Cycling Heroes 3: Jack Rossiter ‘End to End’ Record 1929

The ‘End to End’ record, or Land’s End to John O’Groats, holds a particular fascination in British cycling history. It’s holders have included previous heroes such as the great G.P.Mills, T.A.Edge and Lawrence Fletcher. Until 1903 the records were paced, but from then on they were under the strict rules of the Road Record Association (RRA), which disallowed pacing and laid down the route and other criteria to be followed.

In 1908 H.E.Green set the new record time of 2 days 19 hours and 52 minutes, for 837 1/2 miles, which was to stand for a remarkable 21 years. Green was a predominant time triallist who had held 15 RRA records from 50 miles, through to 12 and 24 hour time trials. Similarly Jack Rossiter was a distinguished performer, holding record in 100 miles, London to York and 12 hours TT. In 1929 he set out to beat Harry Green’s time and take the Blue Riband of solo cycling.

In the intervening period since Green’s ride there had been a rule change. The ride previously included a ferry crossing, which for Rossiter’s ride was bypassed, adding 28 1/2 miles to the distance, making a total of 866 miles.

Raleigh Club Model from the 1929 catalogue

His mount, provided by Raleigh, was a Club Model built up to his favoured, rather idiosyncratic, specification. It was said to have weighed just 23 1/2 pounds (10.7 kilos) and was fitted with a 3 speed Sturmey-Archer K-series hub gear, with a medium gear of 78 inches. It had a forward curved seat pin, and ‘Marsh’ drop bars set at a downward angle which seemed to be quite popular at that time. The brake levers were unusual, being inverted at the end of the drops. The Brooks saddle was fitted with a Resilion padded cover.

From Resilion catalogue mentioning Rossiter

There was just a small forward extension mudguard in front of the steerer to prevent mud splashing into his face. Lighting was provided by a Lucas Acetylene lamp, with only a reflector at the rear. His clothing was the typical outfit of a time triallist, with thin alpaca jacket and alpaca knitted tights. He was said to have made his own waterproof jacket!

Setting out from Land’s End on the 22nd August 1929 at 08.00, the weather was by no means ideal! In rain and with muddy road surfaces, he crashed at Penzance. Picking himself up he was thankfully uninjured and carried on over Bodmin Moor with reduced tyre pressures to give better traction in the wet conditions.

His route was detailed on this route card, which I acquired for the National Cycle Archive. It is believed to have belonged to Rossiter, the notes being written either by him or a member of his team.

Travelling through Exeter he reached Bristol at 19.00, 50 minutes ahead of schedule, despite the crosswinds and rain. At Gloucester he fitted his lamp and rode on through the dark to Kidderminster and then Whitchurch, where the landlord of the Swan Hotel welcomed him at 02.45 to give him some refreshments. During the night it was damp and cold, and Jack made use of his pullover and cardigan, as well as his waterproof jacket. Onward to Warrington where he took breakfast over the course of a 22 minute stop.

The image above is of the back of the support lorry, showing some of the spare gear, McVitie Digestive Biscuit tin, and his carbide lamps. A carbide container tube is seen just behind the lower lamp. The lamps are the substantial Lucas Calcia King No.326, which stands 7 inches high (17cm). Carbide lamps have a water reservoir above a calcium carbide container. The water is dripped slowly onto the carbide producing acetylene gas, which is lit to produce a very white, bright and effective beam. The support lorry had to keep at least 100 yards behind the rider, so he was entirely reliant on his lamp during the night. I happen to have exactly this type of lamp in my collection, my one dated 1925:

As daylight broke, Rossiter was shaken by the cobbled streets of Wigan but pressed on at speed towards the Lake District. He was 2 hours ahead by the time he reached Kendal. Stops for refreshments were generally very brief, just a matter of a few minutes, but at Kendal he stopped for 1 hour 20 mins, to enjoy a bath, massage and some rest. Onward he pressed over the steep climb of Shap, in a ‘low’ gear of 59 inches (!) gaining on record all the time. Before Carlisle, at 14.00, he changed his rear wheel for one fitted with a Sturmey combination which was slightly lower geared; 55/72/94 instead of 59/78/102. This seemed to make him more comfortable and, coupled with a more favourable wind direction, allowed him to make excellent progress through Gretna, Lanark and Stirling.

A page from Raleigh’s special edition catalogue of 1930

Rolling down into Perth in the darkness, he had an unfortunate meeting with a rabbit who ran into his front wheel and brought him down heavily. His knee was badly grazed and both arms bruised, but his bike was unscathed and he continued into the city at 00.53, where his wounds were dressed and treated with Iodine, whilst he took on food.

Sandwiches with cheese, custard, rice, Virol, eggs and coffee were the main constituents of his diet, along with beef tea, Peppermint Creams and McVities Digestive Biscuits. Virol was a popular ‘health food’ which contained malt extract, beef fat, various vitamins, glucose, fructose, egg and orange juice!

