Memories of Blackpool Road Club
Posted: Wednesday 19th August 2020
Phil Aspinwall (my father – seen below at the turn of an Open 25-mile time-trial – note turn-marshalls bikes against hedge) rode with the Blackpool Road Club from 1953 to 1956 and Cleveleys Road Club 1957 to 1959 (interrupted by 2 years National Service). He remembers when he joined, Harry Pilkington was the club champion and that the club was associated with Hall’s Cycle Shop, Church Street, Blackpool, as John Hall was club president. Phil relates that only two members of the club rode gears – Brian Watkiss and Dave Rudd, both of whom were away on National Service in the south of england when he joined the club in 1953. Both riders used Benelux gears but the rest of the club rode fixed.
Blackpool RC struggled to compete in team category in events until Dave Rudd returned from National Service as 3 riders were required for a team. Phil states that he remembers only one massed start road race in the Lancashire/Cumbria area at that time, which was the Shap Fell Road Race. Phil rode the event in 1955 and rode up to the the event and stayed in Hawes Youth Hostel before riding to Tebay for the start of the event. It started somewhere near Tebay on a Sunday and comprised 3 laps of a circuit. Roland Duckett got a fourth but Phil crashed after taking a corner too fast. He managed to avoid hitting a stone wall by riding through an open gate into a field. By the time he had returned to the road the bunch had passed and he was out of the race.
Phil relates that he remembers riding an event in Yorkshire in 1954 but can’t now remember the course. His minute man was a T. Simpson who was a junior 25 mile T.T. champion. It was an out and back course and the theory was Phil should have been able to catch his minute man reasonably quickly but he didn’t catch him until after the turn and then couldn’t drop him! The Blackpool RC won the team event in the 1955 Fylde Combine Championship. The competition attracted riders from Cleveleys RC, Fleetwood RC, Fylde RC, Preston Wheelers, Lancashire RC as well as the Blackpool RC. The winning team was Roland Duckett (see phoo below), Davy Rudd and Phil Aspinwall with an average speed of 23.388mph. Roland Duckett won the BAR outright, both he and Phil riding fixed gear and Davy Rudd using gears for the 50 and 100 mile time trials.
Fixed was the preferred option as riders felt it gave better control especially when riding in a bunch. Living in Blackpool meant riding into a headwind every day so you had to be compact when riding in a group. Phil won a medal for 3rd place in the 1954 Blackpool Road Club 25m T.T. Championship and won the Cleveleys Road Club Open Hill Climb in 1959 setting a then course record after returning from National Service. He commented that the only training he did was riding to and from work and towing a trailer containing his baby daughter. Phil related he was talked into riding the hill climb and was spitting up blood for a week afterwards. The course was at Littledale north of Lancaster and there were two 1 in 3 corners on it. Phil rode a 58 inch fixed gear and beat Pete Shuttleworth by 10 seconds. His work took him to Manchester shortly after this and commuting between Blackpool and Manchester on a daily basis gave little time to train.
Phil used 3 bikes. The first machine was a fixed wheel Hercules Kestrel which was the ‘hack bike’ used to go to work before his work took him to Manchester. Phil relates that he used to meet up with Stuart Buchanan the Scottish junior 25 mile T.T. Champion on his morning commute out to Squires Gate. They worked different hours so he did not see him in the evening. Phil remembers Stuart as being very quick and a user of gears.
His second machine was a 24 inch Holdsworth Cyclone Roadpath which was ordered via John Hall. It was a custom build, the frame colour being white with dark blue head and seat panel, forty and a quarter inch wheelbase, 23 inch top tube, 74 degree head tube and 73 degree seat tube. This frame had mudguard eyes with clearance for mudguards.
