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Wilson, James Frederick

Posted: Tuesday 02nd June 2020

Author: Nigel Wilson

James Fredrick Wilson – Sheffield Phoenix C.C. Life Member and Independent Racing Cyclist – founder and rider-manager of the Wilson Cycles Team established the Wilson Cycles company at Sheffield in 1948. Jim (pictured right) rode in the first Tours of Britain and had numerous placings aboard in semi-classics including 6th place in the Hanover-Brunswick plus rides and finishes in Classics such as the Tour of Flanders.

Jim was not only a highly successful team manager but he was also able to find sponsorships to create and run various winning teams, one of which was the Elswick Hopper Team in 1958. In short Jim Wilson was an amazing bike rider, athlete and person, considering he had come back from near fatal injuries after being left to fend for himself on the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940. Finally returning home the doctors at the time told his mother that he had no more than a year to live! Then to go on and ride and finish with distinction in the kind of races mentioned above showed phenomenal courage and determination.

This feat proved to be a great inspiration to many other people at that time, and still does,to those who know, today! My father’s greatest talent was bringing people together from all walks of life and selflessly turning them into something greater than they may have realized they were capable of if left to themselves and society as a whole.When the Sheffield Phoenix cycling club awarded Jim a simple paper poster after he finished the 1951 Tour of Britain (when he was not suppose to be still alive, let alone finishing such tough races!) with his picture stuck on, and with these words hand written above and below it…”JIM WILSON – HE HATH COURAGE!”  It meant more to him and to those people who knew of Jim’s exploits at that time than any Oscar, or for that matter the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards! This true story of one man’s endeavours was an inspiration that created the solid-silver Courage Cup – given to Jim by the Sheffield Phoenix  which Jim gave back to them to be award not annually, nor given just for winning races, but awarded for exceptional courage in the face of severe adversity and still managing to win.

Trophies won by the Wilson Cycles road racing team in 1958
Trophies won by the Wilson Cycles road racing team in 1958

Founder in 1948 of J. F. Wilson Cycle Manufacturers he was also the most successful British road racing team rider/manager in the mid-to-late 1950’s with the WILSON CYCLES and the ELSWICK HOPPER TEAMS. This included:- 5-Times National Road Racing Championship Winners and an all-time record number of road race ‘firsts’ in 1957.

Wilson Cycles’ 1957 season still holds the record for the number of British road race wins in any one season.

Program with full details from the Manx Premier Professional Road Race
Program with full details from the Manx Premier Professional Road Race

My father J.F.Wilson is listed above at numder 40 (and racing at world level at 40 years of age!..I did not realize he kept racing that long at that level), his brother Syd, 10 years younger, is number 41. And on the programme there are 3 professional teams that my father created / established and managed…viz, the O’brien-Wilson team, Ovaltine Alp team and the Elswick Hopper team.  This is a total of 17 riders and I know them all, i.e. Ron Coe (31) Dave Orford (51) Dave Bedwell (the pocket rocket no 39), Frank Clements, Doug Petty…

That is nearly a quarter of the professional riders in the race who would not have had a job racing at that level without the sposors Jim Wilson found – not to mention managing them.  If you add the four Sheffield Langsett riders, Jim will have influenced all of those riders and probably helped them enter the race by association. This is more than a quarter of the entire race.

The British Cycling Federation at the time would have taken credit for the spectacle put on for the crowds lining the route but these riders were the back bone of british cycle sport at this time. Fausto Coppi was an internationally known living legend at the time, as well known as Beckham is today and Pele in the past.

Italian rider, Fausto Coppi (Fanini) alongside Syd Wilson (J.F.Wilson Cycles) in the Manx Premier Professional Road Race on the Isle of Man in 1959

I have the pleasure of knowing my father, a man that was beyond all of their imaginations as a rider, in the background and selflessly helping everyone in the sport. He was unsung until now.

Riders from the Wilson’s Cycles team

Another young youth who visited Jim’s shop was Tommy Simpson – on a couple of occasions Jim repaired Tom’s bike in an emergency the day before his big races (and for nowt!) according to Keith Marvin, Jim’s Tour of Britain team mechanic and regular helper in the shop.  Keith loved to be around Jim and all the characters that Wilson cycles attracted, and he’d help out his mentor for his dinner and tea and payment in kind; to Keith it was a privilege…and a dream job!

In 1953 Doug Petty signed as Independent for Wilson Cycles of Sheffield, assigned the job of teaboy for Belgian racing trips. “They don’t ‘ave tea over there, kid.” He suffered his first telling-off when his mum bought inferior quality tea from Keighley Market. “WHAT’S THIS?!” bellowed Jim Wilson. “Er – it’s t-tea Mr Wilson!” stuttered Doug.  “We’re goin’ to tak thi abroad kid,” said Jim later. “Whatever they’ve telled thi, it’s six times better.” When they saw a huge field of rugged Belgians lined up for a race near Ghent, one of the team blurted out, “These aren’t cyclists, they’re bloody wrestlers!”

