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

Another Brighton Early Start   Ralph 1999     Back to Rides in 1999

Dave Johnson and I had entered a 25 mile time trial on 4th July, with optimistic plans of beating the tandem-trike record of 50-25.  Whilst I was quite keen to go for that, it was always going to need a perfect ride on a very good day.

And so, it occurred to me that having got Dave “booked” for that weekend, it was possible that we could go for an RRA record instead, if conditions were reasonable.  I ran this idea past him, and he accepted that it was a possibility.  He said that to say that he was “up for it” was an exaggeration, but that he definitely wasn’t “down for it”, if such a phrase exists.

So I examined the weather charts on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.  I spoke to Dave on the Thursday, telling him that we would probably be on for a Portsmouth and back on Sunday.  Still ok.

However, Thursday evening’s charts suggested that the Brighton and back was the most sensible, and so I notified the RRA that we would be going for the Men’s Tandem Tricycle record for London to Brighton and back, on Sunday 4th July 1999.

On Friday, Dave rang me.  He asked whether I was serious about a record attempt.  I replied that I was, and had already set things in motion.  There was a bit of a pause, and some quiet profanities.  The purpose of Dave’s call had been to say that he was really knackered, and had a heavy couple of days ahead, and that he felt that the 25 mile ride would be more sensible.

After a few minutes of discussion he went on his way, with orders to avoid any strenuous activity, and to get a good night’s sleep.  I was a bit concerned, but was fairly sure that he’d be ready.

So, we reached Saturday evening without further crises, although the weather was less exciting than originally predicted.  There were no obvious problems, but we weren’t going to get much help from the wind.

We travelled across to our overnight stop with Chris and John Watts in Crawley.  After taking the tandem for a short ride, we packed everything up, and set alarms for 2am. 

We were somewhat rushed, and only arrived at the start point with 20 minutes remaining.  I had selected to start and finish at the summit of the North Downs, which is just inside the M25, north of Redhill.  It was chosen as the most northerly place before traffic disruption was likely to start.  This was unlikely to be a factor on a Sunday, but it was always possible that we could have made the attempt during the week.

As the 4am start approached, we hadn’t had the chance to ride the tandem up and down the road.  When we moved it to the start point, I realised that the gear lever must have been moved in transit.  Rather than have us pull away with a tremendous crunching of gears, we were offered a one-minute delay.  This option was taken, but we were still released into the blackness in a less-than-smooth manner.

The first couple of miles were downhill and fast, with the bonus that some major roadworks at Coulsdon were packed away, leaving a clear route through.  By Purley, we were more than a minute ahead of our schedule, which was to beat the record by less than a minute.  We had a slick run through to the Thornton Heath checkpoint, which saw us 2 minutes up.

(We did have a tricky moment at the South Circular Road.  Dave advised me that the road was clear.  And it almost was clear. Apart from that taxi.  Never let the blind bloke be the look-out man.)

The delights of Streatham followed, leading on to the crossing of Vauxhall Bridge, and the approach to Hyde Park Corner.  The two Eddies witnessed us nip along Apsley Way before rejoining the roundabout and retracing to Victoria.  Carefully choosing the correct exit road, we made contact again with Chris and John in the following car, who had been unable to keep up with us.

Back at Thornton Heath, we had lost our earlier advantage, and were level with schedule.  In part this was due to the slight uphill gradient when travelling away from the Thames, and we also felt that we could feel a bit of a southerly breeze.

I was expecting to be behind schedule when we returned to our start point, and was actually quite relieved that the deficit was just two minutes.  There then followed quite a quick stretch leading to Gatwick airport, where we were back level with schedule.  As long as we could count on getting some assistance from the weather, then this was satisfactory.

Through Crawley, and the next check was at the summit of Pease Pottage hill.  We were a minute down, but had covered the first 50 miles in 2 hours 3 minutes.  The next sector was favourable, including a mile of high speed descending at Handcross.  For some reason, though, we were only level with the schedule at the next check.

So we approached the South Downs, and the Pyecombe summit.  I was becoming aware of some sort of head wind, and so it was with a little excitement that I noted that we were only one minute behind at the top.  The euphoria was short-lived, though, as Dave started to grumble about being uncomfortable and knackered.

We pressed on through the streets of Brighton, making our way through Bus Lanes to the coast.  When we reached the Aquarium roundabout, Ken and Barbara Atkins were waiting dutifully to check us through, and they will have noted that we were exactly on schedule.

And Dave was still going on about his “parts”, and how he felt completely wasted.  So I followed a sympathetic technique which I learned a few years ago.  I told him to stop talking and concentrate on pedalling.

We positively zoomed up the South Downs, and were still on schedule at the summit.  There still seemed to be a bit of wind assistance as we passed Hickstead, and when we approached Handcross we were a minute up.

It was no surprise when we found ourselves on the lowest gear (44 x 18 for the techies out there) for a mile or so up to Handcross.  But we managed to lift things again when at the top, and cruised along to Pease Pottage one minute adrift.

I knew that the next section was crucial.  We had to get ahead of schedule by the final checkpoint at Gatwick.  Accordingly, we sold ourselves amongst the many roundabouts of Crawley, with the result that we had an incredible two minute buffer with eight miles to go.

The 100 mile point passed in 4h 4m 30s, and it looked as if we would hold on for a record.  A few minutes later, though, I felt the tandem get heavier. 

I suggested that Dave might have forgotten to pedal, and I received the crushing reply that he had probably “blown”.  I decided (no choice really) that I would risk snapping my legs, and try to haul us along the last few miles (what seemed like) single-handed. 

Fortunately, after squeezing our way through Redhill, Dave was able to respond when I shouted first “3 to go” and then “2 to go”, with the result that we managed a reasonable speed for the climb of the North Downs.  At last we saw the roadsign which we knew meant that we would soon be in sight of the end. 

And there it was.  The time?  We were more than a minute inside the previous record, with a new time of 4 hours 20 minutes 15 seconds.  Once over the line, we were slumped over the handlebars, and only just managed to ride back up the slope to the finish point.

We then adjourned to the salubrious surroundings of the Hooley Little Chef.  I was in the “washrooms” (washing myself, would you believe?) when I took a call from Peter Bryan, who was after the result for The Times.  He may have presumed that it was the mobile phone that was causing the echoing sound.  However, I suspect that he became certain of my location when he heard the urinals flushing behind me!

We had a most enjoyable meal.  Each of us that is, except for Dave, who couldn’t face anything to eat, and was looking rather pale.  Demonstrating (once again) my sympathetic approach to his problems, I decided to just let him sit there and grumble.  Pancakes are most enjoyable.

* * * *

Quite how Dave Pitt and Alun Millard produced their ride 20 years ago I’ll never know … they must have been fit.  Whilst technology and road improvements have certainly gone in our favour, I can’t believe there were as many roundabouts for them to haul the tandem trike around. 

I can’t pretend that I’m really happy with a margin of 1 min 27 seconds, but when you’re going for a tight record, you have to take what you can get. 

* * * *

Thanks very much to Don Glover for timing, and Mr & Mrs Watts for driving, observing and feeding us.

Back to Rides in 1999

Copyright Shining Wit Enterprises 2020