First published in Rye Wheelers Year Book 2011
Anyone who has been a member of Rye Wheelers between 1954 and 2015 have heard Jim spouting off about ‘The Old Days’, but we all know how he can ‘elaborate’ a bit, so what were those days really like?
I was one of those that joined the Wheelers after being inspired by their feats on Rye Sports Day and on the insistence of Jim that cycling was a painless sport and no one ever suffered!
In those days we went out on all day runs every other week, starting from the top of the station at 7am. I was there early, complete with yellow cape and various tools, sandwiches etc. in a saddle bag. Soon others began to arrive, Mervyn Robbins, Roma Page, Keith Pope, Bob French, Dave Page, Madge Pope, Nick Price, Malcolm ‘Streaky’ Lock, Jim Hollands with younger brother Richard, Jean Bryant and one or two others I did not know.
At seven exactly we set off in double file across the Marsh on the main Ashford Road. By the time we got to Brookland my legs were as heavy as lead. We went relentlessly onward. I was riding next to Keith and timidly asked him when we would be stopping for a break, Jim, riding just in front heard me, “We’re almost half way” he said. What could that mean? Half way to where?
By the time we reached Ham Street I was worn out, but on we went up Ham Street Hill. I’m sure my efforts would impress the other riders but no one said “well done” or offered sympathy. On we went, my legs had gone numb by now but another worrying thing was happening, my backside was getting sore! How I wished I had stayed at home. As the time wore on the sun became stronger and by 10 o” clock temperatures had reached almost seventy degrees. Sweat was pouring down my face, eyes were filled with salt and stinging like mad, my shirt was soaked. I called to Jim, “How far now?”, words came back that will haunt me forever “Nearly half way”. How could this be, from my position behind I was not able to see the twinkle in his eye or sense the amusement of the other riders who had heard this many times before.
As I forced my tired limbs onwards I wondered how I could possibly last the distance. I had no idea where we were after Ham Steet. Hothfield came up and to my amazement we stopped outside a pub. Was this really happening? Were we going to stop and rest? The answer was Yes! Bikes were parked and someone got the drinks in. Lemonade was favourite and I can say without the slightest shadow of doubt, that was the best lemonade I have ever tasted. It was if I had been beating my head against a brick wall and then stopped. Was this the great attraction of cycling, the utter feeling of relief when you stopped? The talk was all of Grass Track Racing at Rye Sports. Stories of past races and crashes that made me wonder about the sanity of these chaps.
The rest was short lived, half an hour and we were back in the saddle, heading for I didn’t know where and was frightened to ask. Endless miles later we came into Canterbury and rode to the Cathedral. The bikes were scattered on the grass outside and we all marched inside to take a look at the amazing building.
Lunch was taken at a pub nearby, where one or two of us indulged in a pint of cyder. We ate our sandwiches and sipped our tipple in the warm sun outside. Perhaps this cycling lark is not so bad after all I said to myself after a few swigs.
The return journey was a nightmare. We came home by a different route, via Lympne. I don’t remember much about it after Lympne, I was in a sort of trance all I can recall is that Richard had a split tyre, too bad to put a tube in. They tried straw at first but it kept coming out of the split. Eventually Mervyn, who was a genius with bikes, put a tubular on the rim, more in hope than anticipation. It worked, neither twisting or coming off. By this time Jim had disappeared into the distance, on his way to Rye to pick up a spare tyre. This short interlude came to an end and we were steadily making our way back across the Marsh. The pains had returned. I was standing on the pedals most of the time, unable to put my seat into the saddle.
Then the weakness hit me. I could only just keep the pedals turning. I began to slip off the back but when Nicky Price offered to push me strength returned, probably because I would not have been able to stand the indignity of being pushed. Jim had returned with the now unwanted tyre crisscrossed across his back and was pushing Jean. Richard was in a similar condition to me but kept smiling through it all.
By now the distinctive shape of Rye stood out in the distance. I have always been fond of the old town but never in all my life had I been so pleased to see it.
We rode 120 miles that day and I cursed Jim Hollands for every one of them. I did go back the following week for more punishment and eventually got fit enough to actually enjoy riding long distances. I have been a lifelong cyclist and have made all my best friends through cycling so despite the cursing, I do thank Jim for introducing me to this wonderful sport.