His last machine was a 24 inch Holdsworth Zephyr which was a road bike and fitted with a 4 speed Osgear under the bottom bracket. Frame colour was duck egg blue with black head and seat panel. The frame had no braze ons except for pump pegs. Phil says this was a cheaper model of frame than the Cyclone and he rode this bike in the Shap Fell road Race in 1955. Bike was fitted with Airlite hubs (can’t remember the rims), GB brakes, GB steel stem and Madison bars (like Maes only deeper). Sprints for time trials were Fiamme rims on Harden hubs or Fiamme rims on Airlite small flange hubs. Spokes were not tied and soldered. Phil also raced on ‘wired ons’ – Michelin 25s on Dunlop Superlite chromed steel rim and Airlite small flange hubs. Sprints were carried in sprint holders either side of the front wheel. Phil had a 1hr 0mins in a 25 mile time trial on wired ons and Roland Duckett beat the hour riding wired ons in the same event.
Races were time trials and fields of 120 riders were the norm. Phil states it was very hard to get entry to an open event without a ‘time’. Entries were sorted prior to the event. The first man off in an event was always a rider from the promoting club. The fastest rider went off at 60 on the starting sheet, next fastest at 30 and then 90, then the other 10 marks, then 5 marks and the remaining spaces filled with other riders. Riders couldn’t compete in open events until aged 18. Second class open events were run to allow riders to compete to get times and some clubs promoted second class events where there was a very large entry. Blackpool RC didn’t promote any open events but it did run club events. Any open event entry was judged on the applicant’s fastest time and entries could be returned with a note to state that entries closed at a certain time for the event e.g. 50 mile T.T. entries closed at 2 hrs 10 mins.
A medium gear event was the opening event of the racing season and the season was usually brought to a close with the hillclimb events. Phil remembers the Blackpool area as having strong riders. Jemmy Stott held the National 25 mile T.T. Championship, Pete Shuttleworth was another champion at the distance and Randy Allsop was the National 50 mile T.T. Champion. Phil left the Blackpool RC in 1956 after the close of the racing season and moved to Cleveleys RC as his fiancee was a member of this club. Phil moved away from Blackpool to Cheshire in 1963 and believes the Blackpool RC must have folded in the 1960s.
The Blackpool RC was a racing club and didn’t have a strong social side unlike the Cleveleys RC. The Cleveleys club had a Christmas club dinner dance and a Valentine’s dance. The ‘off season’ when racing had ended was spent youth hostelling, usually going to attend dances. The dancing attire was carried in the saddlebag. Youth hostelling was also part of the spring training drive to get fit for racing. Terms used when riding in the bunch was “oil up” for a car approaching the bunch from the rear, “oil down” for a car approaching from the front, “easy” to get the bunch to slow down, “below inside” or “inside” for a pothole or obstacle in the road. Phil states that the term “bonk” was definitely used to describe Glycogen deficiency!
Other memories are of going on midnight runs in the autumn. Phil used a carbide lamp and was usually encouraged to the front of the bunch because it gave off a good light. In the days of less street lighting, once you went out of the town, it was very dark. A favourite prank was to shout “bring out your dead” as they cycled through the villages. Another memory is of the Shard Toll Bridge over the River Wyre. It was a 1d for a bicycle and rider, so the bunch used to rush the bridge shouting to the attendant last man is paying. This usually resulted in them avoiding the toll charge until one clear frosty night the attendant heard the sound of the approaching bicycle tyres and closed the gate at the bridge before they reached it, causing a pile up. Phil also has memories of riding the Bootle Track in Liverpool. He had to ride the bike from Blackpool to take part in the meeting and relates that the locals started rolling bottles down the banking of the track when local riders were being eclipsed in races. Phil also competed on the Onchan Track on the Isle of Man on a few occasions.
Phil returned to cycling in the late 1970’s and rode for the Kings Moss CC based in long ago sold the Holdsworth Zephyr and Hercules Kestrel. Phil did ride a few time trials on his Holdworth Cyclone but he ordered a new bike for gears from Ernie Witcomb, London via Dave Kane Cycles in Belfast. Phils cycling career came to an end in 1991 when he was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo major surgery. His still has his bikes and happy memories of life awheel. He could never bear to part with the trailer he towed his children about in and it is still hanging up in his garage. It may appear at a V-CC event in the future!