The cover of Raleigh’s special edition of their 1930 catalogue featuring Rossiter’s record ride.

In Blair Athol, at 05.45 he stopped for beef tea and digestive biscuits before the long climb over the Grampian Mountains. The weather had cleared, giving him some welcome moonlight, but the wind had changed to a headwind for the ascent. Just after the climb a howling gale came up, which he would have endured whilst climbing had he not been so far ahead of schedule. When the Pentland Firth came into view he knew he was almost at his goal, and when he rode into the forecourt of the John O’Groats Hotel at 21.22, he was greeted by the timekeeper F.T.Bidlake, who announced that he had beaten the record by 6 hours 29 minutes. Rossiter replied: “That’s good, now what about a spot of something to eat?”

On the first day he had covered 392 miles, and the second 307 miles. His average speed was nearly 15 mph. His stops accounted for 4 hours 32 minutes, so he was actually riding for 2 days 8 hours 50 minutes. The record time was 2 days 13 hours 22 minutes for 866 miles, which was to stand for 5 years until beaten by the great Hubert Opperman.

There is a connection between Rossiter and someone else featured on my blog, because he was married to Lilian Morris, the sister of the great frame builder H.R.Morris. I believe the photographs, now in the National Cycle Archive and featured in this post were owned by Rossiter’s family and given to Dick Morris.

Amongst these documents was also a most unique item, a souvenir programme and menu for the celebratory dinner in December 1929, at the Frascati Restaurant on Oxford Street, London. The menu is signed by numerous important figures in the field of cycling. They include the timekeeper for the record, former great racing cyclist and tricyclist, and vice-president of the CTC, F.T.Bidlake, former racing cyclist and president of the CTC Herbert Stancer, and the Chairman of Raleigh, Sir Harold Bowden.

Raleigh poster with incorrect time of 61 hours 28 minutes, six minutes too long!


National Cycle Archive (Reg Charity No 272792)

Veteran-Cycle Club Library

Cycling Heroes 2: The great Tommy Godwin – 75,065 miles (120,805 Kms)… on a bicycle… in one year… 1939!


Some time ago I wrote a post about my cycling hero G.P.Mills. I called him the ‘ultimate cycling hero’. Recent events lead me to think about another extraordinary cycling hero – Tommy Godwin, who even surpasses the great achievements of Mills. Let’s not get confused here… There is another famous cycling hero called Tommy Godwin, who won two bronze medals at the 1948 Olympics. Here I am talking about the ‘other’ Tommy Godwin…

Born in Fenton, Stoke on Trent in 1912 to a working class family, Tommy was working as a delivery boy by the age of twelve, and took part in his first time trial at the age of fourteen. He soon showed great talent as a time trialist, and won many events at all distances. Before the outbreak of War and now in his mid twenties, he set out to tackle the toughest challenge in cycling history… the year record. This consists of quite simply riding as far as possible over the course of 365 days. 1911 saw the French rider Marcel Planes set the first record of 34,666 miles. Various future attempts raised the bar, including 45,383 miles by Englishman Walter Greaves in 1936. This record was notable as Greaves had one arm! Despite this disability he set a seemingly huge total, yet within a year Ossie Nicholson of Australia raised the bar to 65,657 miles. It was this record that Godwin resolved to beat.

Setting out on New Year’s day 1939, he knew he had to average at least 200 miles a day, come rain or shine, headwinds or snow. That’s more than the average Tour de France stage…EVERY DAY for a year! Incredibly there was another challenger for the record, Bernard Bennett, who set out at the same time and whose progress helped to push him even harder. He used various routes, but a quite regular one was between his bases in Hemel Hempstead and Stoke on Trent. On 21st June he recorded his highest mileage in one day, a staggering 361 miles in 18 hours! On Christmas day he did an easy 59 miles, his lowest mileage.


Tommy rode a Ley TG Special bicycle made by his employers at the time, for the first 27,000 miles, before switching to a new sponsor. Raleigh bicycles furnished him with a Record Ace, a popular high end bicycle of the period. The bike had a Reynolds 531 frame, Sturmey Archer 4 speed gear and a Brooks B17 leather saddle, and it would have weighed about 30 lbs.


Being a vegetarian, common to a number of famous cycling record breakers, his diet was a little limited, particularly as rationing was introduced due to the outbreak of War. He was largely sustained by bread, eggs, cheese and milk.

By October 26th the existing record was beaten with 66 days in hand, and his challenger was lagging well behind. He went on to smash the record by over 12,000 miles. Astoundingly, not being content with this record alone, Godwin continued to ride on until May 1940, when he broke the record for 100,000 miles, completing this in 500 days!!!

