Never heard of Tommy Godwin, read on for an amazing bit of cycling history!
Imagine cycling three times around the world in a single year. Imagine
getting up at 3am and spending every day in the saddle for eighteen hours
covering over two hundred miles. Imagine riding from Lands End to John
OGroats and back every week, whatever the weather for nearly a year and a
half without a break. Imagine riding this upon a heavy steel bike with only
four gears, having to pick yourself up after injury, crashes or mechanical
failures and then ride even further the next day.
In 1939, Tommy Godwin turned this into reality and entered the golden book
of cycling as the greatest long distance rider in the world. He rode 75,065
miles in a single year to set an endurance riding record that will never be
Tommy Godwin, was born in 1912. To help support his family, he took the
position of delivery boy for a greengrocer's shop. With the job came a
heavy iron bike, complete with metal basket. Tommy loved that bike and rode
it like a demon on his daily round. The basket was hacked off and at the
tender age of fourteen Tommy entered his first twenty-five mile time trial.
He flew round in 65 minutes winning the race and setting a standard that
would define the rest of his cycling career.
Tommy grew quickly as a cyclist and was soon spotted. He left his amateur
status at Potteries CC to join Rickmansworth Cycling Club as a professional
rider. After more than two hundred road and time trial wins Tommy sought a
new challenge and the year mileage record beckoned.
In 1937 the Australian Ossie Nicholson had regained his year record from
Briton Walter Greaves by covering a verified annual mileage of 62,657.6
miles. At 5am on January 1st 1939 Tommy set out to bring the record back
home. He wasn't alone in his attempt; two other British riders started that
day, Edward Swann and Bernard Bennett. Swann crashed out after 939.6 miles,
but Bennett fought it out with Tommy for the rest of the year.
The details that surround Tommy Godwin's record belittle the modern cyclist.
His bike weighed well over 30lb. As war came he rode through blackouts, his
lights taped to the merest of glows. He had none of the modern cycling
comforts. Silk knickers were substituted for chamois inserts and Tommy
maintained his strict vegetarian diet throughout. For the first two months
Tommy's mileage lagged 922 miles behind Nicholson's record-breaking
schedule. Fighting back Tommy increased his daily average beyond 200 miles
per day, and on Wednesday June 21st 1939 he completed a staggering 361 miles
in eighteen hours, his longest ride of the record.
On October 26th 1939, Tommy rode into Trafalgar Square, having completed
62,658 miles, gaining the record with two months to spare. That wasnt
enough. He rode on through the winter to complete an astounding 75,065
miles in the year. Still that was not enough; in May 1940 after five
hundred days of riding he secured the 100,000 mile record as well. Tommy
dismounted his bike and spent weeks learning how to walk again before going
off to war.
Tommy returned in 1945, keen to race again as an amateur. However, despite
a huge petition signed by hundreds of fellow cyclists, the cycling governing
bodies ruled that having ridden as a professional he was forever barred from
amateur status. Undeterred, Tommy focused his efforts on others. He became
team trainer and mentor to the Stone Wheelers, instilling his own steely
brand of enthusiasm and determination to riders old and young alike.
Tommy died aged 63, returning from a ride to Tutbury Castle with friends.
Recently a civic reception at Fenton Manor Sports Centre unveiled a plaque
in his memory. Generations recount tales of the tough, dedicated cyclist
whose generosity knew no bounds. Tommy had a fantastic story, yet his
modesty prevailed. He had neither the time nor inclination to tell it
himself. Tommys record is staggering, he deserves to be known and
remembered as possibly the greatest endurance rider the world has seen. Any
individual that has thrown leg over bike will understand that 75,065 miles
in a year is simply unrepeatable. The Guinness Book of Records having
deemed a repeat too dangerous. His record will stand in perpetuity.
(C) CTC Cycle Magazine - This article was written by Dave Barter for the
June 2005 issue of "Cycle"