The Bike List

Tommy Godwin: The greatest endurance feat of all time!

Perhaps the greatest endurance feat of all time, and one of the least well-known and celebrated, is Tommy Godwin's record-breaking ride during the year of 1939. Tommy's record of 75,065 miles in a single year deserves to take its rightful place as one of the greatest athletic achievements ever, and arguably a cast-iron unbreakable record.

His mileage represents a feat of physical and mental endurance so momentous, so outrageous - that it's difficult to fully comprehend what the achievement actually represents.

THE DAILY ROUTINE

Even the most committed cyclist would shudder at the following scenario: you wake before dawn, drag yourself out of bed, into your heavy woollen clothing and out into the bleak morning of Boxing Day in wartime England. You eat nothing but chewing gum for breakfast and ride purposefully through the inclement weather and along poorly maintained streets. Your bike is wellmaintained, but is a heavy steel-framed bike with only four gears. You ride for some hours, and then you ride for many more - until you have completed a staggering, shattering, 185 miles on the road. The next day you ride 204 miles.

If you don't think this is particularly extraordinary factor in that it's actually a little below your daily average, and after all you have been doing this for over fifty-one weeks straight, with only a single day off.

In four days time you have good reason to cheer the arrival of the New Year - your name is Tommy Godwin and you have just pushed the one-year cycling mileage record completely out of reach.

In a modern age of millionaire golfers and petulant footballers, Tommy's achievement serves as a useful reminder of what true sporting achievement was, and can still be. A modest man, described by friends and family as the most unassuming gentle person one could meet, and yet physically hard as iron, a member of the "old school".

THE MAN

After winning his first race aged fourteen Tommy's ability was soon noticed. He joined the 'Potteries Clarion Cycling Club', the 'Potteries Cycling Club' and eventually the 'Rickmansworth Cycling Club' after relocating from Staffordshire to North-West London in order to find work.

Throughout this period, Tommy would rack-up a titanic assortment of medals, trophies and awards. Included in this 200-strong haul were awards for 25-mile and 50-mile time trials, team awards including both the 'Bath Road' and 'Anfield Bicycle Club's' classic 100-mile events, as well as a pleasing 7th position finish in the 1933 'Best All-rounder Competition'.

Continued success was sought and found by Tommy, and late into the season of 1938 he remained one of the fastest 25 and 50 mile time-trialists in the country. Longer rides came easy with Tommy's athleticism and he regularly competed in distance events up and down the country. The previous year, Tommy had first mooted a plan to challenge for the year record, a record recently taken to 62,657 miles by the Australian pro-rider Oserick 'Ossie' Nicholson. New Year's Day 1939, vegetarian, tee-totalling 26 year old Tommy was fully prepared for the biggest year of his life. He had only one New Year's resolution in mind; to surpass the yearly mileage set by Nicholson in 1937, and return the record to the UK.

Initial plans to mount a challenge on the year-record had become more substantial, and then boosted as Tommy sought and eventually gained the agreement of his employer to sponsor an attempt on the record. With sponsorship in place, Tommy was physically prepared, mentally prepared and fully equipped. His bike was fitted with a tamper-proof, sealed speedometer, and he had the necessary means to document and verify the distances he would cover over the coming days, weeks and months.

At 5am, Tommy pushed off, and pedalled the first mile of a journey that ultimately would not end until a further 499 days, and 99,999 miles had been completed. By May 13th 1940, Tommy had achieved what he had set out to do, and much, much more. The year record had not only been won, but with two months to spare, he had time enough to smash the previous record - and put it beyond reach.

THE MACHINES

Tommy rode two bikes during the course of his record-breaking 1939 ride. The first, a 'Ley TG Special' was custom built at the request of Tommy's employer and sponsor, Mr A.T. Ley. The frame was built with Reynolds 531 tubing and the bike fitted with a Baylis-Wiley bottom bracket, Williams chain wheel and cranks, high pressure 27″ Dunlop tyres, a Brooks saddle, Solite front hub and (initially) a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed hub gear.

The bike rode well and had been put together with durability in mind. However, huge mileages and poor road conditions would lead to excessive wear on the bike, and the costs of spare parts and bike maintenance ultimately became too much of a burden for Ley to bear.

So after chalking up nearly 27,000 miles on the Ley TG Special, Raleigh Cycle Company stepped in to provide Tommy with its Raleigh Record Ace. The four-speed medium-ratio 'Sturmey-Archer' hub gear, which had been fitted to the 'Ley TG Special' in March, was brought over to the new bike for continued use.

Also fitted to the Raleigh was a hub dynamo light, which Tommy used to light his way through the inky darkness of wartime blackouts. The Raleigh Record Ace was, at that time, at the cutting edge of cycling technology and amongst the best bikes available. Despite it now seeming heavy and cumbersome in comparison even with an entry level road-bike available today, it is still a highly sought after bike for any bike aficionado.

Tommy went on to smash the year record on the aptly named Record Ace, and in 1940 would also become the fastest man to reach 100,000 miles. Both records were recognised by the Guinness Book of Records and are now deemed to be held in perpetuity, due to the severity of the challenges. They stand to this day as a colossal monument to cycling endurance that has never seen a legitimate repeat attempt.

Words by by Dave Barter

THE 2014 TOMMY GODWIN CHALLENGE

Even to most capable club cyclists on today's bikes, 205 miles in one day is a very tough ask. Upwards of 10 hours on a bike takes some mental and physical preparation, followed by a similar dose of punishment.

If you can match just one day of Tommy's achievement in 2014 Raleigh want to know about it. Visit Raleigh's Tommy Godwin webpage to enter details of your 205 mile ride.

Prove you've completed the distance with your Strava, Mapmyride or Ritmo feed and you'll be in with a chance of winning a monthly prize of £205 worth of accessories from www.shopraleigh.co.uk

To find out more about the Tommy Godwin 205 mile Challenge click here for more details.