The Brothers Gambrill
Posted: Tuesday 18th August 2020
Mike Gambrill (1935-2011)
Robin Gambrill (b1938, currently riding in New Zealand)
Great Britain has enjoyed a long history of athletes combining distance track success with road time-trialling. Leon Meredith through Norman Sheil, Beryl Burton, Chris Boardman to Sir Bradley Wiggins, the list goes on. Out of this same mold came Mike Gambrill and his younger brother Robin. Both members of Clarence Wheelers they were amongst the most respected fastmen of the mid 1950s.
1955 saw Mike coming into his prime. With Alan Killick he set a national tandem record of 1:00:48 for 30 miles, a record that stood for 18 years, and a 50 mile record of 1:45:11
1956 was probably Mike’s standout year. First he won the national 25-mile time trial championship, in 57-33, riding fixed. This was coupled with winning the national 4000m pursuit championships at Fallowfield, beating the precocious 18-year old Tom Simpson. Tom had sensationally despatched World, Empire and National champion Norman Sheil and then John Geddes en route to the final.
This was the year of the Melbourne Olympics. Mike, Tom and John were selected with Don Burgess for the team pursuit. By Tom’s own admission he went too hard at his first turn in the semis, they lost to eventual gold medallists Italy but beat South Africa in the ride off for bronze.
1956 was also the year younger brother Robin entered the lists, with a short 1-04 in the Kentish Wheelers early season novice 25. Not a bad start when the national record was only just under 56m. Pretty soon Clarence Wheelers had two fast Gambrills in the club, along with Alan Killick they won the team prize in the national 25-mile time trial championships in 1957, then again in 1958 with Alan Jacob.
Mike again represented GB in the Olympics, this time in Rome, but without as much success, before retiring. Robin tried his hand at racing on the continent before emigrating to Canada then New Zealand. So the Gambrill era came to a close. Sadly Mike died just a year before Sir Bradley passed his front door en route to gold. Robin still rides regularly.
Both the Gambrill brothers had track and road Carpenter-built frames for most of their careers (Robin used Ken Ryall for the last two years in the UK), with Chater-Lea chainsets later replaced with TA/Stronglight 49D, 84-88” fixed, large=flange Airlite hubs, butchered Brooks 17 saddles, Cinelli bars and stems. The classic purists’ setup at the time.