In the summer of 1985, Neil Holman started work at George Halls Cycles and hidden away in the rafters was Rod Gilbert’s 1932 Sun tandem. After some discussion, Rod and Neil decided to have a go at a Club time trial. Their first event was a midweek ‘10’ on the Brampton Ash course when they recorded a time of around 27 minutes. Having developed the taste for tandem riding, they decided to enter an Open event but the only one they could find was the North Midlands 100 at Retford – a big step up from a Club ‘10’ but, undaunted, they completed the ride in 4 hours 45 minutes. Later that season they rode the Lincoln Wheelers ‘25’ and just missed breaking the hour.
In 1990, having caught the bug, Neil and Rod decided to have a good crack at tandem racing and had a new frameset specially made for them by the Clement family at Orbit Cycles in Birmingham. The training and new machinery paid dividends with the pair setting times at just about every distance.
5 miles: 11.49
10 miles: 22.03
25 miles: 58.34
50 miles: 2.13.09
100 miles: 4.34.53
12 hours: 242.6 miles
24 hours: 336.89 miles
When they set the 12 Hours distance, another pair set a national record for a tandem but they were subsequently disqualified because their support vehicle was spotted passing them more than twice – an odd decision considering that the bulk of the Course was based on the A1 near Sandy in Bedfordshire with constant traffic in both directions. Neil and Rod completed the event without support although Lee Scampton was riding the same event and was supported by Loz Cox who handed up a bidon to the intrepid duo.
A couple of weeks later, Rod and Lee paired up to race the CC Breckland 12 – they were supported by Neil in his old camper van and beat Neil and Rod’s distance by ½ a mile.
Rod and Neil set the Club 24 Hours record on a course around Ely and Newmarket being the only tandem in a field of 51 entries. They set off at 10.55 am in brilliant sunshine and by 2.00 pm were riding through thunderstorms. They stopped for a puncture and Neil admitted having to rip the tub off the rim with his teeth because his hands were too cold to feel anything. At around 6.00 pm, the course went past race HQ and 25 solo riders climbed off. Neil and Rod sat in the car for ten minutes or so to warm up and change into dry kit before setting out again. At about 1.00 am they overtook a very vocal drunken cyclist on his way home from the pub; words were exchanged! By 2.00 am, they were riding in Fenland fog which hung about until the sun burst through at 6.00 am. They reached the finishing circuit at about 8.30 am and knew they were going to complete the event – crossing the line after 336 miles.
At the end of the year, they won the Boxing Day 10 and Neil donated to the Club the Jeannie Foster Shield. She was Neil’s great aunt and had ridden for Welland Valley in the early days before serving with the Salvation Army. (The Jeannie Foster Shield is the only Club trophy which can be won by solo riders, two ups and tandems.
Having achieved just about everything they could, the pair went separate ways. Neil concentrated more on mountain bikes and Rod continued with several different stokers including Gavin Hinxman.