11 January. But just three days later it was reported that he had changed his mind having "been persuaded to make an attempt on the 50 miles record, held by Harry Hill, to wind up his career." (14 January Nottingham Post).

In March, the team took up residence at Donington Hall, the 1100-acre estate and great house (b. 1790) not far from Derby, Leicestershire, and lately famous for its Donington Park race car circuit dating from 1931 and increasingly used for mass start cycle racing.

On 11 January 1939 the Birmingham Post and other papers widely reported that Bert James had left the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer Team and retired from professional cycling. credit: British Newspaper Archives
14 January 1939 Nottingham Post reports that Bert James decision to stay with the Raleigh Team to attack the 50-mile record. 

Posing at their new home, Donington Hall, in March 1939: (left to right): Mr. R.L. Jones (Director and General Manager, Raleigh Cycle Co.), Mr. G.H.B. Wilson (Managing Director, Raleigh Cycle Co.), Bert James, Charles Marshall, Sid Ferris, Charlie Davey and Charles Holland. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain
On the Donington Park race course, left to right: Bert James, Charles Holland and Sid Ferris. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

Records are made to broken and the Raleigh held R.R.A. ones faced a sudden onslaught in early 1939 from a resurgent Hercules team now managed by Frank Southall and comprising Harry Earnshaw (1938 B.A.R. winner), Cyril Heppleston, Richard Kemps (of Belgium) and Marguerite Wilson who, between them, broke nine R.R.A. records in six weeks in spring 1939:  50 miles, 12 hours, 24 hours, London-York, Liverpool-London, Liverpool-London, London-Edinburgh, London-Bath and back, London-Portsmouth and back. In a year, they had won as many R.R.A. records as the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer team had won in total.

Hercules resurgent 1939 team, managed by Frank Southall, and including Harry "Shake" Earnslaw, Cyril Heppleston, Richard Kemps and Marquerite Wilson, rather put Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer in the shade with an astonishing succession of road records April-July 1939 and set the stage for a epic road battle between the two teams that autumn that was stillborn owing to the outbreak of war. 

18 April 1939 Daily Herald. R.R.A. Timekeeper B.W. Best reports on the all-conquering Hercules riders and possible counter attacks by Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer. 

On 27 April 1939, The Referee (Sydney) reported that "the famous Raleigh Bicycle Company has a team of three professional riders in training at Castle Donington for all British road records including those still held by Hubert Opperman up to March 31, 1939. They are extremely keen on reducing Oppy's Bath-London record, and regaining the 'End to End' and 1000 miles from the Hercules team. They will welcome Opperman if he comes across to regain his famous records made during his two visits to England." If indeed and if the resurgent Hercules team wasn't enough in 1939, Raleigh faced the increasing prospect of B.S.A. forming its own four-man team composed of Australians, including Opperman, and sending them to England in 1940.

3 June 1939 Sports Argus reporting on plans for Charles Holland "training for an attempt on the End-to-End record".

1 July 1939 Buckingham Advertiser.  One of several disappointments for the team that year.

1 July 1939 
Charles Holland 
Raleigh C.H.C. w. Sturmey-Archer AF hub

By this time, Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer very much needed a record to counter the astonishing successes of the Hercules squad. And Charles Holland came through in thrilling manner and by the closest possible margin on a Raleigh CHC fitted with the new four-speed close-ratio AF hub

From Cycling 14 June 1939:

With the most sensational finish seen for many years on a record attempt, Charles Holland, the Sturmey-Archer professional, broke the Edinburgh-York bicycle record last Thursday, by the narrow margin of a minute. His time for 186 miles was 8.35.39. Frank South, previous holder of the record, covered the distance in 8.36.24 in 1935. In each case the official time is recorded to next whole minute.

Right until the last moment it was impossible to say whether Holland would break the record. He approached York running very close to record, and with two sets of traffic signals to negotiate, and twisting streets of York crowded with vehicles of all sorts, valuable second that may meant the difference between gaining and losing the record could easily have been lost.

But under difficult conditions such as these Holland is at his best, and he weaved his way through the heavy traffic in a way that would have made a London taxi driver green with envy. With only a few hundred yards to a set of signals were red as he approached, but as the hearts of his helpers sank, the amber light came on, followed by the desired green. Away went Holland, stamping on his pedals with all he knew, and passed the post office where J.T. Wells, the timekeeper, stood waiting, watch in hand.

Holland was not aware that he had broken the record until some miles farther on, for he continued through to attack the next record on his schedule, the Edinburgh to London. A few miles outside York, however, he came to a stop with a bad attack of cramp, brought on the sudden accelerations necessary in York. After a five-minute rest, however, Holland was able to continue, but for some time he was obviously feeling the strain of the last few hectic miles to York, and at 4.53 p.m. he decided to abandon the attempt on the Edinburgh to London and 24-hour record, having ridden 209 miles since 7 a.m. that morning. It was later found that the attack of cramp was due to strained leg muscles.

