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My best 12 hour ride.

The picture here shows me aged seventeen competing in my native England in the National 12 Hour Time Trial Championship. I remember that I was the first rider off at 5:01 a.m. on a Sunday morning in August 1953 and I rode non-stop until precisely 5:01 p.m. that evening when a time keeper who had followed me for the last few miles told me to stop. The whole course was measured precisely and for the last part of the event riders were directed onto a fifteen mile “finishing circuit” until their time ran out.

The mileage was marked on the finishing circuit at every quarter of a mile. From the point where my time ran out the time keeper went back to the nearest marker and on a fixed wheel bicycle counted pedal revolutions to the point where I had stopped. Using this method each rider had the distance covered measured to the nearest yard. I covered just over 220 miles my best ride for this event and one that I never bettered in later years. The winning ride that day was around 250 miles.

After I set out that morning other riders followed at one minute intervals; 120 in all over a two hour period. It was a perfect day as I remember, overcast but not cold and little or no wind. The course was on the famous Great North Road where time trials had been held since they started in the late 1800s. The Great North Road or “The A1” as it is designated was the main arterial road from London to Scotland at the time. The first freeway or Motorway as they are called in England was not built until 1959.

The course started at Girtford Bridge about 40 miles north of London and went as far north as Grantham in Lincolnshire. The course was laid out like a giant tree with the A1 being the main trunk running south to north and along the way we were diverted off on branches running east and west. Riding along a branch road to a certain point then doing a “U” turn to ride back to the Great North Road. In the picture I had just done one of these "U" turns and was out of the saddle getting back up to speed. The whole event monitored by volunteer marshals and everyone checked to ensure they rode every part of the course.

When I say I rode non-stop I mean non-stop. I was held on the start line by a helper, and as the seconds counted down I strapped my feet into the pedals and they remained there for the entire twelve hours; my feet never touched the ground during that period. I carried food and drink with me, and more was handed up during the event. My favorite food to carry was rice pudding with raisins in it. My mother would bake it in the oven until it was semi solid but still moist and could be cut into rectangular pieces and wrapped in grease proof paper. This was before the time of plastic wrap and aluminum foil.

It was still officially dark when I started and I had to use battery lights. You can just see the tail light mounted above the rear brake. The heavy front lamp was clipped to my handlebars and I had dropped that off en-route by the time this picture was taken. In case you are wondering I did not have to pee the entire twelve hours; I guess perspiration removed any excess liquid from my body.


Reader Comments (8)

How had you trained for riding that long, so young? It seems without much experience, some of us do so well in things we are just starting out in, without being able to explain it.
Is that a spare tyre wrapped around your shoulders?
And the rice cakes: I still think fig newtons and flat raisin cakes are as good as any "power bars" out there, at considerable savings.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter VintageSpin
At the age of thirteen I thought nothing of riding 100 miles on my 40 lb. all steel roadster bike; riding long distances seemed to come natural to me. My parents never owned a car so I didn’t have transport to races and I would ride as far as 50 miles to an event, then ride a 50 or 100 mile Time Trial and ride back home after.
For this particular 12 hour event I rode to the event the previous day and stayed at a bed and breakfast as I had a 5:00 a.m. start, but I did ride 50 miles home after. So I did about 270 miles that day.
Yes that was a spare tubular tire I am wearing in the style of the 1950s Tour de France riders of that era. Louis Bobet was my hero and my bike was set up similar to his right down to the Huret twin lever derailleur. The one lever shifted gears and the other adjusted the chain tension. You will notice in the picture my chain is riding slack.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Dave Moulton
Rice pudding with raisins? Great! Could you write a bit more about the food you ate that day, and on other rides? Maybe the subject of another blog post, what people ate on longer rides back in the day...
January 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Michael R
I'm impressed you never had to get off the bike in 12 hours, but, I wonder if you got dehydrated if you never had to stop for a pee.

Some of our club rides with Otley CC were upto 150 miles. They kind of took about 12 hours (with the obligatory cafe stops)

rice pudding with raisins. that sounds so good.


July 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterglass

There were 12 hour events for scrubbers like me with sit down feeding station(s) I rode the Oldbury cc event and still remember the roadside ex-army tent in which I wolfed down custard, jelly, etc. My distance? 225 miles which qualifiied me for a Mid Shropshire Wheelers bronze medal. The bike? My all purpose machine sans mudguards and carrier, 5 speed Simplex Grande Tourisme 14-28, 46-49 chainrings operated by a neck twisting Benelux rod type changer as mentioned on other pages Oh yes, as this was a "late season event" the first 30 riders had to start with lights! Competition Record is 300+ miles whilst for ladies, Beryl Burton's 1967 record of 277+ miles still stands!

November 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterterry egglestone

I rode five 12 hour events all in Cheshire. (UK) I used to train 20 hours a week throughout the summer and reduced it a bit in the winter. I also had a full time job so training took place whenever there was time. I was no world beater I just had an ambition to exceed 200 miles and I did it twice. 208 miles and 211 miles. My final two rides were cut short by back trouble and I retired from the event. When I did 211 miles the winner recorded over 270 miles well out of my range.

April 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbikedunc

In a study of my father's cycling medals I note the following of 9 medals:
12 HR 1939
222 3/4 MLS

My father William Henderson would have been 27 at the time just at the start or WWII. I guess the War interrupted everything as that was the final medal I have. From the medals I have he started cycling some time in the mid 30's and the first medal I have is from Mar 21/37 for fastest novice in a 25 TT. I was trying to track information on the Early Birds CC 1891 to which he belonged from the Newcastle area when I stumbled onto your blog. Very nice, by the way. If you have any information on the Early birds I'd appreciate hearing, as searches so far have not turned up anything. Cheers.

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScotty Henderson
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