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28 September 2012 1 comment

Gluttons For Punishment.

Events Curiosities Bicycles
Gluttons For Punishment.

Readers may recall that we had a story on the blog earlier this year about three Tasmanians Scott, Craig and Gavin, and their highly entertaining attempt to ride Paris Brest Paris on vintage bicycles from the era of their compatriot Sir Hubert Opperman. It would seem that the experience has left them none the less hungry for heavy mileage on European roads...

Heading back to work amongst the post-lunch bustle of traffic, the question; ‘Well, what next ?’ hung a little heavily in the air between the three of us. Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG -ed.) was the obvious answer - the seed of an idea to ride LEJOG sown with a wry smile by Craig. Tackling LEJOG would continue the idea to trace the ghostly wheel-tracks of Sir Hubert Opperman eighty years on from a decade of remarkable racing and record-setting adventures.

I'd admit to managing only a rather wan smile at the suggestion of another endurance test of this magnitude. With the remnants of a French summer tan line quickly fading, and neck muscles still tingling, it was hard to see past the fact that P-B-P’s rigid and unrelenting schedule had beaten us. But Craig’s suggestion that we follow our own plan of decent daily mileage, and a nightly sleep, began to seep through barriers of early reluctance.

A few days later Craig emailed some images of a 1930’s LEJOG board game, complete with a crouched likeness of Oppy on the box lid. I guess he knows me pretty well by now. Looking at those images, milestones dotted along a fold-out cardboard map of the UK, I knew then that our adventures, started mid-2008, were about to turn in this new direction.

With a little distance from that moment, it is amazing how ideas seem to take on a life of their own. They itch and tingle in the back of the mind, before bursting back to the surface, taking over all else… a few months later, another late '30s Malvern Star caught my eye hanging in a junk shop window, a dusty, rusty, perfect starting point for a LEJOG machine…

Returning to Europe in 1934, Oppy, in collaboration with BSA, set a series of distance records in the UK that culminated with a new Lands End to John O’Groats time of 57 hrs and 1 minute for a bit over 1400 Kilometres. 2014 marks the 80th anniversary of this record effort, completed in spite of a stomach upset that required a roadside stop at a doctor’s surgery for a remedy, and then a rude awakening just hours after the finish to be placed back in the saddle and pushed off in pursuit of the 1000 Mile mark (duly accomplished over poor roads and crashing headlong into a storm front).

One simple idea, as they ever begin, has evolved over the months into a proposal to take on a vintage cycling double - to ride LEJOG in September 2014 in celebration of Oppy’s triumph, followed immediately with the Tuscan vintage cycling celebration that is L’Eroica. Hmmm….

Plan is, wipe out LEJOG and then roll down to Italy for a quick spin at L'Eroica.

This time around, however, we plan to exploit two landmark shifts in technology from the ‘30s that influenced cycling in a way that carbon fibre and electronics are revolutionizing our riding experience today. From 1934 Oppy made full advantage of a device named in admiration for him, a Cyclo ‘Oppy’ cable operated derailleur, popularizing this mechanism in an era of some skepticism for a multi-gear drive-train. A switch to aluminium wheel rims will also offer a most welcome improvement in braking performance from the accustomed laminated timber hoop.

Of course an essential starting point in collecting together the right equipment will be a Brooks B17 or Professional model, according to preference.

Our initial research into Oppy’s record setting cycle specification, however, has revealed some question mark over exactly what Oppy used in the UK. Period images reveal what appears to be some familiar professional badge engineering. But more about that next time…

I think that it's generally well known that Opperman used an especially narrow (5" wide) Terry's 'mattress' saddle for his end-to-end record - no doubt because he was 'sponsored' to do so.

That model of saddle was subsequently available commercially, as the 'Oppy' Model - see Brown Bros. catalogue 1939, p. 292 for example.

It's not easy to find a good, useable example these days, I'm afraid.
tony colegrave 23 May 2016 at 16:32