When Holland started from Edinburgh conditions were favourable, and over the first stages of the journey he got moving very well. He was soon inside his schedule and riding with plenty of zest and fire. The several sharp hills that are encountered on the road from the Scottish capital Holland took in his stride, dancing on his pedals in true Tour de France style, and it was his excellent climbing that him 3 mins. Ahead of his schedule, which was planned to beat record by 5 mins., when he reached Jedburgh (47½ miles). On the climb up Carter Bar and over the border into England, he continued to gain steadily, and he took his first food bag at the top of Carter Bar he was showing no signs of distress. Just before he reached this point the 50 miles went by in the creditable time of 2.15.0.

But a reaction to all this climbing was inevitable, and during many of long descents Holland used his free wheel to good advantage while he emptied his food bag, and when he reached Otterburn (73½) he was level with his scheduled time. From here until Newcastle-on-Tyne (105½) he lost slightly over his schedule, although his 100-mile time was 4.34.0, mainly through the heavy traffic, while in Newcastle itself he was forced to walk down one road because of a jam caused by a brewer's dray. This put him even further behind his timetable, of course, and when he reached Northallerton (154 miles) he was 5 mins. In arrears-- that is to say level with the record and 32 miles to go.

It meant fighting all the way, for at this point the wind was blowing strongly from the north-east, hitting Holland on his left shoulder, and at times the turn of the road brought the wind almost into the rider's face, and to beat record he had to average 21½ m.p.h. all the way to York. But Holland was keeping a steady average, often getting right out of the saddle in order to get that little extra bit of speed. Slowly but steadily he gained on his schedule, in spite of the conditions, and it looked as if the record would be well broken, when the fates took a hand in the shape of a large steam tractor and wire cable that was pulling a tree trunk across the road.

Holland was off his machine in a flash and had climbed over the obstacle and was away up the road very quickly, but even so the stopping and consequent getting away must have lost him almost a minute. But once more the 29-year-old Birmingham man showed that he has pluck. A well-organised band of helpers had drinks for Holland every few miles, for the hot sun was beating down unmercifully on the black-clothed figure, and Holland kept on riding  strongly all the way to the finish.

Holland used his usual Raleigh bicycle, fitted with Sturmey-Archer's latest innovation, the AF four-speed hub gear, which gave him gears of 64, 76, 84 and 93 inches. He had no mechanical or tyre trouble at all during the ride.

credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

For the 186-mile run, Holland maintained an average speed of 21.7 mph.

Late autumn 1939 and into 1940 promised to be a most exciting and closely competed record breaking season with Raleigh, Hercules and B.S.A. vying for position and fielding some of the best time trialists  in the world. A veritable Golden Age of the R.R.A. records was in the offing and a heyday of traditional British time trial competitive cycle sport.

It all came to a sudden end, of course, on a glorious late summer Sunday. Or almost. On that 3 September the only Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer rider competing on the road was Tommy Godwin, the newest and youngest member of the squad. His 214 miles ridden that day went towards a total of 100,000 that made up the greatest single ride in the history of cycle sport and a record still held by Godwin, Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer today.  War or not, it was a Golden Age afterall.

27 May 1939-18 May 1940
World's Mileage Records
Thomas (Tommy) Godwin
Raleigh R.R.A. w. Sturmey-Archer AF/FM hub

100,000 miles in 499 days. Simply the greatest. In the annals of cycling records, it stands alone, unbroken after 77 years and counting. A record won for and by Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer that outlasted both as British companies. But more a testament to human endurance, fortitude and strength than anything else. An epic saga, after being largely forgotten for many decades, that has been rediscovered and the subject of two fine books. And without attempting to rival those here, a brief summation will suffice.

The final and most enduring (unbeaten to date) record set by Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer was that by 27-year-old Tommy Godwin who established the all-time total of 75,065 miles ridden in a single year. Setting out on a Ley TG Special (with a Reynolds 531 frame) bicycle on 1 January 1939. It was not initially an auspicious start as the British winter in 1939-40 was quite severe and riding conditions were often appalling. Unlike the R.R.A. record runs which could be scheduled to suit conditions, Godwin was compelled to ride almost every day or fall impossibly behind in mileage. 

Tellingly, there was scant press coverage of Godwin's efforts from January-April. Indeed, there doesn't even appear to a single photo of Godwin on or with his Ley bicycle. It was the classic "it's not news unless it's reported and it's not publicity if it's not in the news".  If Ley Cycle's sponsorship was for promotional purposes of Ley, Goodwin, shop or bike, it wasn't working. And even if it did, this was a national competition the benefit of which to a small local bike shop seems obscure from the onset.  

