Glasgow's Cycling Heritage

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Glasgow's Cycling Heritage

Postby Dugald » Mon Apr 23, 2007 11:32 am

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.
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Postby Osiris » Mon Apr 23, 2007 12:45 pm

Excellent post Dugald.

Sadly cycling is not quite as popular thesedays although a few of those old clubs still exist and you can sometimes see them heading off on a Sunday morning if your up and about early enough.

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Postby Blueboy » Mon Apr 23, 2007 6:21 pm

Sadly, the drum-ups are few and far between these days. I used to tag along on the club runs up to Loch Lomond and the back roads around Beith when I was in Johnstone Wheelers. There's still a fair bit of road racing goes on (I was riding in a race on the Stewarton Road/A77 on Sunday). Time trialling can be seen early on Saturday/Sunday mornings and weekday evenings on the A8 at Langbank, A78 in Irvine, and A736 at Lugton.
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Postby AlanM » Mon Apr 23, 2007 6:44 pm

Quite often see cycle club groups heading out Great Western Rd on a Sunday morning, their numbers tend to swell as we head into the summer months.
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Postby Cyclo2000 » Tue Apr 24, 2007 11:07 am

It used to be a popular run to go "Round the Cloch", where we'd all troup out to the Cloch lighthouse or environs for a drum up.

Glasgow has an illustrious place in cycling history, not least for Rattray's Flying Scot Bicycles, which were (and in many cases remain) among the very finest steel lightweight bicycles ever made.
With premises in the heart of town (Murray street, Parlimentary Road- now sadly gone) Rattrays was the bicycle shop of choice for all who could afford to go there.
My own Scot Continental is wrought in Accles and Pollack Kromo tubing, a product so ahead of it's time and so scarce it was only ever used by a handful of framebuilders, all of them at the very top end of their craft. With fancy nervex proffesional lugs and the (new around 1956) Campag GranSport 5 speed derailieur, The Scot Continental was one of the best machines of it's day. Bob Reid's remarkable site pays tribute to these, the most special of specialist 50's racers, here
http://www.flying-scot.co.uk/core/welcome.html
Note the section on other regional makers, like Ernie Worralls in Hamilton, who perfected the sealed tube Bottom Bracket and patented it, only to see their competitors adopt this revolutionary idea when they couldn't afford to renew the patent. Worralls workshop is now an Indian Restaurant.
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Postby Dugald » Tue Apr 24, 2007 11:52 pm

Osiris wrote:Excellent post Dugald.
Sadly cycling is not quite as popular thesedays although a few of those old clubs still exist and you can sometimes see them heading off on a Sunday morning if your up and about early enough.J

Thank you Osiris. Yes, the popularity of the cycling sport in Scotland has dwindled. A bicycle is generally looked upon these days as a toy. That's the way it once was in Canada and America, yet today its popularity is soaring. There are thousands of active cyclists in Toronto and Ottawa. The Toronto Bicycle Network has more than 1500 members, and when they go for a ride on a Sunday, they have to break the club into several groups, each with more than 100 riders in them. One of the Ottawa B.C. annual runs last year had 1400 ridrers, and it was a two-day ride, each day's ride being more than 100miles! In '98 I went to an American 3-day rally in Clinton, New York, and there were more than 4000 participants. The enthusiasm is unbelievable.
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Postby Dugald » Tue Apr 24, 2007 11:56 pm

Blueboy wrote:Sadly, the drum-ups are few and far between these days. I used to tag along on the club runs up to Loch Lomond and the back roads around Beith when I was in Johnstone Wheelers. There's still a fair bit of road racing goes on (I was riding in a race on the Stewarton Road/A77 on Sunday). Time trialling can be seen early on Saturday/Sunday mornings and weekday evenings on the A8 at Langbank, A78 in Irvine, and A736 at Lugton.

