Travellers' Tales: Touring in 1923

Harry Saunders and his fixed-wheel bike
Harry Saunders and his fixed-wheel bike
What was it like cycling in the 1920s in the UK? Excerpts from the diary of Harry Saunders were found by his grandson Mike Freeman

Betws-y-Coed and back (to Birmingham), 4-5 August 1923: This was my first attempt at riding for 24 hours, and we (I was accompanied by C Wigley) decided afterwards that we had chosen too stiff a course. We were both overgeared (75 fixed each) but managed to reach Betws-y-Coed (103 1/2 miles) in about ten hours. It was here at 5.30am that I saw the most glorious sunrise.

We had an excellent breakfast at a hotel (2/9 each) and started the homeward trip after seeing the Stepping Stones, Swallow Falls, and a distant view of Snowdon. The ride across the ‘desert of Wales’ to the Saracen’s Head, coupled with a fierce sun and a strong headwind, made the going something to be remembered.

When we ultimately reached Boningale (Wolverhampton) we had sufficient energy to ride up the long hill there, which is known to most tourists. We eventually finished the 207 hilly miles in 23 hours 40 minutes.

Llangollen, 16 September 1923: Three of us started this ride but one had to retire at Shifnal. My brother and I pushed on, but I had two punctures at Shrewsbury, both in the rear tyre. These I repaired, but at Wellington on the return journey I broke the left pedal out of the crank. Being a fixed gear, I endeavoured to ride one-legged, which I successfully managed for an a mile or two until the chain broke. This compelled us to walk the better part of 20 miles, which occupied 7 1/2 hours, and we arrived home at 3am.