According to The Year (Barter), Godwin's Ley bicycle had a "three-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gear" but the type is unspecified. But, the reported substantial mileage increases when a S/A four-speed hub was definitely fitted seem excessive for an additional gear especially when it was a low gear. And, if Godwin was using Sturmey-Archer gears from the onset, why wasn't this publicised as it was when he changed to a four-speed? 

In any event, Godwin starting riding with a Sturmey-Archer AF four-speed hub in March 1939, essentially an AR close-ratio hub with an extra low gear added. This was not yet on the commercial market and indeed that winter Sid Ferris had begun testing the new hub as reported by Cycling's "Nimrod"

The Raleigh-Sturmey Archer professionals have been testing this gear (AF) for some months past. Sid Ferris tells me he has covered over 3,000 miles on it without the slightest trouble. Every week he has ridden the hub back to Nottingham from London, and the whole of interior has been dismantled so that any possible wear could be checked. Various minor improvements have been effected, chiefly concerning the spring tension of the trigger control to ensure east gear-changing and the four-speed is now a gear that any racing man can adopt without the slightest hesitation.

One can speculate that Charles Marshall approached Godwin and provided him with a pre-production model of the AF with the aim of both proving the new hub in the most arduous manner possible and promoting the enhanced performance. It was also the beginning of what came to be a complete sponsorship of Godwin. And, tellingly, it was how Marshall enlisted Reg Harris to Raleigh in 1948 starting with the provision of a new RRA bicycle. 

If his mileage increased post March 1939 then so did the media attention. With Godwin's new Sturmey-Archer hub came the tremendous promotional resources it provided. This was the first such news "plant", 2 May 1939 in the Northants Evening Telegraph.

The new hub gear (and the welcome onset of spring and better riding conditions) renewed Godwin's sagging efforts. Whereas in February he had averaged 155.7 miles a day compared to Nicholson's 171.6, he was up to 178.6 miles the following month running the AF hub. In April, he averaged 188.9 miles. 

It was perhaps inevitable that Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer would eventually assume sponsorship of Godwin whose ambitions were being realised more than those of A.T. Ley. And in an agreement that probably relieved of the considerable expense of keeping Godwin on the books and on the road, Raleigh officially took over sponsorship on 27 May 1939.

27 May 1939, almost six months into his effort to break the record for the most miles cycled in a single year, Tommy Godwin poses with his new sponsors, Raleigh, his new ivory-coloured Raleigh Record Ace and manager Charlie Davey (extreme right) in front of Winchester Cathedral.

Raleigh initially provided Godwin with a new ivory-coloured 21" RRA fitted with an AF hub, 48t chainring and 15t sprocket. His saddle was a Brooks B17 Flyer. The wheelset appears to be the stock RRA one with 26" x 1¼" light Endrick chromed rims with Dunlop Sprite tyres. Lighting was by a fork-mounted Lucas battery headlamp. Godwin also extensively rode a conventionally black-painted RRA with chromed fork. Most photos of him actually on the road are on this machine including an extensive collection taken on 21 July when Cycling's H.H. England and a photographer spent an entire day recording a typical day of Godwin on the road.

This photo of Godwin at speed on his RRA is obviously posed as it lacks the essential sealed Smith's speedometer fitted to record his mileage. Note, too, the well worn and dirty 'bar tape and unusual black-painted stem indicating the handlebar set maybe have been initially carried over from his previous mount, a Ley T.G. Special. Finally, his machine only has the front spearpoint extension; normally Godwin rode with full mudguards. The wheel is clearly the stock 26" x 1¼" Endricks with Dunlop Sprite wire-on tyres. credit: Cycling (from the

Godwin's RRA was probably heavier than his all Reynolds 531 Ley, but it was the support that Raleigh provided in terms of a manager (Charlie Davey), pacers and limitless technical and parts assistance that made the difference. Raleigh's promotional assets thrust Godwin's efforts into the media spotlight as they hitherto had not been. He was the best advertisement Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer could wish for and posters, postcards and dealer displays flooded the cycle world. As late as 1955, Raleigh touted that a "prototype of the Super Lenton" (sic) was used in the effort.

But there wasn't a lot of time or opportunity for pausing for promotional purposes, Godwin had a job to do and did it every day. Indeed, on 27 May, in between posing for publicity photos, he still managed to reel off 221 miles. Settling down quickly to his new machine, he clocked 308 miles on the 31st. That month alone, he did 26 double centuries or more. Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer had a winner, putting up R.R.A. caliber rides almost every day.  