It’s difficult to imagine the physical and mental effort required in achieving such a record. Physically he was in great shape before he started, and riding every day, he clearly became super-fit. But the mental effort involved in riding high mileages every day, in every condition imaginable, is simply staggering. Perhaps this is why the record has never been beaten? There is no doubt in my mind that this was the greatest single achievement in cycling history, yet despite this he seems to be little known. This very great man died in 1975, on the way back from a bike ride… of course!

This article came to mind because I heard that on 1st January 2015, British cyclist Steve Abraham, of North Bucks RC, will set out to attempt the record. The Guinness Book of Records will no longer sanction attempts as they decided it is too dangerous, so it will be validated by the Ultra Marathon Record Association, who organizes the Race Across America. Despite riding a state of the art bicycle almost half the weight of Godwin’s, coupled with modern nutrition and psychological coaching, I somehow doubt whether the record will be broken. Nonetheless, I wish Abraham the best of luck and safe rides on this Herculean task!

Update: Abraham was well on schedule to beat the record when he was hit by a moped, breaking his leg. As of March 4th 2017, he is again attempting the record which is now held by American Amanda Coker at 86,573 miles!

Vintage Bicycle Blog gratefully acknowledges the permission of Phil Hambley and Barbara Ford (Tommy’s daughter) for the reproduction of photographic images. Phil’s website about Godwin is undoubtedly one of the best websites I have ever seen on a cycling subject. It is packed with information about the man and his machine, and detailed information about the record, and is also beautifully designed. I strongly recommend investigating it and learning more about this extraordinary man.


Cycling Heroes 1: Ultimate Cycling Hero – G.P.Mills (1867-1945)

Amongst my collection of original cycling photographs is this beautiful image of George Pilkington Mills, taken in 1893. He is perhaps my ultimate cycling hero. During the period 1886 to 1893 Mills collected no less than six ‘End-to-End’ records. End-to-End means cycling from Land’s End at the South-Western tip of England, to John o’Groats, at the North-Western tip of the Scottish mainland, a distance on roads of that time of approximately 900 miles.

His first record, on a solid tyred 53 inch Ordinary, or Penny Farthing, was made at the age of 19. Despite poor weather and high winds that even blew him and his pacing companions off their bicycles at one point, he rode the distance in 5 days 1 hour 45 minutes, and that record has never been beaten.

His other records for the End-to-End were:

1891 Bicycle (pneumatic tyres) 4 days 11 hours 17 minutes
1894 Bicycle (pneumatic tyres) 3 days 5 hours 49 minutes
1886 Tricycle (solid tyres) 5 days 10 hours 0 minutes
1893 Tricycle (pneumatic tyres) 3 days 16 hours 47 minutes
1895 Tandem bicycle (with T.A.Edge) 3 days 4 hours 46 minutes

When considering these feats one should bear in mind the road conditions during this period. Road surfaces were loose, often heavily rutted by horse and carriage traffic, dusty when dry and a quagmire when wet. The bicycles ridden were very much heavier than today. The 1891 record was made on a bicycle weighing about 45 lbs – over twice the weight of the average road bike today – and fitted with low pressure balloon-like pneumatic tyres which suffered numerous punctures. In many ways the 1886 Tricycle record is perhaps the most remarkable, being performed on a heavy solid tyred Cripper type tricycle probably weighing about 75 lbs. Carried out in dreadful weather Mills knocked 29 hours off T.R.Marriott’s record of the previous year.

The safety bicycle record of 1891 was also memorable. Mills covered 256 miles in the first 24 hours, after which it started raining heavily. He took his first sleep, of 30 minutes, at Penrith after he had reached 456 miles. With less than 20 miles to go to the finish, Mills collapsed seemingly with exhaustion. He slept for no less than 7 hours before finishing the final stage, nevertheless still beating the previous record by 14 1/2 hours! Later it was established that when Mills was flagging on the last day, one of his helpers gave him a dose of cocaine which would have killed a normal person. His doctor concluded that he was saved only by his massive exertions before his collapse. Although this story is often cited as an early example of ‘drug’ taking in sport, it is important to remember that at that time cocaine was considered to be little more than a stimulant. It was also utilised as an appetite suppressant. As late as 1910 the highly respected Captain Scott used widely available cocaine tablets to aid him on the expedition to the South Pole.

As well as his End-to-End efforts, Mills held numerous other records including 24 hour time trial, and 50 mile bicycle and tricycle. Also very notably, he won the first Bordeaux to Paris road race in 1891, with a finishing time of 26 hours over 355 miles.

He was a member of the Anfield Bicycle Club, and a founder member of the North Road Cycling Club, both of which had a reputation for producing record breakers.

Below he is pictured on the Humber tricycle with which he claimed the 1893 Land’s End to John o’Groats record.