Dad occasionally mentioned cycling in a blizzard in the French Alps on Coronation Day in 1953 but I never really quizzed him about it. It was only when I was researching it for his funeral, that I really started to read through his photo album diary and appreciate the route that he cycled. Looking back, I wished that I had asked him more about it…
In May 1953, Dad was 25 going on 26. He was a keen cyclist, and it would be another 4 years before he would own a car. Whilst courting my mum, they would cycle from his family home in a back-to-back in Central Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon, which would have been a round-trip of 90km. I suspect that my mum was less keen – all she remembered was jumping into the hedge to avoid lorries and tanks!
Dad decided to go on the Cycle Touring Club’s tour of the Dauphine and Jura – mostly in France, but with a couple of short trips into Switzerland, leaving London on Saturday May 23rd 1953. He actually arrived in London at 5a.m. by train from Birmingham and had time to take in the sights of Buckingham Palace before meeting the rest of the group.
The group (pictured below later on the trip) assembled at the Baggage Registration Office, Platform 1, Victoria Station at 9.30a.m. for the train to Dover.
The itinerary would get them to Paris by 7.50pm – even allowing for the clocks changing, then this trip was no Eurostar – it took four and half hours from Calais to Paris.
They had to pick up their bikes from the customs shed in Paris, cycle across Paris to the Gare de Lyon, just in time for a quick dinner before catching the sleeper train to Grenoble. He records a comfortable night before disembarking at 7am ready to start 493 miles of cycling.
As you can see the bikes each had a single saddle-mounted bag, carrying about 25lbs of clothing, and they were steel-framed, drop handlebar bikes.
Looking at this picture of Dad and his bike, it looks like he had a Sturmey-Archer style hub gear, rather than the derailleurs that many of the other bikes on the trip can be seen to have. Dad certainly said that they had put smaller chainwheels – sufficient as he put it to cycle up the front of a house! I can count about 10 teeth in a quarter turn on the front, so maybe 40 in total on the front. The rear sprocket diameter appears to be about half that of the front, so let’s assume 19/20 on the rear. The Sturmey-Archer heritage website actually has a catalogue from 1953, that lists this combination, shown below.
This leads to ratios of between 35 and 70 gear inches, about the same as you would have got from the derailleurs of the day, but some way short of the 25 gear inches recommended for light touring today. They were obviously made of stronger stuff in the 1950’s.
I’ve split the tour into four sections for the more detailed descriptions and maps.
Alternatively, you can just jump to the individual day blogs starting with Day 1 from Grenoble to Chatillon-en-Diois.