On 18 June 1939 it was reported that Godwin had reached the 30,000 mark and that "his progress had been very satisfactory" and by the end of the month, he had ridden 34,611.

No longer pedalling in obscurity, Godwin already began to taste the fruits of both his efforts and Raleigh's publicity department. These clippings date from June--July 1939. credit: British Newspaper Archives.

The world's mileage contest had, by mid June 1939, became more than two lone cyclists pounding at the pedals every day. It was now a duel of rival cycle firms, gear makers, hub gear vs. derailleur and two great cycle industry cities: Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer/hub gears/Nottingham vs. New Hudson/Cyclo/detailleur gears/Birmingham. Pacing in the contest, unlike in the R.R.A. records, was not prohibited and by mid June, both Godwin and Bennett were taking pace, cycling up to 20 hours a day and putting up incredible and probably unsustainable miles a day. Godwin's mileage figures in July are incredible:
  • Total miles in the month: 8,583 (the highest monthly total of his career)
  • Average miles a day: 276.87
  • Most miles in a day: 348 (21 July)
  • 14 300+ miles days in the month
  • Total cumulative miles ridden by 31 July: 43,193
That's right, he rode 14 triple centuries in one single month!

A wonderful photo from Cycling showing Charlie Davey (left), Tommy Godwin (centre) and Cycling Editor H.H. England watching Godwin filling in his daily mileage log card which was duly posted every day he was on the road, the mileage also being recorded on a sealed Smith's cyclometer on his RRA. The date is 21 July 1939 on which Godwin rode an astounding 348 miles. credit: Cycling (from the

But the whole contest was beginning to tip in public perception from a competition of athletic skill and human fortitude to a commercial battle, a promotional stunt on public roads. This, too, risked offending the tradition bound cycling community in Britain. As it turned out, H.H. England, editor of Cycling and one of the most prominent advocates of cycling in the nation for a generation, took the initiative to suggest if not a "truce", a return to a more individual unaided contest.

from Cycling, 2 August 1939:

Never before in the while of its history has the year's mileage record provided such a sensational story.

And never before has commercial rivalry demonstrated a truer sense of sportsmanship.

The principals in this behind-the-scenes drama we are now able to disclose are:--

The Raleigh Cycle Co., Ltd., and Sturmey-Archer Gears, Ltd., of Nottingham, backing Tommy Godwin and New Hudson, Ltd., with the Cyclo Gear Co., Ltd., both firms of Birmingham, who behind Bernard Bennett

These concerns, at the suggestion of Cycling, have got together in the best interests of the cycling movement and on their own initiative have agreed:--

1) That Bennett and Godwin shall complete the year's riding without a further pace, and (2) that all assistance to the riders by way of managers, car accompaniment and organization of any kind shall be withdrawn forthwith. 

The cycling world will welcome these decisions with enthusiasm.

For some time now the question of whether Godwin and Bennett would beat Ossie Nicholson's record-- barring accidents-- has not been in doubt. Both riders have a comparatively easy task to maintain a daily riding schedule that will top Nicholson's 62,657.6 miles by December 31.

The real daily drama is the race between the two Englishmen.

Unfortunately Bennett made a bad start at the commencement of the year. By the end of January he was 2,000 miles behind Godwin. One reason for this was that Midland roads were icebound for a big period of the month, whereas Godwin had somewhat better conditions.

In February they rode nearly level, but in March, with the experienced advice of Rene Menzies (who put up the British year's record of 61,561 miles in 1937) Bennett commenced the grim taske of trying to overtake his rival. The Midland boy succeeded in producing bigger totals than Godwin's figures for March, April, May and June, which gradually reduced the latter's lead, although he, in turn, increased his riding rate in response to the challenge.

A significant day was March 9, when Bennett covered 263 miles. Before that Godwin's 234 miles in one day was the best between them. On April 21 Godwin replied with a 295-mile day. Saucily, the Midlander did 296 miles on April 29!

Both riders are now topping 200 miles a day regularly. On May 31 Godwin beat the 300-mile mark by nine miles. Bennett came back with a 314-mile effort on June 14 and then 'the pot boiled over' when Godwin, reducing sleep to nearly nil for a three-day effort covered 361 miles on the middle day with 290-odd totals the day before and the day after!

Both riders had been taking pace for some time; both were faced with either fewer sleeping hours still or the establishment of systematic pacing arrangements that would bump up the miles-per-hour and do something to keep the hours awheel under 20 per day!

Recently Godwin was given the assistance of an accompanying manager, Charlie Davey.

The situation had become critical.

Quite obviously the public highway was no place for a ding-dong everything allowed race of this nature.

When the case was put to the manufacturers concerned there was not a moment's hesitation.

