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.
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.