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.
Below he is pictured on the Humber tricycle with which he claimed the 1893 Land’s End to John o’Groats record.
PLEASE NOTE THAT I OWN THE EXCLUSIVE COPYRIGHT FOR THE PHOTOGRAPH ABOVE AND IT IS EXPRESSLY NOT TO BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT MY PERMISSION