They at once contacted with each other by telephone and mutually agreed to bar pacing and withdraw all help from their respective riders.

This week the New Hudson and Raleigh chiefs have arranged a meeting to consider if in any other ways the best interests of the cycling game may be preserved whilst permitting their respective riders to continue piling up the miles in this most dramatic dual attack on the world's endurance record.

The latest position in this remarkable race is: --

Tommy Godwin (to July 28), 42,461 miles
Bernard Bennett (to July 28), 41,312 miles
Ossie Nicholson (to July 31, 1937), 28,500 miles

29 August 1939 saw Godwin complete 50,000 miles. Even without pacing, he had averaged 237 miles a day that month with 308 miles recorded on the 1st.

The most immediate impact the outbreak of war had on Godwin (and indeed everyone else in Britain) was the black-out which went into effect on 1 September, two days before Britain declared war. Roads were plunged into almost complete darkness and what outside lighting remained was dimmed and directed downwards. Vehicle headlamps were fitted with shields, kerbs painted white/black/white for visibility etc. And traffic, car, cycle and pedestrian became perilous between twilight and dawn. Indeed, more Britons died from traffic accidents than were killed by enemy action during the so-called Phony War.

With the shorter daylight hours of autumn, Godwin was obliged to do a lot of riding in the dark, but took the best precautions possible. His black RRA was quickly repainted painted white for greater visibility but with the original "RRA" and "Raleigh" transfers on the original black background and all looking rather wartime expedient which, of course, it was.

Petrol was rationed beginning on 16 September and resulted in a substantial reduction in motorcar traffic which certainly aided Godwin, but it also reduced use of a following support car, too.

War or not, September was lovely and warm, and Godwin managed not to drop below 200 miles day for the entire month, another astonishing statistic. Altogether he clocked 6,674 miles or an average of 222.47 a day with a high of 242 miles ridden on the 20th.

Although there are unsubstantiated reports that Godwin tried for a period to continue his record run in √Čire to escape the wartime conditions in Britain, his recorded mileage at least through the end of 1939 doesn't show an anticipated drop to allow for the crossing and relocation. Furthermore, the public relations fall-out from "escaping" to the neutral Republic would have been considerable.

That October, Godwin's RRA was fitted with a prototype of the new Sturmey-Archer medium-ratio four-speed FM hub which came onto the market the following month. It was hardly an ideal time to introduce what was an important addition to the range and one of the most useful of all the hub gears in its range and performance. Since March, Sturmey-Archer claimed that his average daily mileage had increased by 33½ per cent using the four-speed hubs.

It was sleeting and a thoroughly miserable morning when, at 10.15 a.m. 26 October 1939, Godwin paused at Hendon, North London, as his cyclometer clicked over to 62,658 miles. He had beated Nicholson's record with 66 days to spare. Cycling editor H.H. England was there to sign the checking card verifying the mileage. Then it was off again and a quick 14-mile run to Trafalgar Square where a welcoming crowd, Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer officials and the press awaited him. And, arriving in a cloudburst, Godwin slide out and crashed right in front of the crowd! But few cyclists were as used to doing that and, unfazed and unhurt, posed for the triumphant photos.

H.H. England and the photographer were the only witnesses as Tommy Godwin surpassed Nicholson's record on a dismal, cold morning in Hendon on 26 October 1939. He is riding his formerly black RRA which he hastily repainted white upon the outbreak of war to be more visible during the blackout. credit: Cycling, from

from Cycling, 1 November 1939:

Snow was falling on Thursday morning last [26 October] when Tommy Godwin passed his 62,658th mile since he commenced riding on January 1 last. This he has broken the Year's Mileage Record held since 1937 by Ossie Nicholson, of Australia, and with 66 days in hand.

For 299 days Godwin has averaged the remarkable total of 209½ miles per day! It was snowing when he started and icy conditions made hard going of the first months. At Hendon, when he passed Nicholson's record of 62,657.6 miles, a cold, wet sleet was falling and both the witness, the editor of Cycling, and Tommy shivered as they exchanged signatures, the most important of the thousands on his daily checking cards. Cycling's photographer was the only other interested party with Godwin at this moment of his great achievement. Adding 14 more miles Godwin was welcomed at Trafalgar Square, London, by representatives of the Raleigh Cycle Co., Ltd., Sturmey-Archer Gears Ltd., and the Press generally.

After posing for innumerable photographs Godwin and the party proceeded to the Victoria Hotel, where telegrams awaited him from the chiefs of the great concerns whose products he has so worthily demonstrated. These were read out:--

Congratulations on covering nearly 63,000 miles on your Raleigh bicycle in 43 weeks, thereby breaking world's record for year's mileage with nine weeks still to go. A truly wonderful performance on your part and a tribute to British cycle craftsmanship.
G.H.B. Wilson
Managing Director, Raleigh Cycle Co.

