Cycling in Glasgow.
The geographic location of Glasgow, sitting astride a river and surrounded by beautiful countryside and well-served by suitable roads and paths, proved ideal for the development of an enthusiastic cycling fraternity. From its once severely overcrowded, sooty, tenement neighbourhoods, one could very easily, and very cheaply, make one's way out into the clean fresh air with a minimum of effort. Throughout a large part of the last century, cycling was a major pastime and sport for many Glaswegians. All one required was a bicycle and this was, by and large, within the financial means of most working-class people. Cycling flourished in Glasgow.
The popularity of the sport led to the development of a host of cycling clubs in the city. These clubs catered to cycling in all its aspects from simple local touring, to international cycling competitions. The keen interest in touring contributed a great deal to the development of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA), by means of which a cyclist could spend weekends or annual holidays outside the city in very good accommodation at very modest rates. The SYHA catered only to hikers and cyclists in those days. Members travelling by motor bike or motor cars were not welcome at the hostels.
Glasgow had long been well-served by cycling clubs. In the years after the Second World War, for example, the city boasted about twelve cycling clubs, all of which fostered the sport in all its aspects. It was not uncommon to see the cycling clubs riding through the city or along country roads riding two-abreast on traffic-free roads. During the winter months most clubs had a "spot" on the shores of Loch Lomond and around Lunderston Bay, where a club member could ride out to the spot on a Sunday and spend the day sitting at a cheery fire and "drumming-up" along with fellow club mates. Riding home at night during the short days of winter one could ride along Loch Lomond and see glowing club fires at a variety of different club spots.
Cycling of course was a great deal more popular during the summer months, and much time was devoted to bicycle racing. In the early days of the time-trial racing, races were held early in the morning, every Sunday, from early March until October. Short-distance races, say 25 miles for example, would start around 6am, while the long-distance events like 100 miles or 12 hour races, might start as early as 4am. After the Second World War the time-trialing was so popular, with perhaps more than 150 riders wanting to ride, that the field had to be split into two races to accommodate all these enthusiasts.
In the heydays of cycling there were several Glasgow racing men who achieved national and international recognition, in the many aspects of bicycle racing. Back in the 1930s, Jackie Bone of the Glasgow Wheelers acquired national fame when he became the first British cyclist to attain an average speed of more than 20 mph in a 12-hour race. Jackie also rode as a member of the British team in the road race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In the post-Second World War era another Glasgow cyclist, Ian Steele of the Glasgow United C.C., enjoyed wide international recognition following his winning of the prestigious Warsaw-Prague road race. In more recent years, Robert Miller, late of the Glasgow Wheelers, won the "King of the Mountains" title in the international multi-stage Tour de France - a highly contested and extremely demanding, aspect of the Tour. In track racing, Glasgow's Johnny McKenzie of the Douglas C.C. gained national recognition in 1948 by defeating the reigning World Champion sprinter, Reg Harris, at a competition in Ibrox Stadium.
Many Glasgow cyclists spent their summer holidays touring around Britain, moving from one hostel to another. Around Glasgow there were many fine hostels, well within a comfortable day's ride. This recreation was so popular that it was generally advisable to book ahead in order to assure accommodation was available. It was not uncommon to see whole families, mother, father, and children, enjoying a cycling holiday: no travelling expenses here!
The touring aspect of cycling was not without its competition. Clubs such as the British Cyclists Touring Club (C.T.C.) held map-reading competitions and a variety of others involving cycling skills. The British Blue Ribbon competition in the non-racing aspect of cycling was simply the number of miles ridden in one year, and Glasgow had a real champion in this field. For many years the British magazine "The Cycling" provided graph paper for mileage enthusiasts to graph their annual mileage by months, and Glasgow's Tommy Chambers was a frequent winner.
Tommy Chambers, a true Glaswegian, spent all his free time riding his bicycle and it was not uncommon for Tommy to ride in excess of 18,000 miles in one year. Over a period of 51 years, Tommy amassed an unbelievable grand total of 799,405 miles (1,287,440 kms) on his bicycle, and was credited with holding the world's cycling mileage record by the "Guiness Book of Records". Throughout his cycling life Tommy kept diaries of all his rides, and recorded all the money he had spent on his bicycle, the number of punctures and all other mechanical problems he'd suffered. When Tommy died, he left all his diaries and other pertinent personal cycling information to Glasgow's People's Palace, along with a very substantial sum of money.
Sad to say, the sport of cycling in Glasgow is no longer quite so popular as it once was. With the massive increase in automobile usage, there has been a great decrease in the popularity of bicycle riding. North America on the other hand, has experienced a great increase in the cycling sport and many major cities encourage cycling by providing such things as cycle paths and reserved bicycle lanes. In riding down the Loch Lomond road on a winter Sunday now, it's very unlikely one will see the cheery glow of a Glasgow cycling club's fire.