www.dadswell.co.uk  Mostly cycling records, mostly on three wheels


(an article for the magazine of the Charlotteville Cycling Club)            Back to Rides in 1992

Most members will know by the time they read this that 2nd claim member Ralph Dadswell has beaten the tricycle Lands End to John 0'Groats RRA record. The End to End is the most classic test of man and machine and those whose names appear on this record are assured of fame in the cycling annals for ever more. We are privileged to have an inside story of this successful attempt written by Martin Purser who was heavily involved with it. It is hoped we shall have Ralph's own unique account of the feat in the next issue. As you read, bear in mind that the figures to beat were Eric Tremaine's ten year old time of 2 days 6 hours and 18 minutes. Forget the seconds.

"After helping and "observing" for Ralph in his successful bids to break the trike 12 hours, 24 hours and Edinburgh to London Road Records Association Records, Hedley Stennett (Newark Castle) and I knew that an End to End record attempt was on the cards. We said that we would be available in any capacity in late July to August 1992. We were not surprised to get the call to arms, or more logically to legs, earlier this year, and waited for the "off".

We had also been asked to "observe" for Philip Barlow (Kiveton Park CC) in his bid to break the Northern RRA 12 hours and 24 hours records on the weekend of 1/2 August. I had wanted to ride the NMCF "12" as well, on my trike, which complicated matters. However, our loyalty was to Ralph's attempt and we waited impatiently as postponement after postponement was 'phoned through.

The weather being 'wrong' for Ralph was fair for Phil and in the end Hedley and I observed for the first 350 miles of his successful attempt on the NRRA bike 24 hours. He just failed to break Eric Matthews 264 miles at 12 hours, but 495 miles at 24 hours was a comprehensive beating of Jim Hall's 1959 ride of 445 miles.

This waiting about was hardly good preparation for my 12 hours. In the middle of the week before it we were almost certain that Ralph's Attempt would begin at the weekend, and I shouldn't be able to ride anyway. On the Friday morning confirmation came that the Attempt would probably begin 8 am Monday morning 10th Aug! I pumped my tyres up!

The Saturday night before the ‘12’ was conspicuous by the thunderstorms, sheet lightning and heavy rain. I started at 6.34 in steady rain wearing my fluoro jacket. The weather cleared and once rid of the jacket the day proved warm, and conducive to speed - well, Kevin Dawson roared round to put up 293 miles on the result board. Alison, Hazel and Pip kept popping up at strategic points and as the NMCF '12' is very well marshalled and the feeds adequate, I was well looked after. Even when I punctured on the T junction in Rossington (broken glass from a car smash) Colin Beardsley pumped up my tyre for me!

I pressed on. I know the roads quite well now and managed to avoid the Crowle leg that would mean a long ride back into the strengthening westerly wind! Having ridden a season's best of 5.28.30 for the first '100', I was fairly confident of beating 200 miles, and once on the circuit I continued to average 17/18 mph. I had half a minute in hand as I passed Hedley (Timekeeper 2) for the third time and was pleased to run out at 209.75. This was just half a mile short of my best distance done 21 years ago!   If I hadn't punctured ......... !!

That was by way of introduction.  Now for Ralph's Attempt. Monday morning dawned bright with a SW breeze. I confirmed with his Dad that the Attempt was under way and we all zoomed off to Retford, collecting Hedley on the way. The last minute shopping was quickly completed. Ralph takes a fairly limited menu comprised mainly of corned dog, banana, honey, strawberry jam and marmite sandwiches, Tracker Bars and Flavoured Maxim.  Hedley and I got some new feeding bottles and a mega-Thermos. We also took possession of a smart white diesel Transit van. I converted this into a rough mobile home complete with portaloo, Lilo, and cooking stove.  Alison, Hazel and Pip made mountains of sandwiches and gallons of a rice/banana slop, that Ralph quite likes, too.

The third member of the East Midlands support team was Bob Fotheringham (Gainsborough Aegir), and he joined us all for a Carbo loading tea. The Plan was for Hedley, Bob and myself to go across to Manchester and stay with Roger Hughes (Audrey's son). Then, early on Tuesday morning (5 am) Hedley checked his NEW timing devices against TIM and all four of us charged up the M6 towards Kendal, Captain Bob at the wheel.

We were ahead of our man on the A6 at about 412 miles. It was a beautifully bright sunny morning - the south/south-westerly wind, rustling the leaves at any rate.  We handed up Ralph a feed, but he wasn't looking too happy and it later transpired he had had a bad night.  I think it must have been Kendal where he stopped for breakfast, a shave and change of clothes. He also changed machines, taking his brother Tim's Longstaff that had lower gears ready for Shap. While taking a drink and a feed near the summit of Shap the inner ring sheared off the chainset.

It was decided that our van would by-pass Ralph at the earliest opportunity and go on ahead to find a cycle shop where we could buy a new chainset - either in Penrith or Carlisle.  After a hairy 5 miles on narrow lanes through Little and Great Strickland, Bob managed to gain 200 yards on Ralph. Plenty! The three cycles shops in Penrith (452) were all very helpful, if a little bemused at our urgency. None could come up with a chainset with round 48, 38, 28 rings. We thought that Bio­rings could affect Ralph's rhythm, especially if he wasn't used to them. Ralph had caught us while we were running from the first shop we had encountered to the second. No chainset and more to the point no food ready. John Dalton (weather expert) and Audrey Hughes by-passed Ralph round the town anyway and so he didn't miss out. We said farewell to Tim and Pat who had come far further north than they had planned to help Ralph over his bad patch.

