Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Greatest Woman On Two Wheels

A few weeks ago I went to see a play about cyclist Beryl Burton written by Maxine Peake. Being a keen cyclist myself I already knew the story of Beryl and wondered if the performance would do it justice. I was not disappointed. Read this and be inspired.

Beryl Burton (1937 – 1996) dominated the sport of cycling from the late 1950s. Having won numerous world championships, her last domestic title was won in 1986 at the age of 49. She did this despite suffering chronic health problems as a child. She set several national and world records; one of them even beating the men's record.
The story of how she broke the 12 hour record in 1967 has gone down in cycling legend. The race began on open roads with the women starting two minutes behind the men. Despite calls of nature and problems with her bike she caught the leading man, Britain's best all-rounder Mike McNamara, and cycled alongside him. As is the habit of most long-distance cyclists, she carried a bag of sweets in her back pocket in order to keep up her energy levels. She offered Mike a liquorice allsort, which he is said to have accepted with good grace. Beryl then pulled away to set a record of 277.25 miles beating McNamara by three quarters of a mile. It was another two years before a man beat her record. Nearly fifty years later that distance still stands today as the women's record, despite new bike technology, modern nutrition and professionalism.
On May 5th 1996 Beryl went out to deliver party invitations for her upcoming 59th birthday. On her bike of course. She collapsed and died of heart failure, possibly due to cardiac arrhythmia with which she had been diagnosed at an early age.

These days, if a man achieves a fraction of the things Beryl did, he is awarded a knighthood.