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« The tale of two Tommy Godwins: Part II | Main | Stop handing them the stick »

The tale of two Tommy Godwins: Part I

There are two former top British cyclists named Tommy Godwin; the first not so well known even amoung cyclists from the UK. None the less he should not go unrecognized. 

Born in Stoke on Trent in 1912, he won over 200 amateur and professional races in his lifetime, but his greatest achievement was the World One Year Mileage record.

In the year 1939 he rode a bicycle 75,065 miles. (120,805 km.) That is over 200 miles per day, in all kinds of weather, 365 days of the year, or the equivalent of riding round the world, three times in one year.

WWII broke out in September 1939 and due to blackout restrictions, Tommy was forced to ride in the dark with his lamps taped over, so they gave only the slightest glimmer.

The record originated a year before Godwin was born, in 1911 sponsored by “Cycling” Magazine, and was set that year by Frenchman, Marcel Planes, who covered 34,666 miles. (55,790 km.)

No mean feat in of itself, when you consider this is roughly 95 miles a day, on a single gear, when many roads were little more than dirt tracks.

Over the years there were many attempts at this record, nine were successful, the final record was set by Tommy Godwin; WWII brought an end to further attempts, and they were never resumed.

The picture at the top of the page shows Tommy starting out in the rain, on his daily ride; he is with an official time keeper. You will notice there is a cable driven mileage recorder attached to the front wheel of his bike.

The bike equipped with mudguards, and a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub gear, probably weighed in excess of 30 lbs. I’m sure Sturmey Archer was one of his many sponsors for this epic ride; along with the manufacturers of the other equipment he used.

The record is in theory still open for challenge, although not for entry in the Guinness Book of World Records; the publishers have deemed the record too dangerous to repeat.

After covering the new record distance by the end of 1939, Tommy kept riding until May of 1940 to cover 100,000 miles. He then spent several months recovering and quite possibly learning how to walk again.

Later that year he joined the Royal Air Force where he remained until the war ended in 1945. Keen to race as an amateur after the war, Tommy was banned from competition by British cycling officials because he was a former professional.

Godwin died age 63 while on a bike ride with friends in 1975. There is a memorial plaque in the Fenton Manor Sports Center, Stoke on Trent, Tommy’s birth town.

Anyone who has ridden a bike seriously can appreciate what it would take to ride 200 miles a day, for a year. It would mean riding between 12 and 18 hours a day, much of it in the dark, and imagine the amount of food one would have to consume to fuel such a ride.

My car has covered 100,000 miles in the last eight years, Tommy Godwin did the same distance on a bicycle in less than a year and a half. 

Read more about this incredible man, Tommy Godwin here. 

Next time I will write about the cycling's other Tommy Godwin. (More well known, in the UK.) One I met on several occasions, and is still with us, a former Olympic medal winner, and former GB Team Manager.


Reader Comments (16)

Wow! I manage just over 20 miles a day and thats hard enough - what a man!!!

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoby

I'd never heard of this guy or his record. Must have been made of iron.

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstephen_mc

This "great feat" is sick; it is the sign of individual and social pathology.

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermike

I can't think why you would think this "sick." Men have always tested their endurance to the limit. No different than climbing Mount Everest or going to the South Pole.
Besides, this was a different era, cycists rode greater distances then, 12 and 24 hour Time Trials were common place. Tour de France stages were often close to 200 miles over mountains and dirt roads.
The roads had less motorised traffic, etc. I don't think such a record would be practical today, or relivant.

November 30, 2009 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Thanks, another great post. The links you provided are also interesting. When I mentioned to my wife this amazing feat, she wasn't impressed until I put it into the terms you did, 60k on the car in seven years. Looking forward to the "other" Tommy Godwin.

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Very interesting indeed. My mother remembers the blackout in London very well, as a young girl.

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentereyebee

Fascinating story I had never heard about, but will explore a bit more if it now that you've pointed it out.

I'm always interested in the bicycles that were used for past achievements like this. These athletes used the technology of the time, but even assuming that, there is still a sense that they were more focused on the activity than on the technology.

December 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Wow, that's really an amazing story. Thanks for posting it.

December 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdb

75,000+ miles in one year? That's just plain loopy - doesn't even seem possible.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

"...imagine the amount of food one would have to consume to fuel such a ride."

So Dave, I take it that Godwin's endeavor wasn't really 'green'? :)

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Tommy Godwin was my grandmothers brother and i remember her telling me all about him when i was a child.Today i have had great pride in showing this article to my own children.Thank you uncle Tommy x

December 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTracey Brown

Hi, I am the author of one of the articles cited and am still in the process of researching the article further. If any readers have any other information about Tommy or other record attemptees then I would be delighted to here from you.
Dave Barter

ps.. I did a piece for Radio 4 on Tommy, see link here Not sure if the audio is still on iplayer

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave Barter

Can anyone give more details/photo of Marcel Planes please?
Regards, Joy

May 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoy Marshall

You might contact "Cycling" magazine, there is a link to their website in the article. As they are the ones who sponsored the record, they may have details and/or photos in their archives.

May 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

I believe it was pretty green actually. Apparently he did all this on a vegetarian diet. You wonder how much forward thrust that provided.... :o)

May 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermatt

A very well written article. Not only was Tommy Godwin an amazing cyclist, he was modest and unassuming never boasting of his world records, I was 15 years old before I knew he was a world champion, and he was my dad !!

If I can help in any way just let me know.

Thanks again for the article

February 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Ford

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