Year-long tribute ride calls on female cyclists

Billie Fleming at Guildford during her year-long ride. Photograph: Peter Samwell

Billie Fleming at Guildford during her year-long ride. Photograph: Peter Samwell

Scottish women cyclists: Your chance to join an epic UK-wide year-long tribute bike ride – in small stages.

When cyclist Anne Hunt read about the record-breaking 1930s cyclist Billie Fleming she immediately decided she wanted to do something to pay tribute to an “incredible lady”.

Her idea was to re-cycle the same route of almost 30,000 miles that Billie followed during her “year of riding every day”.

Now Anne’s Billie Fleming Tribute Ride is about to set off and as it tours the country it will be calling on female cyclists to get on their bikes to cycle a few or hundreds of miles in solo efforts or as relay groups.

In July and August, the ride will come to Scotland and Anne hopes women riders will be keen to join the ride in places such as Alnwick and Berwick in Northumberland, Linlithgow, Struan, Nairn, Invergordon, Kirkhill, Ballachulish, Luss, Comrie, Peebles, South Queensferry and Stirling.

Already, Kathy Gilchrist from the Scottish Board of Cycling and many riders in the Belles on Bikes group have pledged to support the Scottish stages.

Anne says: “One of the aims of Billie’s year-long bike ride back in 1938 was to inspire more women to ride their bikes for fitness. Billie wanted to prove her belief that just by cycling a girl could keep fit and that was the simple principle behind her year of cycling.

“It seems fitting, almost eight decades on, that we are carrying on this inspiring goal by getting women to join our tribute ride up and down the UK. Already we have had a lot of interest in taking part in the ride and we will be particularly keen to hear from Scottish riders as the ride progresses north and into the summer.”

Billie rides past Big Ben in London. Photograph: Peter Samwell

Billie rides past Big Ben in London. Photograph: Peter Samwell

Who was Billie Fleming?

Billie was born in London in 1914 and holds a unique place in the history of cycling. In 1938, she cycled every day and set the women’s world record for the greatest distance cycled in a single year having only learned to ride a bike a few years earlier. She amassed 29,600 miles in that one year, which is the same as 35 times the distance from Land’s End to John o’ Groats.

Earlier this year, Billie reached her final goal of celebrating her 100th birthday and receiving a card from the Queen. She passed away in May.

More about the Billie Fleming Tribute Ride

The Tribute Ride sets off from Westminster in London on 1 January for the first day of 71.6 miles via Mill Hill, also in London, where Billie lived. Anne herself will take part in this first day of riding.

Every day of 2015, the Ride will then visit the same places that Billie cycled. But unlike her incredible solo achievement, the tribute ride will invite as many women as possible to ride different daily stages.

The first few months of the tribute ride will focus on the London area. Anne, of Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, says: “Billie stuck closer to home to start with rides in the London and Herts areas. The daily distances are extraordinary, averaging 81 miles daily. She then headed off to roam further afield and did some amazing cycling tours for weeks at a time.

“When you think that she rode a three-geared Rudge Whitworth bike and did not have access to the modern conveniences of easy bike transportation, GPS maps and mobile phones it seems all the more incredible.”

Billie repairing her only puncture of the year's ride. Photograph: Peter Samwell

Billie repairing her only puncture of the year’s ride. Photograph: Peter Samwell

Billie is thought to have ridden in every county in England and came as far north as Dingwall in the Highlands. She is known to have given talks about her cycling in Clydebank, Edinburgh and Fife. At the time, Billie’s feat was recorded by Cycling magazine, now Cycling Weekly.

Anne says: “Sadly, some of the records of Billie’s ride are missing or misplaced and we are still working out the complete route. But the aim is that each day we will try to emulate Billie’s route and distance.

“On some days we might have one or two riders cycling the entire distance and on others it will be a relay ride. Billie rode as far as 186 miles on one day so that would be big undertaking for just one rider although there might be someone out there who is up for this. Really, we simply want to get as many local female riders joining in, whatever distance they decide to cycle.”

What would Billie have thought?

Peter Samwell, Billie’s step-son, believes that the cyclist would have been puzzled by all the interest in her ride.

He says: “I think what Anne has done and is doing to organise this tribute ride is amazing. However, I don’t think Billie would have understood what all the fuss was about as she didn’t really see her achievement as anything particularly special.

“She didn’t talk about it very much and she didn’t keep a lot of the things to do with her ride – it was other people who gave her articles and photos. Without those we wouldn’t have had such valuable memories.”

He reports that Billie was very determined in all aspects of her life and once she had set her mind on something she saw it through to the end.

He says: “She was a fit lady – you don’t reach the age of 100 unless you are – so it doesn’t surprise me that she achieved such an incredible feat of cycling with seemingly little effort. I am keen to see the rides take place during 2015, emulating what Billie did herself back in 1938. I am sure it will be challenging but that only serves to reiterate Billie’s achievement.”

Men are also welcome to join the stages as long as they are accompanied by women.

Anne Hunt, the brainchild of the tribute ride.

Anne Hunt, the brainchild of the tribute ride.

Anne says: “It’s not about being anti-male but Billie was focused on women and fitness. The more I look at what she achieved cycling 80-odd miles day after day, in all weathers, the more impressed I become. She was a female cyclist ahead of her time but I think her message is as relevant today as it was then.”

To sign up to ride, organise or support a stage see or Billie Fleming Tribute Ride 2015 on Facebook. You can email [email protected] Keep checking our events page for details of Scottish legs of the tribute.


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