In the spring of 1945 the Allies met the Red Army on the river Elbe. The Second World War was soon over, and demobilisation began. Thousands of young men returned to the United Kingdom looking for jobs – and for some - recreation and perhaps also, competitive sport.
The Britain they returned to still suffered from chronic food rationing, and shortages were to continue, and even to worsen, for a good few years more. Petrol was in very short supply and many cars had been placed on blocks in the garage ‘for the duration’. Car ownership was in any case very low: a fine network of roads was therefore almost empty. Some of the returning members of the armed forces had been cyclists in the pre-war years. With their younger friends they banded together in existing cycling clubs or formed new clubs so that in the immediate post-war years cycling clubs sprang up in nearly every town. Hundreds of club cyclists took to the roads and a ‘golden age’ of cycling began.
In 1945 I was only ten years old and too young to be part of this cycling renaissance. However, within a few years I had acquired my first ‘real’ bicycle and, by the spring of 1949 had, with my friends, joined a cycling club. The Northwood Wheelers, now sadly defunct, met on Monday evenings in a church hall in Northwood, and soon became an important part of our lives. This account of life as a cyclist covers the period from the late 1940s to 1956 and is to a large extent based on diaries kept from 1950 to 1956. For Christmas 1949 I had received a 1950 Cyclists’ Touring Club Diary and I started to maintain a record of my cycling activities. From 1951 onwards the diaries expanded into a more complete account. At times they seem to be merely a list of places visited, miles covered and cakes consumed - but they also capture the spirit of the times, and an insight into a privileged existence. From an early age I had the freedom to roam at will over a large part of Britain, and to take responsibility as a member of the cycling club committee.
This life continued through my school and university years, only coming to an end (temporarily) in 1958 when I moved north to Scotland to take up my first job. Following a career, marriage and raising a family then took over. Like many others, however, I became a “born-again” cyclist in my early forties and, with renewed enthusiasm, took to the roads again, even though they were becoming increasingly crowded with motor traffic as the years passed. These last 25 years of cycling in Scotland do not feature in this book.
Notes on layout: Diary entries are to a large part shown on the right-hand pages. Explanatory points are inserted in these entries within square brackets, and in a different font. Comments on the journal, together with comments on a wider cycling world at the time, appear on the left-hand pages. People mentioned in this book are real. Anything I say about them is entirely true.
Open Roads is © David Saunders