Kings of the Road – Review

Kings of the Road – A journey into the heart of British Cycling – Robert Dineen

Kings of the Road – is a look at some of the characters which helped to form British Cycling in the post-war period, but who have largely remained relatively unknown to the wider public – and even to hardcore cyclists themselves.

The author has chosen to interview quite a motley collection of characters,  I don’t know whether it was a conscious choice or not – but the cyclists involved, invariably seem best be described as ‘outsiders’ – people who did things in their own way and didn’t necessarily get on with the authorities as best they might.

Some of these relatively unknown riders, will be quite well known to the timetrialling community – Beryl Burton and Alf Engers are the Queen and King of British time trialling in the golden age of the sport. Their names stand out in the list of past winners because they are the kind of rider and character who really left their mark on the sport, giving a glamour rarely associated with timetrailling.

Crowd come to see Alf Engers finish
Crowd come to see Alf Engers finish

Certainly they deserve their own chapter; it was particularly interesting to read the interview with the mercurial Alf Engers – who even now after all these years – has a certain mystique – the rebel without a cause who drilled holes in his handlebars and more importantly bestrode the Blue Ribbon event – the 25 mile TT championships like a timetrialling colossus. He also reduced the 25 mile TT record to unheard of levels. (49.24 in pre tribar days)

Another rider who had only briefly flitted across my radar was Colin Sturgees. The super-talented youngster who used to beat Chris Boardman in the individual pursuit. One went on to Olympic gold and British cycling ubiquity, Sturgees path took another, more tortuous and winding road; illustrating the fine line between success and failure – especially in such an ephemeral sport as cycling.

Amidst some of the characters of British Cycling, there are quite a few cyclists I had never heard of. And I was left feeling – why ever not?

For example, Ian Steel, the Scottish racing cyclist who won the prestigious Peace Race – stage race. The politics of his time meant he never really got the recognition he deserved, but it was an impressive win and a trailblazer for future British stage race winners. It certainly would make a good pub question – Who was the first British cyclists to win a major Stage race?

Other relative unsung heroes of British Cycling who are included include:

  • Vin Denson (former BBAR winner and team mate to Tom Simpson in the Tour de France)
  • Mandy Joes (Women’s world race champion 1982)
  • Tony Doyle. Including a look at the coup of the old guard and his near attempt to become British Cycling president was quite revealing.

The author Robert Dineen, is not steeped in cycling himself. A late-comer to the sport after researching a book on Reg Harris. He admits as much and, interspersed within the potted history of British Cycling, is his own fumbling forays in to the world of becoming a fully fledged Mamil with aspirations to ride the Etape du Tour. I’m not sure how seamlessly this fits in, but it is kept short and acts as a complement and counterpoint to some of the changes that British Cycling has seen in the past few decades.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. I learned quite a lot about the history of British Cycling and some of the lesser known characters. For those looking for something beyond the all-pervading marginal gains the Team Sky perspective on professional cycling, this really is a warts and all look at the past of British Cycling. Cycling fans should enjoy.

Kings of the Road – A journey into the heart of British Cycling – Robert Dineen at Amazon

Kings of the Road – A journey into the heart of British Cycling at Waterstones

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