All cyclists will join in congratulating on your successful attack on world's record for year's mileage. Accept personal congratulations on your great feat in cycling nearly 63,000 miles to date. Your brilliant performance definitely demonstrates that the modern high-grade British bicycle fitted with the four-speed hub gear is supreme in quality and dependability.

R.L. Jones
General Manager, Sturmey-Archer Gears, Ltd

Tommy Godwin, aged 27, is the first experienced racing man to tackle the Year's Record. By December 31 he hopes-- black-outs permitting-- to top 75,000 miles.

Some of the credit he gives to the little silver horseshoe he always carried around his neck for luck.

As a professional he an honorary member of the Rickmansworth C.C. but he hails from Stoke-on-Trent where his first club was the North Staffs. In 1933, as a member of the Potteries C.C., he gained the seventh award in the Best All-rounder Road Riding Competition open to all amateur cyclists in the United Kingdom. Godwin now resides (for a few sleeping hours per day!) at Hemel Hempstead.

He is a vegetarian, but a great eater of the permitted foods, and between meals he favours chewing gum. Last winter during the bad weather he lost 2½ stones in weight but he now a pound or two better than the 11 st. 4 lbs. he scaled on 1 January. Tomatoes are his favourite delicacy, but Tommy is also partial to eggs and cheese. 

His biggest day's mileage was on June 21 when he covered 361 miles; his best month was July when he totalled no fewer than 8,561 miles!

His Raleigh bicycle is equipped with one of the latest Sturmey-Archer four-speed gears providing ratios of 57,74, 86 and 97 ins. Indeed, Godwin claims that he increased his daily average from 156 miles per in the early months to over 200 miles a day when his machine was equipped with the S.A. four-speed gear.

How fit he is may be gathered from the fact that on the day before he broke the record he rode down from Stoke-on-Trent to Hemel Hempstead in seven hours, which, allowing for checking stops, etc., is near enough an 'evens' (20 m.p.h.) ride all the way. 

27 October 1939, Daily Herald

Three Cheers for Tommy! Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer officials are joined by passersby in Trafalgar Square on 26 October 1939 to raise a salute for the world's mileage record holder. And one who had "more in the tank" and kept riding.  credit: Cycling (from

Almost understated given the achievement, Raleigh/Sturmey Archer's full page advert in Cycling  of 1 November 1939 heralding the breaking of the world's mileage record. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

28 October 1939 was another milestone in Godwin's endeavour. It was, remarkably, the one and only day off he had in the whole 500-day effort.  He reached 65,000 miles on 7 November and was still averaging 200 miles a day for the month. On Christmas Day he rode the fewest number of miles of the contest, 59.  On New Year's Eve, he cycled into Hyde Park Corner that Sunday morning with "75,065" on his Smith's cyclometer.

Hyde Park, 31 December 1939 Tommy Godwin, bearing a victor's wreath and what must have been a very hastily embroidered sweater with his exact mileage total for the year, receives a congratulatory handshake from Charlie Davey. credit: Cycling

from the Observer, 6 January 1940

The cheers of hundreds of club cyclists greeted 28-years-old Tommy Godwin as he cycled into Hyde Park on Sunday morning, on the last lap of his epic ride, with 75,065 registered on his sealed speedometer, this smashing Ossie Nicholson's 1937 record of 62,627 miles.

This incredible cycle ride, done on the roads of England, has been ridden on an ordinary Raleigh bicycle fitted with a Sturmey-Archer 4-speed hub, and is outstanding in the fact that he averaged 205.6 miles a day throughout the year. How many motorists can claim such an average? Such a performance speaks volumes for the stamina of the man and the easy running qualities of the machine, and effectively disillusion all those who believe that cycling is hard work.

After an ovation from the crowd, Tommy Godwin was congratulated by Mr. Marcel Planes, the first man to set up the record in 1911 with 34, 366 miles; and then proceeded to Grosvenor House, where a reception was held, and the Golden Book of Cycling signed. Telegrams of congratulation from the sponsors of the ride, and others, were read, and it was then announced that Tommy proposed riding for a further 135 days in an attempt to reach 100,000 miles. An enthusiastic crowd gave him a hearty send-off, and he was accompanied on the last part of his journey.

31 December 1939, Tommy Godwin signs Cycling's Golden Book as editor H.H. England looks on. On that day he completed 75,065 miles ridden in a year. And was probably the only entrant in the Golden Book to sign it within hours of his qualifying feat in the sport. Among the guests at the celebratory luncheon was Sid Ferris. 

