Classic Lightweights UK
Dennis Talbot - ex-professional racing cyclist
Dennis Talbot interviewed by Peter Underwood 2006
Dennis Talbot started cycling in 1945 with a New Hudson touring bike which had cost him £12. He soon joined the East London Racing Club as a junior which was affiliated to the British League of Racing Cyclists. Bear in mind that at this time when there was almost warfare between the ‘League’ and the ‘Union’ (National Cyclists Union). At 15 Dennis struck up a friendship with Clive Parker and they regularly trained together with the Club, meeting at ‘The Alpha’ on Epping Road near The Reindeer public house. Clive, then aged 17, was working for his Uncle, Harry (Spanner) Rensch, at Paris/Rensch cycles doing the boring jobs such as lug filing. Clive also built himself a Paris Galibier (see image right of Clive and Dennis together) in 1947. Up to this time the very few Galibiers in existence had been built by Spanner himself.
As juniors both Dennis and Clive competed in Massed Start racing at both Finsbury Park and Battersea Park, rode some time trials at 10 and 25 miles, competed at Paddington Track, and took part in indoor exhibition roller racing. In 1948 at Clive’s suggestion they decided each to go to separate BLRC Junior Championships, Dennis to London and Clive to Wolverhampton, in an attempt to win them both. Clive duly won at Wolverhampton but Dennis had the misfortune to crash due to a bottle going in his front wheel so he was unable to finish the race.
In 1948 Clive Parker joined the Paris Team as an Independent while Dennis took part in the BLRC National Road Race Championships at Wolverhampton (home of Percy Stallard – one of the founders of the League in 1942). He was pipped at the post by a local rider who used his knowledge of the circuit to good effect. To compete in this event Dennis and Clive rode from London to Wolverhampton the day before – app 130 miles. After the event they managed to get a lift home on the back of a lorry, both bikes and riders under the tarpaulin!
In 1949 Boretta and Penny, importers of Vecchietti bikes from Italy, gave Dennis a complete machine to ride in competition. This caused some tongues to wag as Dennis was an amateur rider so Boretta and Penny then formed Velo Club Vecchietti with Dennis riding as a First-class Senior in road races and time trials under the auspicious of the BLRC. On his Vechiette Dennis was one of very few at this time to get under the hour in a 25-mile Open TT (108 entrants) organised by North London CC – he did a 58 minute ride - smashing the Stokenchurch course record.
1950/51 Dennis did most of his racing as an Independent in Road Races or at Paddington track, starting in 1950 as an Independent rider for Wearwell cycles. Independent status was a stepping stone between amateur and professional within the League. The NCU would have none of this only allowing strictly amateur or out and out professionalism in their ranks. In May of that year Dennis was offered a better deal by Dayton Cycles who were a much larger concern. He competed for them on a Dayton Elite (see image left) equipped with Simplex gears (Tour de France rear and rod front-changer) until the end of 1951. The Elite made use of Dayton’s lugless brazed bike system known as Amalgam: they were only produced for about a year and the team knew them as Bubble Gums!
By now Dennis was hankering after a full professional contract and realised that to fulfil this ambition he would need to hone up on his track skills and switch to the NCU. Coincidentally, the NCU had organised a one-year training school for professionals at Herne Hill track for 1952. This school was run by Johnny Dennis and was held mainly on Saturday afternoons providing exciting racing in the Herne Hill Saturday Series. To this day Johnny Dennis organises events at the Palmer Park track at Reading. There were 20+ professionals racing every weekend and the events were very popular, attracting vast crowds of spectators. Events included Madisons of 60-100 laps, Omniums, Devil-take-the-hindmost and sprint races of various lengths. Dennis and Clive took the European Madison Championships with Reg Harris and Alec Taylor coming second. As a pairing they were also very successful in the tandem track events.
