In 1952, the year I started racing in England, to be able to ride a 25 mile time trial in under one hour was an achievement that only a few top riders in the country could lay claim.
The previous year 1951, the British Competition Record for the distance was a little over 57 minutes, and was held by North London rider Dave Keeler. Many of the top twenty-five milers of that era specialized in this distance, and was the only event they rode.
Two other 25 mile specialists who stood out were twenty something identical twin brothers Stan and Bernard Higginson from Halesowen in the Birmingham area. (Stan Higginson is pictured above.) They always competed in the same event and usually took first and second place.
Occasionally Bernard would beat his brother Stanley, but usually it was Stan who was the stronger of the two, but only by the narrowest of margins, a few seconds. Stan Higginson took the competition record from Keeler late in 1951, lowering the time to just over 56 minutes.
British time trials of that era, and especially the shorter distances were always ridden using a fixed wheel. Usually 86 inch (48 x 15) Most riders trained on a 65 inch gear (48 x 20) or 68 inch (48 x 19) throughout the winter months.
A very popular early season event was a medium gear 25 mile time trial were the gear was restricted to 72 inches (48 x 18) All competitors used the same single fixed gear. This leveled the playing field, and the ones who had learned to pedal fast throughout the winter months would come out on top.
So it was on Sunday March 23rd in 1952 on a perfect day with little wind the best 25 milers in the country gathered for the Calleva RC 72 inch Medium Gear Event, held on a North London course. There was a full field, this being the first event of the year where the top London and Midland riders would do battle.
History was made that morning, when three riders finished under the hour. As I said at the beginning of this piece, it was an achievement in the early 1950s for any rider to beat the hour for 25 miles; to do so on a 72 inch gear was phenomenal.
Stan Higginson won the event in 59 minutes, 20 seconds. This meant he was pedaling at over 118 revolutions per minute for 25 miles. That is some serious spinning, or twiddling as it was known back then.
Stan’s twin brother Bernard came in second with a time of 59 min. 48 sec. and the former competition record holder Dave Keeler was third with a time of 59 min. 58 sec. Incidentally, Stan Higginson’s winning ride that day was only two seconds slower than the record for that particular course done on unrestricted gears.
I remember this moment in British cycling history well. Although I was not at the actual event, I remember these times were talked about all over the UK in the weeks that followed.
There is very little information out there on riders of this era, and I wonder if the Higginson twins are still with us. Quite possible as they would be in their early eighties now.
I found one article on this event, in which the writer speculated that Dave Keeler may have been the first to beat the hour on a 72 inch gear. He may well have been, as he would have started and finished before the Higginsons on that day. But as I remember, this was the day that the first sub hour 72 inch gear ride was ever recorded in the UK.
Another tidbit of information about the Higginson twins. I remember reading in a Cycling Magazine article, when the twins boasted that they never trained, saying they were too lazy. However, they did state that they both rode their bikes to and from work each day.
The seven mile commute from their home to the Birmingham factory where they both worked was treated like a race between the two. The first out to his bike in the morning, and again at night leaving work, after strapping on his saddle bag, leaped on his bike and took off. The other would chase.
To say they didn’t train was not strictly true. What they were doing was probably the best preparation they could have done for a 25 mile time trial.
Stan and Bernard also competed in pursuit races on the track, and I'm pretty sure Stan Higginson was National Pursuit Champion on more than one occasion. But I can find no record at this time to confirm.