4 January 1940, Daily Herald. An interesting article on Godwin's record by R.R.A. timekeeper B.W. Best including reference to his ambitions to have a go at the R.R.A. 1000-mile record. credit: British Newspaper Archives. 

For 1940, Godwin signed a professional contract with Raleigh which, according to The Year (Barter), paid him a salary of £5 per week and incidental expenses of 20 shillings weekly plus bonuses of £50 if the 100,000-mile mark was reached with 160 days and an additional  £25 if it was achieved in 135 days. It was all calculated to ensure that Godwin beat Rene Menzies' 100,000 miles achieved in 587 days. And to do so, he would have to continue to average 200 miles day. The race against time was heightened by the war and although Godwin was too old to be included in the first call-ups, he would certainly be included in the second which included older men and most likely by that summer.

For Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer, their continued sponsorship of Godwin was laudable especially given the war, the marketing value of such records had diminished. Indeed, the demand for bicycles exceeded war-limited capacity in 1940 and the market for the Sturmey-Archer racing hubs, RRAs and Charles Holland Continentals was precisely men in the prime draft call-up age group and not likely to invest in the purchase of a new racing bicycle.

Tommy Godwin was feted at a luncheon hosted by Raleigh at Nottingham's Victoria Hotel on 10 January which included seven other crack vegetarian cyclists including Bert James and Sid Ferris. The menu included fruit cocktail, pears Andalouse, savoury omelette, macaroni cheese and strawberry jam tartlette. Godwin still put in a good ride that day as well in his quest to reach 100,000 in 500 days.  Nottingham Journal 12 January 1940

During this phase of his record run, Godwin was riding an ivory painted RRA, either the same one he started with in May 1939 or a similar one rather than the hastily repainted one he ended his year's record on. It is believed he kept to riding with the new FM hub and, additionally, often rode a night with the new GH8 dynohub.

17 January 1940, Cycling. Sturmey-Archer was still reveling in Godwin's year's end mileage record whilst he was contending with the first of the record snows that winter that tested his next goal: 100,000 miles in 500 days. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

The winter of 1939-40 was the worst in 45 years and that, plus the growing restrictions and privations of war, even a "Phony" one, made the second phase of Godwin's record run no less challenging than the first. He only opponent this time was distance and time. But with petrol rationing, he had no support car, either. As a year previously, he was on his own in a wartime winter that seemed endless snow, ice and cold.  Conditions were bad enough that he averaged "only" 170 miles a day in January, but he still managed 5,581 miles that month. According to one report, he crashed 84 times in a single day in February and, despite the still horrendous weather, did 200 miles or more on ten days that month.

Worse, food rationing went into effect in January 1940. As a vegetarian and with a huge caloric requirement on account of his cycling, Godwin was hard-pressed especially procuring cheese and eggs, his staples. Fortunately, his manager Charlie Davey, also a vegetarian, proved invaluable in scouting out sources in rural areas where rationing wasn't the issue it was in the towns.

It was mid March before the weather improved and his mileage began to recover with 13 days recording 200 miles or more. And probably eager for a change, he even managed to participate in two 25-mile time trials along his route. By 17 April, he was 4,733 miles from his goal and 27 days left to accomplish it.

A wonderful "end of an era" photo showing Sid Ferris just after handing Tommy Godwin a drink at Hog's Back, Surrey, in April 1940. This was during a special 25-mile time trial arranged by Charlie Davey and the Addiscombe CC of which he was co-founder. Godwin clocked an impressive 1 hour 5 mins. 13 secs. Details of his RRA are worth noting: it's stripped for racing with only the front spear point extension, fork lamp bracket removed, appears to be fitted with a Conloy sprint wheelset and no Smith's cyclometer... so the 25 miles didn't even count toward his 100,000 mile target! credit:

If Godwin's record run was nearing its end, so, too, was "The Phony War" (at least on the Western Front) as Germany invaded Denmark and Norway on 9 April whilst the British and French expedition force in Narvik was forced to re-embark later that week in a shambles, leaving the Chamberlain Government in dire political straits.  All this pushed Godwin's exploits further off the newspaper pages and even towards the dramatic end, he was back to toiling away in relative obscurity except in the cycling magazines which still covered it of course.

Charlie Davey laid out a 120-mile course along the famous Pilgrim's Way from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral for Godwin to prove his paces along a point to point course as final flourish as the end approached. This was accomplished on 1 May 1940 in 6 hours 8 mins. 34 secs., not quite an "evens" speed but close enough and a pretty impressive performance in a headwind for much of it and two punctures.

Final feet to 100,000 miles, Paddington Recreation Ground cycle track, 13 May 1940.