Above: Dennis ready to pounce on Reg Harris
Whilst engaged in this training scheme Dennis and Clive Parker were sponsored by Rivetts of Leytonstone who supplied their team with track and road bikes. See the image of them in the Rivetts team colours. They both took part in the track racing on Saturdays and road races on Sundays. The Rivetts frames were built at Leytonstone by ‘Slash’ Beales (ex-Paris/Rensch) using Reynolds 531 tubing and Nervex Professional lugs. During this period V-CC member Neil Palmer was team mechanic. Two other riders taking part in the school were Dave Bedwell and Derek Buttle, who were sponsored by Claud Butler.
Clive Parker (left) and Dennis with Rivetts
track machine at Herne Hill in 1952
In 1953 Derek Buttle approached Hercules Cycles with a proposal for the formation of a four-man professional team to take part in races both in the UK and on the Continent. This would be the first four-man professional road racing team to be formed by a British manufacturer. Hercules responded enthusiastically and the team comprising Derek Buttle, Dave Bedwell, Dennis Talbot and Clive Parker was duly formed and raced until 1955.
It was very tough for the four riders to ride against strong Continental teams who were on their home ground so Len Whiteman of Polhill CC was drafted in for his hill-climbing and road-racing ability. However, he retired in 1954 and his place was taken by Freddie Kerbs from Cambridge. Another rider to join the team was Ken Joy.
On the Continent the Hercules team competed in Kermesse, single-day road races, Tour of Luxembourg, Tour of Holland, Paris-Nice, Tour of Calvados, Six Provences plus many more. It was a baptism of fire for all the riders switching from the home scene in the UK to the highly competitive game on the Continent. However Dennis remembers the experience fondly as they entered the fray full of enthusiasm and feeling confident in themselves dealing with the climbing, descending in the mountains and much longer races, plus of course both cold and very hot conditions. They always found the competing riders, organisers and the general public were very supportive and friendly towards them.
During 1955 the team divided into two groups of five with the intention of competing in the Tour de France with the full complement of ten riders. However, at the end of 1955 the team was disbanded and Dave Bedwell was the only member who carried on road racing after this. Dennis, Derek and Clive all retired to spend more time with their families.
During his time at Hercules Dennis was selected to ride for England in the World Championships four times; once in track pursuit and three times in the road races (1953-54 and 55). The Hercules team all rode for each other and shared all the winnings equally – they more or less ran it as a business between them and for a few years managed to get a good living out of it. The Hercules team frames were built for them by Ted Woodall.
By this time the toll of constant competition was beginning to tell as Dennis was married with a son and hardly had any time to spare with them. With this in view he decided to retire at the end of 1955 and in 1959, now with two sons, Dennis and family moved from Beckenham to Woburn Park where he lives to this day, but sadly lost his wife in 2004.
To help fill in the gap in his life Dennis started riding again and restored one of his Hercules team frames with modern equipment to enable him to start training for fitness and Audax events on the pleasant roads around Woburn with the 40+ club. He has really got the bug now as he has acquired a Bates which he believes is pre-war plus an all singing and dancing carbon-fibre framed Trek. Not only that he is looking for a 21½” Hetchins to add to his stable.
In 2006 Dennis rode with the V-CC at an event organised by the Cambridge Section in memory of Neville Ireland. Riding in the ‘peleton’ Dennis’s style and bike handling belied his years in the sport. Dennis told me that he recently heard from someone who related a tale that in the 50s he had joined in a training ride with the Hercules team. The team started in London to Croydon, Brighton and Hastings to do training ride of 160 miles. They all rode in racing kit with just a musette as was the fashion in those days. The person who joined them did part of the ride (from Croydon) and said he had never been so fast and so far in his life nor enjoyed a ride so much.
Dennis with Hercules, Cambridge 2006
Three of the above images can be seen in larger format in the Photo Gallery plus one in Classic Frame Builders under Rivetts of Leytonstone
© 2006 Classic Lightweights