Express

A second post about books – or should I say printed matter?

The three little booklets I´m reviewing here do crop up from time to time on the collecting circuit, and they´re not overly expensive, either, so you might be lucky to get a set. What makes them special is a great number of bicycle related ads and of course interesting reading on the first three Tours of Britain, the precursors of the Milk Race.

What you can see right away is that the makers must have been quite optimistic – the first is usually followed by the second issue, but when they printed this booklet the second issue of the ToB was about a year away.

Not only did the jounalists of the Daily Express, who sponsored the ToB, display some optimism in assuming that another tour would be staged the following year, but they also deemed it necessary to introduce the reading public to the basics of a modern racing bicycle. Britain was a backwater as far as massed start races and the bikes that are needed for this sport were concerned. Massed start races were considered to be rather French, and eyed suspiciously as such. A good book on this issue is Ride and Be Damned by Charles Messenger.

In 1951 time trials reigned supreme, and massed start races were something of a novelty. Also the fight between internal hub gearing and derailleurs had not been decided at all; Sturmey-Archer were churning out hubs by the million, also with special ratios for “the racing man”, as they put it. Further down there is a post on this issue. What I sometimes think is that it was lucky the British took over the French word for derailleur – imagine they had adopted the Italian word and we would be stuck with a derailiator, suggesting a calamity somewhere between a train crash and an alligator running amuck. There were many riders back in the day who damned the derailleur as being just that.

Anyway, in 1952 there was a second issue of the ToB.

The novelty of the massed start and a group of riders racing together is nicely illustrated on the cover. Spectators are watching the race. It is debatable what spectators prefer, the constant trickle of racers passing by in a time trial, or the hour long wait for the field followed by a couple of wooshes and the trip home.

I for one was sorely disappointed when, on a trip to France with my parents in 1976, we hit upon the Tour de France and decided to wait for the race (only half voluntarily as all roads in our direction had been blocked anyway). We endured the advertising cars for an hour complete with my little sister being hit in the face by a sample bag of Banania cocoa drink powder thrown from a passing car (the name stuck, as you can see). It was hot and uncomfortable to wait, too, and then we had the woosh experience: For us, the race was over in a second.

And this is what makes the second ToB so special for me. Being the Ellis-Briggs fan that I am, Ken Russell made my day, even 9 years before I was born. Inside the book, there are really thrilling articles on how Russell managed to win.

And there even was a third issue. Having grown up in the Rhineland, I can´t help thinking that the cyclists on the front cover aren´t participating in a race but in a Carnival procession. Their peaked caps look just like what people are wearing in Düsseldorf or Cologne on Carnival.

The Ken Russell/Ellis-Briggs win wasn´t repeated in 1952, but a fourth place for Brian Robinson, another E-B rider, wasn´t bad either.

Here´s the complete result table with the Ellis-Briggs riders shown, and their formidable opponents too.

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