Davey worked out that Godwin would reach 100,000 miles on Whit Monday 13 May 1940 and co-ordinated the finale with a scheduled track racing meeting at Paddington Recreation Ground, London, that day. In the event, that meet was postponed when, during the upheaval upon Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister, the Bank Holiday was cancelled. But Godwin cycled on, reaching Hyde Park Corner with 99,999 miles on his Smith's cyclometer which he then disconnected for the short ride to Paddington Recreation Ground. There, it was reconnected for a ceremonial one-mile circuit of the track, pushed off by famous British woman cyclist Billie Dovey. He had even exceeded the capacity of his cyclometer: it recycled back to "00,000" as he reached 100,000 miles!

Whit Monday, Paddington Recreation Ground, 13 May 1940: Tommy Godwin is congratulated by Cycling's H.H. England having completed 100,000 miles in 499 days. A great and yet unbroken record held by a British rider, British bicycle and gears. The rider and machine show the rigours of the effort and it will be noted that Godwin's RRA is fitted with the Sturmey-Archer GH8 Dynohub. credit: Cycling, from the

The next week, Godwin returned to Paddington Recreation Ground for the re-scheduled track meet and despite the dire war news from France and Belgium (Brussels fell that very day), Raleigh put on a quite a show. Sid Ferris, Billie Dovey and Marguerite Wilson joining Godwin in celebratory laps and he was presented with a laurel wreath by Miss Wilson. But there was nary a mention in the press about any of it as the nation's attention was focused on the short and now frightening so distance across the English Channel.  Nothing, however, could take away or diminish the incomparable personal achievement by a true athlete and sportsman.

British champion cyclist Marguerite Wilson (who broke the R.R.A. records for women on the End-to-End and 1000-mile the day before Britain declared war) presents Tommy Godwin with a victor's laurel wreath on 18 May 1940 during the rescheduled ceremony at Paddington Recreation Ground.

The Newcastle Journal of 16 May 1940 reflecting on record breaking in wartime.

7 May 1940 Nottingham Post, a detail from a Raleigh ad

The last press mention of Godwin's ride for the duration appeared in the Sports Globe of Melbourne, Australia, 23 October 1940. This mentions his war service with the Royal Air Force as Physical Training Instructor. credit: Trove, National Library of Australia. 

Godwin was called up in July and, possibly to the foreboding of young recruits, became a Physical Training Instructor for the Royal Air Force. After the war, he continued his passion cycling but wasn't able to restore his amateur status.

Charles Holland was released from his contract with the team back in late September 1939 and served in the Royal Corps of Signals. Bert James resumed work for Raleigh in summer of 1945, touring with the first prototype of the new Raleigh Record Ace and the Sturmey-Archer ASC three-speed fixed gear. He continued to work with Raleigh into the 1950s, clocking some 16,000 miles a year putting new and improved Raleighs through their paces. Charles Marshall continued with Sturmey-Archer and Raleigh and after the war, recruited Reg Harris to ride for Raleigh and began a new chapter for the firm at the forefront of cycle sport.

The war slammed the door shut on the Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer team and in its wake, the records and achievements were largely forgotten. Then, too, the glory days of cycle companies vying for the R.R.A. records never resumed, either, and barely remembered today as the major event in British cycling it once was. For Sturmey-Archer, its racing and club hub gears found a measure of post-war sales success through the mid 1950s by which time the derailleur was all dominant. For Raleigh, its involvement in cycle sport carried on and indeed Reg Harris and the later successes of the TI Raleigh team are far better remembered today. But nothing is likely to match (or has to date) Godwin's 100,000 miles in 499 days ridden on a Raleigh with a Sturmey-Archer hub gear and that is reason enough to appreciate a team of true Record Aces.  


Feed Well, Speed Well (Vegetarian C&AC 1888-1939), Steve Oxbrow, 2011
Raleigh, Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand, Tony Hadland, 2012
The Year, Dave Barter, 2015
Unsurpassed, Godfrey Barlow, 2012
The Bicycle
British Newspaper Archives
National Library of Australia
The Pedal Club
Sturmey-Archer Heritage
Three Speed Hub
Tommy Godwin Long Distance Legend
Veteran-Cycle Club

Special thanks to Peter Jourdain who unstintingly and painstakingly reviewed his complete set of Cycling magazines c. 1936-39 and supplied scans which were invaluable in the research and illustration of this article.

© Peter C. Kohler

1 comment:

  1. Great effort Peter. I have not read all, but noticed one typo, if you search for "Grantham his gears" you will see the first gear ratio quoted as 47.3, this should read 74.3. Perhaps check that I got the percentage right.

    Tubular tyres please, not the US "sew ups". I sometimes used the Dunlop no. 3 tubular, about 12 ounces, hand made with a hand mounted tread.

    Keith Body