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The First Seventy Years: 95 - Boots And Spurs

...The immediate post Second World War austerity had contributed to the continued presence of 1930s styles of cycling clothes. Most middle-aged and elderly men turned out in 'plus-fours'; a form of trouser with a buckle on the end to enable them to be held up below the knee. This had the advantage of keeping the right leg of the trouser from fouling the chain...

Eric Biddulph continues his account of his days as a keen cyclist.

Eric’s book The First Seventy Years can be obtained for £10 by contacting http://mary@bike2.wanadoo.co.uk or telephoning 01484-658175.

All the cash raised by the book goes to a water aid project in Malawi.

During the 1952/53 winter a meeting was called at a pub in Sutton Bonington, halfway between Nottingham and Leicester, to determine the future of the club. The Clarion was a national organisation with a network of sections throughout the UK. It had strong socialist roots going back to the 19th Century. A tradition had evolved whereby the members of the different sections acknowledged each other on the open road by shouting "Boots" and receiving the response "Spurs".

This spirit of camaraderie was aided by the holding of an annual Easter Meet, a four days jamboree, held in a different location each year. The 'East Midlands' section embraced three sub-sections; Leicester; Nottingham and Heanor. The latter two had regular joint meetings, being only fifteen kilometres apart. Leicester was forty kilometres away and had never had much contact with the others. Apart from the distance there was also a cultural gap. The 'East Mids' section had provided many track riders of international repute who had been selected to ride for Great Britain in the Olympic Games and the World Championships.

Only a few months earlier the section had provided all four team members who together had won the bronze medal in the 4000 metres team pursuit event in the Olympic Games held in Helsinki. The other sub-sections did not have a tradition of track or road racing. Their roots were firmly embedded in time trials and an avid commitment to the Sunday club run. Inevitably, another section was voted into existence at this meeting. The 'Notts and Derby Clarion' section was created. Leicester went its own way, retaining the title of' East Midlands Clarion'. This split was the forerunner of many more that happened in the cycling world in the years that followed. A realisation that it was not always possible to accommodate the aims and aspirations under the same banner of all who chose to ride a bike.

The early 1950s witnessed many changes in the cycling world. Derailleur gear systems were beginning to replace the Sturmey Archer hub gears; the single fixed gear previously only found on track bikes became the favoured system for many clubfolk. It was cheap, relatively maintenance free and generally suitable for the East Midlands terrain.

The immediate post Second World War austerity had contributed to the continued presence of 1930s styles of cycling clothes. Most middle-aged and elderly men turned out in 'plus-fours'; a form of trouser with a buckle on the end to enable them to be held up below the knee. This had the advantage of keeping the right leg of the trouser from fouling the chain. This fashion was originally associated with golf. Those who had entered the pastime post-1945 tended to turn out in ordinary trousers held around the legs, just above the ankle with clips. In the warmer weather both men and women rode in shorts, although they were not so skilfully tailored for the needs of cyclists as we enjoy today. Advances in designer clothing specifically for the cyclist did not materialise until much later. In the racing sphere, time trial riders were required to wear black jerseys and shorts. This was a tradition which went back to the early days of the sport.

In an endeavour to maintain time trialling on public roads all races had to be promoted very early on a Sunday morning, sometimes as early as 5 am. An all-black racing kit combined with these early starts was intended to make cycle racing as inconspicuous as possible. A threat of a ban was thought likely if riders were to be seen in bright jerseys.

In 1954 this veil of secrecy was allowed to slip a little when riders were permitted to compete in time trial races in their club colours. The influence of European cycling had begun to filter across the English Channel. By the late 1950s cyclists could be seen wearing Plus Twos; a European cycling version of the plus fours.

European cycling jerseys with the names of trade sponsors brazened on front and back began to replace the shirts and pullovers which had been standard in the UK for over thirty years. Clubruns were held every Sunday. These were usually day long rides starting between 8 and 9 am in the morning and lasting until 7 or 8 in the evening during the lighter days of summer. It was not unusual to have forty riders on a run creating a snaking trail, sometimes riding single file sometimes two abreast.

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