the glasgow wheelers - a scottish cycling history. kenny pryde. biscuit tin media e-book (326pp) + softback (167pp) illus £9.99

glasgow wheelers

the notion of forming a bicycle club may be anecdotally less prevalent nowadays, particularly given the pressure to do otherwise by the substantial motor traffic that exists on britain's highways and byways. that said, the emergence of cycle clothing manufacturers keen to offer custom printed clothing to suit the indoor cycling enthusiast would tend to suggest that some might be inclined to form cycle clubs for whom the outside world is anathema. the logic of wearing club clothing while sat alone in the front room aboard a smart trainer in front of an ipad is probably a discussion best left for another day.

and though i have frequently referred to the velo club over many of the years in which thewashingachinepost has existed, in truth that is merely a literary convenience aligned to a smidgeon of hebridean humour. despite forming a peloton nigh on ten strong if everyone turns up at springbank on a sunday morning, we hold neither a constitution nor committee and notices of annual general meetings are nowhere to be found within the what's on adverts to be seen in islay's local newspaper.

however, properly constituted cycle clubs with identifiable team colours and aspirations have existed on british shores for many a long year. their heydays of the 1940s and 50s may be well behind them, and many are now possibly only recalled in old newspaper cuttings, but there are still enough remaining in existence to pay testament to the social and sporting powers of the bicycle. north of the border, there are those whose names are still spoken of in adulatory terms, even though the reality may be somewhat less impressive nowadays. one such long-lived organisation still regarded in such terms is that of the glasgow wheelers, their 100 year history brought to the fore in this e-book by esteemed author, and glasgow resident, kenny pryde.

kenny is the author of the exceptionally well-researched book, the medal factory tracing the story of britain's emergence as a cycling force to be reckoned with on the international stage, principally at the behest of serious investment in the quest for gold medals and the presumed respect that their acquisition might entail. the author's skills for research and subsequent translation into compulsive and enlightening narrative are equally well displayed in this latest (digital only) publication, defining the glasgow wheelers, if not internationally, certainly as a central pillar of the scottish cycling scene across the last 100 years.

and while the 'corporate' history of a scottish cycle club may sound to be a rather 'dry' read for even the velocipedinal enthusiast, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. it all comes down to the abilities of the author.

" 2023, there weren't too many cycling clubs that could claim to be a hundred years old, which helped make the argument for writing this book."

in his introduction, the author observes that it has been claimed that glasgow wheelers is the "...oldest continuously existing cycling club in Scotland." but argues that it's not the club's centenary or the claim that it may be scotland's oldest that made the writing a particularly worthy enterprise, but the eminent participation of various members in the eventual development of british and even world cycling. on a more parochial level, the club's history contains many stories of velocipedinal derring-do. mr pryde continues, averring that the following chapters "will attempt the impossible", weaving the club's history "...with the development of competitive cycling in Scotland" offering instances of its wider influence within british and international cycling.

the glasgow wheelers' beginnings are allied to those of the bbc, both arising in 1923, and both headed by a scotsman (the bbc's managing director was john reith). however, the author points out one of the manifest differences between the two nascent organisations; there are no actual documents that testify to the wheelers' formation. suggestions are that there was, in fact, an earlier version of the club, but no tangible evidence of that being the case appears to exist.

the wheelers was scarcely the first cycle club to appear in the glasgow area, with evidence suggesting there were 27 clubs in existence in 1910, many of which lost their appeal as bicycles became less expensive, allowing the proletariat access to the world of two wheels. thus, those more concerned with displaying social status moved onto motor cars, leaving the saddles to the allegedly less fortunate. the advent of this state of affairs lessened the desire to participate in weekend excursions, moving inexorably towards more competitive activity.

as has often been said, and mentioned by the author "Inevitably, wherever there are two people on bikes, there will always be an element of competition..." as if in confirmation, an early club president's claim to fame was a career as a "track racing star", with kenny pryde pointing out that the 1897 world track championships were held on a specially banked concrete track at parkhead stadium, home to celtic football team. three years later david rattray and his sister agnes opened a bike shop in glasgow's townhead. rattray was not only a member of the wheelers, but renowned as eventual producer of the famed 'flying scot' race and touring frames. to place all in context, the author points out that "...anyone who believes that the 'gravel riding' craze that emerged in the 2010s was a new hybrid of Tarmac and dirt would feel perfectly at home on Scotland's back roads of the period"

cycling life, however, was considerably different in the early decades of the 20th century, with only 380,000 registered motor vehicles in the entire uk. by 2015, however, scotland alone harboured over three million of the blighters. but even in the dim distant past, the motor car was in its ascendancy, with the 1920 roads act requiring councils to issue registration numbers for all motor vehicles. the certain origins of the glasgow wheelers cycling club begin with members of lanarkshire-based douglas cycling club, breaking away to form the wheelers. mr pryde's research even provides us with the names of the founding members from whom an annual subscription of five shillings was received.

subsequent chapters fascinatingly describe those who took the club forward, the etsrangement between clubs affiliated to the blrc and the ncu, sponsorship appearing on club jerseys, and the stalwarts who provided coaching to the members and cemented the wheelers as a central pillar of not only scottish cycling, but of britain and western europe.

in more recent times the club's membership has provided at least a small portion of the who's who of world cycling. having quit his membership of glasgow united in favour of joining the wheelers in 1950, ian steel subsequently won the peace race two years later. owner of glasgow cycle shop, bilsland's cycles, billy bilsland joined the wheelers in 1962, while the club's highest profile member was surely robert millar (pippa york), winner of the king of the mountains jersey in the 1984 edition of the tour de france and fourth place overall. millar joined the club in 1975 and spoke at length to kenny pryde to form arguably the most fascinating chapter in the book.

"Somehow I ended up on a Glenmarnock club run ... and you think 'Oh, this is alright. But...I want to go faster. Because I'm only interested in going faster, I wasn't interested in sitting beside a loch with my tin of soup! I was your typical 16-year-old teenager, but I hadn't done any cycling before that."

the author also speaks to twice british road-race champion and eurosport commentator, brian smith (though not a wheelers member) and features the inimitable graeme obree who, briefly a member of the club, but more readily associated with loudon road club.

i have, inevitably, glossed over the cornucopia of velocipedinal treasures to be found within the e-book's digital pages, for covering all the aspects of which kenny pryde describes would fill more pixels than i fear my webhost would be willing to offer. the narrative is expertly constructed, allowing the reader to become immersed in the club's history, without ever succumbing to presumably the fear of many an historical author - simply a list of dates and associated happenings. and in the process, mr pryde enlightens us to the rich story of glasgow's premier cycling club and the many individuals who made it thus.

though i daresay an interest in cycling would be a prerequisite, nationality is no barrier to enjoyment of this publication. scottish riders, of course, will realise this is a compulsory part of their life in the saddle, one which they ignore at their peril. woe-betide anyone who has to profess a lack of knowledge when the subject arises in the sunday peloton. in short, this is an absolute jewel of a book, placing the kernels of scottish cycling in a marvellous perspective, and of serious credit to its author and the glasgow wheelers.

kenny tells me that a print version will be available in a few weeks and available via amazon. there will also be a free centenary celebration event, launching the e-book on saturday 29 july at hillhead library in glasgow, where there will also be a social gathering with discussions and q&a between kenny and billy bilsland

there will also be a free centenary celebration event, launching the e-book on saturday 29 july at hillhead library in glasgow, where there will also be a social gathering with discussions and q&a between kenny and billy bilsland

friday 28 july 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................