How long is a sporting career? It can be very short, brought to an end by unexpected injury, fading talent or even age – sometimes it’s a shockingly young age – or it can seemingly go on for ever. At the end of this week, Yorkshire will be in the grip of Tour de France fever. 200 cyclists, some just beginning their career, some near their end, will take over the roads. Fans and tourists will watch as they speed past, wondering who will be champion, awed by their grit and determination or remembering past triumphs. Some might even be inspired to get on a bike themselves. For many just to cycle to work or the shops but for some it will be the start of a lifelong passion.
For Alan Edmondson, aged 81, living in Horsforth, who still cycles hundreds of miles every week along the roads of Yorkshire, it is a passion. Even now he and his wife Pat, aged 78, saddle up their tandem and go for a spin. I met up with Alan to find out how his love of cycling had kept him healthy, and what it is that keeps him cycling after all this time.
When did your cycling life begin?
Alan: During the war. You could only get utility bikes, which were black and white, but after the war big cycling manufacturers started producing coloured bikes. I bought my first sports bike with gears. It cost me £18 12s 6d in old money (worth over £700 today). I was about 15 years of age. Other friends had started buying bikes as well so we went round together. But it was difficult as there were no maps and no signposts. When my uncle was de-mobbed he was able to show us lots of routes as he’d cycled before the war, and he took us into the Dales. Roads were pretty fresh then, with very few cars on the road, and we could zigzag up the A1. We were bitten with the cycling bug and were soon riding all over the place.
In 1949 I joined the Leeds Kirkgate Cycling Club, my uncle’s club and got interested in track riding. But National Service disrupted all that: the guys I rode with went on service at different times. By the time I came out friends had started courting or raising families – women’s intervention if you like – and we couldn’t put in the time to train, so there was a gap.
So, that brings us to your wife, how did you and Pat meet?
Pat: I got a bike when I was 17 or 18 and joined the Leeds Kirkgate club.
Alan: Through cycling. We met after my National Service. Pat was 21 when we married and I was 24. We’ve been married 56 years.
Alan added : I had a break from cycling when we started having kids – we have 5 children and 11 grandchildren – I got into mountaineering and rock climbing as I couldn’t put the time in for training. Pat would let me have Saturday off as long as I was back on Sunday.
Pat interrupts “Alan has always been a free spirit”.
He continued: I started walking with some old friends from my cycling days – the three wise monkeys Pat called them. In the ‘80s I started leisure cycling as I thought I’d put on some weight and needed to get rid of it. So I started racing. I won medals, cups and championships in road racing as part of the League of Veterans road cycling this was set up to get competitive road racing going for over- 40s. I started racing at 50 and packed it in in 2005 when I was 72.
You have a fabulous tandem bike. Where have you taken it?
Alan: Pat and I cycled the 400 miles of the Pyrenees, 15 years ago when our aggregate age was 130: as far as I know we’re the only mixed tandem that’s ever done that. Now, we take it out locally.
Are your children and grandchildren into cycling?
Alan: No, no they’re not but I’ve always been at pains to make sure they had a sporting lifestyle. All our children rode, but not to the degree that Josh and Nathan, two of our grandchildren do. They race in the top bracket, Team Sky.
Is cycling a sport you can take on even if you haven’t a lot of money?
Alan: Yes if you’re not bothered about carbon fibre frames – vintage bikes are the thing. When I raced my bikes always had a steel frame. Doesn’t matter how much or little money you spend on a bike if you don’t have the legs, nerve and attack. It’s your legs that count. Cycling is a great leveller.
So, following your retirement what did you do to keep occupied?
Alan: Started teaching in schools: British Cycling’s “Get Set” and “Go Ride” schemes and the Cycling Touring Club bike ability groups which taught bike handling and having fun on a bike.
Do you cycle with people of your own age?
Alan: I recently went to Majorca cycling with similar-aged friends and I’m a member of League of Veterans Road Cycling
What keeps you cycling?
Alan: There are so many facets to cycling – you don’t have to race, could be a tourer, a camper or an off-road cyclist. It keeps you going. Not many cyclists find that their peers as healthy as they are. Only time I’ve been to the doctor is when I’ve had sporting injuries.
Pat and I are committed to “spreading the good news”and the benefits that an active sports life brings, at aged 78 and 81 we are ourselves testament to this philosophy!
He continued: My philosophy of life is this – you need a sporting lifestyle. Sometime during your life the carpet may be pulled from under you. A sporting life can help you through the bad times. So with cycling you can just get on your bike, get out, enjoy the air and do some thinking, reflect and come back refreshed. And that’s important.
What will you be doing on Saturday 5 July, the Yorkshire Tour De France Grande Depart?
Alan: We’re involved in a Tour de France pop-up museum in Harrogate sponsored by Stephen Gee, in memory of his father, Alan, a cycling friend of ours, who died recently. Steve’s shop, which is 250yds from the finish line, is showing an exhibition about cycling Carbon, Sulphur and Steel, I will be a guide, telling visitors about the exhibits – bikes ridden by British Tour De France winners of the 50s and 70s.
It was lovely talking to you today. I hope you and Pat continue riding the tandem and that you enjoy the Tour De France.
More information about what’s happening on Saturday 5 July Grande Depart here – www.leeds.gov.uk/granddepartleeds