A quick thrash up the M6 brought us into Carlisle (470) where Border Cycles, alerted to our predicament by phone, had the only chainset that matched our requirements. My emergency tool kit only had a Campag crank bolt spanner and of course these new-fangled Shimano things have a deep recess that requires a thin- walled socket. We borrowed a socket spanner, Roger put the new chainset on and we were off after an hour's delay. Thankfully the heavy rain of the last hour had abated and it was quite sunny as we got held up in roadworks! We tried to phone John and Audrey in the following car but, of course, their phone was out of order AND the number Tim had given us was for Pat Kenny's phone. He was nearly home by now in the West Midlands and our call came a bit out of the blue!  Roger phoned Attempt HQ and explained to John Dadswell recent events and that we should be at Moffat (512).

Here we found a car park on the edge of the town and set up camp. Roger set up the gears with advice from all round and road tested the machine. Ralph was just over half an hour down on schedule. He had chicken soup for lunch and changed over onto the lower-geared machine for the coming climb of the Devil's Beef Tub.  Bob joined Audrey and John to help them get some rest over the next section (they had been on the go since the start of the Attempt) and the Transit would assume the role of following vehicle. Hedley is brilliant at sums, projecting average mph, and calculating ETA's.  He took over as observer, I drove, and Roger did the work - well planned!

Climbing is one of Ralph's strengths and he made the ascent of the Devil's Beef Tub look almost effortless.  Showers made the long descent towards Edinburgh miserable in places but it is quite quick, for much of the route is the one Derek Cottington took when setting the RRA 50 record of 1.39.23 in 1970. Massive roadworks to the west of the new Edinburgh ring road made things difficult for the van but excellent marshalling from Edward Zoller, Richard Harris and their team saw Ralph onto the Forth Road Bridge. Here Ralph needed a wheel change, having cut a tyre badly on the last section. We had a complete machine. The spare wheels were a few miles ahead in the other car! So we did two wheel changes!

Following a rider for such a long period, a steady but relentless rhythm emerges. Drinks and feeds are got ready, ETAs calculated, suitable passing places and feeding lay-bys sought. So we made our way into the second night of the Attempt. Ralph was maintaining his schedule tempo but was still over an hour down (3 hours Up on the record, with about 200 miles to go). He climbed Glen Garry up to the Pass of Drumochter (660 miles) with a steady, powerful display of riding, the gradient of the road hidden by the darkness. As we were unable to get more Duracell batteries Ralph was lumbered with another brand that was not nearly so effective, and so he fell victim to the bane of cyclists - flickering/low-powered lights. The van's lights on full beam made up for this, even from 50 yards, but there was oncoming traffic to consider.

Hedley and I had never been so far north and were unaware (until the return journey) of the staggering scenery. The climb of the Slochd Pass left 140 miles miles to be covered in about 13 hours to get the record. Ralph had had a couple of rests of 10 minutes each when he slept on a lilo quite soundly. He had 7 minutes by the Cromarty Firth before riding into a grey dawn at Dornoch and turning north east again for the last leg. The wind had backed to the east and with rain and mist blowing off the sea, Ralph dug in for the notorious climbs at Helmsdale and Berriedale. For those of us who had not seen these climbs before it was rather daunting. They are all they are cracked up to be and it is easy to see that trikes other than with two-wheel drive would be useless. Ralph ascended them in his steady climbing style and coped well with the difficult descents. Remember he had been riding virtually non-stop for two whole days and nights.

With the weather becoming more foul all the time - head/side wind with squalls of rain, the bleak monotonous landscape after Wick really began to get to Ralph. He stopped to ask for directions, and it became apparent that he was taking a packet that he found difficult to cope with. Roger had hopped out of the van on some of the earlier climbs, run on and caught Ralph to offer encouragement. This device did not seem to be working now. Ralph stopped on several occasions and rode back to the van! The situation, although rather like a scene from Monty Python, was serious. Ralph was convinced he had already finished; he was riding round in circles; we were sitting in the dry in the van laughing at him getting wet; he had had enough and he was going to pack!!  Also as none of the helpers had been up there before, we didn't know which was the 'last' hill; or exactly how far it was to go. Our inaccurate guesstimates which did not agree only served to inflame the situation.  Roger phoned Ralph’s Dad on the Isle of Wight.  We stood in the road, the rain pouring down on the ring of helpers surrounding the lone tricyclist whilst he took the hot line. The road was very narrow and busy with tourist cars splashing past. Italian, German, French faces viewed the scene in wonder, the orange light from the hazard lamp on top of the van the only colour in the grey and gloom.

The phone conversation over, Ralph agreed to continue. Over the last 5 miles he was encouraged by helpers walking or jogging alongside. The hour and a half that he had in hand over Eric Tremaine's time of 2d 6h 18m 35s had dwindled to about 45 minutes at the John o' Groats Hotel. ("I think it's that white hotel over there." "How do you know?" "I don't, I think it must be." "Well, it's not worth riding there in the rain!")  Ralph finished well inside the record with a time of 2d 5hrs 29 mins. Congratulations! And what about the 1000 miles?!!

Back to Rides in 1992 

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