Doug found himself at the front; as one or two were struggling, he decided “I’ll just slow it down a bit” for the team. “A big hairy hand came out of the bunch and gripped me from behind and shot me backwards; then another hand did the same, and another and another, till I were shot right out the back!” “I forgot to tell thi kid – they don’t do teamwork ‘ere!” Jim commented.

At another race, the rookie as keen as ever: “What’s tactics for today Jim?” ” ‘Ang on as long as thi can!”.  Head down in another race, Ken Stratford hit a post and fetched six riders off. Jim collared Doug at the finish. “Kid, if tha sees Ken, tell ‘im not to come back ‘ere. They’re goin’ ter kill him.”

Doug rode the legendary Manx Premier International Road Race in the Isle of Man on 17th June 1959 – the “Coppi race”. There were 25 continental riders in 5 teams; including three Tour de France winners – beside Coppi. Completing the start sheet were fifty-three British based Professionals! The O’Brien-Wilson Team were: 39 Dave Bedwell; 40 J.F. Wilson; 41 Sid Wilson; 42 A. Bladon; 43 Doug Petty; 44 J.A. George.

Doug recalls: “Dave Orford said, “I’ll get on Bobet’s wheel!” then he punctured. Coppi did a huge effort and split the field in pieces. Andre Darrigade attacked and went up to the break, I hung on his wheel and he took me up and then he went on to win the race.” Fausto Coppi died the same year, of malaria caught on a hunting trip in Africa with Raphael Geminiani.

From Sheffield Forum: Judd Newton Cutts – “We was out in Derbyshire on a Sunday run when a bloke on a rusty old Wilson came flying past and we all said the same thing. Thats Syds bike! so we followed him to a house on Windy House Lane and next day Syd fetched it back. It had been pinched from outside the shop and was instantly reconisable as the frame was unsprayed and red rusty. This would have been about 1959.”

Also from Sheffield Forum:  “As a kid of about twelve I was a keen cyclist and still am 50 odd years later, I used to go to Jims shop on City Road as I had a paper round at that time and used to save up my 10 bob (ten shillings) a week to spend on my bike. I remember one time I was in the shop and was looking at some real Italian cycling shoes [I had never had proper cycling shoes] and I couldn’t in a month of Sundays afford this lovely leather pair. After about two hours hanging about [Jim never used to mind how long you hung around] I told him I was off, just as I opened the shop door to leave Jim threw the shoes to me and I told him I couldn’t afford them. Jim just said, ” take ’em I know you will pay me if you can.” It took me a few weeks to pay Jim in bits and bobs at a time but he never asked me for owt. I have never forgotten Jims generosity and trust and witnessed it on many occasions,a true gentleman.”

Author of this piece, the son of Jim Wilson, Nigel Wilson winning the 1985 Sheffield City Centre Race
Author of this piece, the son of Jim Wilson, Nigel Wilson winning the 1985 Sheffield City Centre Race

In the image, I was 19 years old riding for my dad’s life-long club the Sheffield Phoenix CC which, in my father’s day were an ace club and I felt obliged to support them.

I also managed a Silver medal in the North Midlands Division Road Race.

Championships, National Junior and Senior road race Champion Simeon Hempsall was 3rd, Wayne Wrandle, Commonwealth bronze medalist 4th. Martin Maltby who won had four top team mates in a chase group about 20 seconds behind us so I had to ride with him on my wheel for the last 6 miles, if I’d have had just one team mate I could have said to Martin ride or my super fast mate will win the sprint. I also won the Yorkshire 100-mile Time Trial Championship in 1989, riding my normal road bike with no tri-bars, aero helmet or skin suit, but with nice fat road race tyres. The Yorkshire Championship event was incorporated in the National 100-mile Time Trial Championships and I came 9th overall but Ian Cammish won with some mad time.

When Jim died I had to hang up the dream of riding the classics and tours or go out of business and lose the shop.  I kept racing locally though and felt free to leave the Phoenix then, ironically starting the Wilson cycles road racing team again (in 1995) in Jim’s memory instead of having a memorial race, I had to retire from racing eight years later because of ARVD of the heart in 2003….I had raced, worked and trained hard for 22 years. The team was disbanded at the end of this year after sixteen years although Nigel is hoping for a resurgence of up and coming talent in the future to re-form the Wilson team.

Nigel still runs the family company Wilson Cycles at Sheffield

Thanks for reading

Posted: Tuesday 02nd June 2020

Author: Nigel Wilson

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