Blueboy, I recall the Johnstone Wheelers well, they were always a strong club and catered to the sport in all its aspects. Good to hear they are still involved. All the roads you mentioned are very familiar, I've ridden on them all in recent years. I used to ride along with a deserter from the Scots Guards who was member of this club. His only interest was bike racing and he never gave his desertion a second thought even when his name was being published in the press for winning races. His attitude to life was inspiring... alas, they eventually caught him.
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Postby Dugald » Wed Apr 25, 2007 12:01 am

AlanM wrote:Quite often see cycle club groups heading out Great Western Rd on a Sunday morning, their numbers tend to swell as we head into the summer months.

Great Western Rd. at Anniesland Cross was always a popular meeting place for clubs and I guess it still is. It was easy for Govan cyclists heading for the Trossachs or the Kippen Flats to get there by means of the Linthouse Ferry, but when they opened the tunnel and brought all the traffic onto the streets in Partick it became hopeless! The Erskine Bridge on the other hand, brought a vast improvement to the Southside cyclists heading for Loch Lomond: no more waiting around for a ferry!
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Postby Dugald » Wed Apr 25, 2007 12:05 am

Cyclo2000 wrote:It used to be a popular run to go "Round the Cloch", where we'd all troup out to the Cloch lighthouse or environs for a drum up.

Glasgow has an illustrious place in cycling history, not least for Rattray's Flying Scot Bicycles, which were (and in many cases remain) among the very finest steel lightweight bicycles ever made.

Yes Cyclo, "Round the Cloch" is a lovely ride. Ach, but they don't "drum-up" anymore, they go to the cafe at the garden centre round past Lunderston Bay: it's always dry and warm and one doesn't have to light a fire! Mind you, any sunny Sunday now, that coast road is so crowded with pollutant-spewing bumber-to-bumper autos that one would be safer going for a ride in Bellahoustan Park!

I read the web site you posted, and found it very interesting. Rattray's Flying Scot bicycles were always very popular when I was cycling in Scotland. I never had one myself. Govan had its own bicycle shops, four in fact, and the two bikes I owned were both built in Govan: one by John McNeil and the other by Neil McCulloch. As well as these two dealers there was Andy McNeil and Roberstson's but I don't think Robertson's built bicycles. The Govan bikes I had, were first class machines and crafted just as professionally as any Flying Scot. I think it was about 1990 when I visited Dales in Glasgow and they had a whole rack of Flying Scots, but they had been built in Newcastle.
I remember Ernie Worralls. There were a number of very fast men in Mid Scotland who rode his bikes. I never knew it was he who perfected the sealed Bottom Bracket; boy, what a change that made... no more squeaky bottom bracket cotter pins!
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Postby Cyclo2000 » Wed Apr 25, 2007 9:27 am

I've only ever seen one Worrall on the road. The old fella that had it was still cuttin' aroon' on bamboo rims. He was hanging about outside ProAm in Larkhall, looking for a mug to burn - I was that mug. Went down the Lanark Valley with the old scunner and he nearly killed me. He was talking about trees and flowers and all I saw was the front wheel and the end of me tongue.

I've never seen an Andy McNeil in the flesh but there's a Paris Sport "Milano" in the transport museum, looks like a 70's bike but of course it's not.

The Flying Scot name was bought by Dales in the 80's and a series of frames both MTB and road were produced under the Scot name by M. Steel, I think Dave Yates built them. Nice enough frames but they dinnae compare to the pencil stayed fifties frames.
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Postby Dugald » Wed Apr 25, 2007 3:32 pm

Cyclo, I haven't seen a Worrall or bamboo rims for years. They'd both be collectors' items now. So would the Paris Sport "Milano"; I remember when one could buy a "Paris Sport" for nine guineas; it never quite made the 'top o' the line' status. I never owned an "Andy McNeil" but I rode one for an entire winter and it was a superb bicycle. Andy was a pretty clever fellow and did many favours for cyclists... he eventually went into the motorbike business.
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Postby Cyclo2000 » Wed Apr 25, 2007 4:07 pm

Many of the old cycle works were closed by the war - they couldnae get the steel for manufacture. Rattrays for instance, threw themselves at the war effort, producing pins for Bailey bridges at their Murray Street workshop in place of the bikes they couldn't make. Accles and Pollack themselves stopped production of bicycle tubing at the out break of the conflagration to concentrate on the production of Airframes, most notably that of the Spitfire. After the war, they were bought by Tube Industries at the same time as Ti aquired Reynolds (makers of the venerable 531) and so, as Ti didn't need two bike tube rollers, A&P continued in aerospace and chemical tubing and Reynolds became the gold standard for cycles. Ironicly, it's only in the last 5 - 10 years that Reynolds have started to market the very air hardening steel tubes used by A&P before the war, claiming them as a great leap forward for steel frame manufacture, which has of course been overtaken of late, first by aluminium and then by carbon fibre.

It's always been a precarious business, owning a bikeshop. More so now I think, with the rise of internet shopping. Only recently, an upscale bikeshop opened (in Hamilton) and went bust (in short order). Shame, as Cameron was a nice guy. He rides with the East Kilbride Wheelers, but there were and continue to be many excellent cycle clubs in around Glesgae...
The Johnstone Wheelers
The Royal Albert
The Ivy
The Couriers
The Nightingale
The E.K. Wheelers
The GlenMarnock
The Glasgow Wheelers

I'm sure there's others too, the Uni used to have a club.
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Postby Osiris » Wed Apr 25, 2007 4:20 pm

I never really got into road cycling or the club scene. I am a keen mountain biker though and there are some great offroad routes in and around Glasgow, my current favourite is Carron Valley http://www.carronvalley.org.uk. I take my hat off to the roadies I see tackling the 'tak me doon' road on my way out there.

There are a few mountain bike clubs operating in Glasgow (GMBC is the biggest I think) and a friend of mine from the Glenmarnock Wheelers recently tried to create an offshoot for mountain biking but I don't think it was popular with the regulars. Scotland is fast becoming the mountain bike center of Europe [IMHO].

The closest I've come to road biking was when I tried restoring a Holdsworth Special circa 1979. Got as far as sourcing a Campag Neuvo Record groupset and lost interest unfortunately.

:?

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Postby Cyclo2000 » Thu Apr 26, 2007 8:28 am

It's true that the Tak Ma Doon is particularly harsh. I live in Cumbernauld as any fule no, and this rears up for me within the first ten minutes of me ride. It's no joke tackling it cold, believe me. But it get's worse...or it can if you let it!
After the Carron Bridge Inn at the foot of the descent, carry straight over heading to Stirling and keep going till you see the turnoff for the North Third Reservoir. Batter along there and you'll drop onto the Earl's Hill. Up past the radio masts you go, a swine of an ascent, worse still if you do it from sea level at Stirling!
Once descended back to the valley at Fintry it's way out and up we go. The back way up the Crow Road awaits you, mile after mile of punishing ascent. Your reward is the 50MPH plus descent of the Crow down into Lennoxtown
Ye'll be ready fur yer tea by the time ye get in!
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Postby Dugald » Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:31 am

Interesting stuff about the bicycle business' contribution to the war effort Cyclo. Aside from being aware that Andy McNeil had gone to work for Rolls Royce during the war and most of the mechanics had gone into the army, I didn't know anything about this. The 'venerable' Reynolds' 531 tubing that you mention was what both my Glasgow bikes were made of. I suppose at the time it was the very best, but this didn't prevent me from once breaking my down tube into two quite distinct part... while riding! Yes, the big deal in the world of "fast men" these days, is of course the carbon fibre; super material, but terribly expensive (ach ye still have to push them anyway!).

I knew all of the clubs you mention except the E.K. Wheelers; that's a new club to me. Regarding Glasgow clubs of yesteryear, to your list you could add: The Lancia, Lomond Roads, Belle StarrR.C., Glasgow Regent, Glasgow United, Glasgow Eastern, Glasgow Road Club, Bellisle, Douglas. I never heard of a "Uni" club. I think between us we've covered the lot.

I enjoyed your wee toot around Cumbernauld. I'm not very familiar with the roads near Cumbernauld but when you get over to the Fintry region, I think I could still find my way around there. There use to be a SYHA place there and I spent an enjoyable Christmas weekend there once.
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