Pennies in the Park
Classic bikes battle it out in park centenary event
A thrilling sprint finish was the fitting finale to a cycle race that truly was a blast from the past.
Probably a century after their like had last been spotted in Matlock’s Hall Leys Park, fourteen penny farthings hurtled along its leafy avenues at up to 20 mph for an hour on Sunday 11 September 2011, until a three-way bid for a historic victory was decided in the final few yards.
With five minutes of the race to go, Pennies in the Park organiser Richard Thoday, resplendent in bow tie, dress shirt, cords and brogues, made a burst for the front, hoping to snatch what would have been a very popular victory ahead of his lycra-clad rivals.
But it would be Jim Brailsford, already the holder of the Knutsford Great Penny Farthing Race title for perhaps the remainder of the decade, who just pipped Worcester’s Dave Preece and Thoday, all three crossing the line to be met by tumultuous applause from a curious crowd of hundreds.
London-based Joff Summerfield, a man who has previously ridden around the world on his high-wheeler and donned an explorer’s pith helmet for Sunday’s race, was fourth, closely followed by the only female entrant, Australian Kat Jungnickel.
Afterwards, Brailsford, who was riding a restored original bike, revealed it wasn’t only his rivals he had had to do battle with on a course he declared “scary”.
“The first time round they were using the grass on the inside and the outside and I thought ‘no way, they can’t do that’. But in the end you just had to do it or you got left behind,” he said.
The grass wasn’t the only hazard.
“There was a very, very tight corner and the first time I went round there was a duck on it – foul play – and you virtually had to go down to a standstill and then turn around and start again,” said Brailsford.
“It was so hard because every lap you’d got this dead stop and had to start again into a headwind uphill.”
Despite the close proximity of Preece and Thoday, Brailsford admitted he wasn’t aware of just how thrilling the contest was for the spectators.
“It felt quite fast and furious, but what it was like to watch I don’t know,” he said.
“[The atmosphere] was brilliant. I couldn’t believe the support all around the course. There were people shouting my name out who I wouldn’t know. It was terrific.”
“Wacky Races meets Ben Hur” is how Brailsford describes the sensation of having ridden his restored 1886 New Rapid Bicycle Company machine in competition for the past 15 years.
“The bike was restored by my father in law and the only way I could get my hands on it was to marry his daughter!” he revealed.
“It’s like nothing else. You get such a turnout. You get so many people who turn up because they have never seen anything like it before. And just riding them is an absolutely magic experience. Not many people get to have a go and I get to ride one of the best bikes in the world. If you get that chance, you’ve got to do it.”
“It was really nice that there was a group away at the front. It felt like a proper race,” was the view of Preece, who differed from the victor not only in his preference for a replica penny but also had a different take on the course.
“I quite enjoyed it. I like all the twists and turns from the technical aspect. If it’s just going to be outright speed, flat out, you may as well cycle round a velodrome.”
“The crowd were great all the way through,” added Preece.
“I think an hour is the perfect length for a race like this because you’ve got a chance for the fast people to get away, but the crowd don’t lose track of who’s in the front and who’s being lapped.”
For Richard Thoday, the prospect of the tail-end of a north Atlantic hurricane lashing through the Derbyshire Dales had been just one of the stresses and strains of staging the event.
But the feared tempest never arrived and the sun shone on the cyclists, who had journeyed from as far south as Kent and as far north as Edinburgh
“The riders have travelled a long way for this. They do like to get together. They don’t get many chances to have a race together, so they make the effort to come. They’re very passionate about it,” explained Richard, who has been raising the eyebrows of motorists by taking his custom-built bike out on the A6 of late.
“They’re really nice bikes to ride. They’re very relaxing to ride. People driving cars seem to appreciate them. They don’t hassle you, they give you plenty of room. People smile and wave. It’s nice to be appreciated and to see people smile is great.
“Somebody stopped me in the street that other day and said ‘Was that you on the penny farthing this morning?’ I said ‘Yes’, and they said ‘Thank you for making me smile first thing in the morning.’”
While the pennies had hogged the limelight, the day had also included an eye-opening unicycle race, won by Stockton-on-Tees man Roger Davies, a self-confessed unicycle envangelist with the Unicycle.com logo emblazoned proudly across his cycling shirt.
Coaches from British Cycling’s Go-Ride initiative staged races for the dozens of local youngsters who’d brought their bikes along for the day, and unicycle hockey and polo matches were played out on the park’s tennis courts. You could even cycle your own smoothie and then literally drink the fruits of your labour.
“It’s come together really nicely,” said Richard. “The idea started as just a penny farthing race, which would have been nice, but people have been offering and suggesting things and it’s just been a nice mix of different cycling-related things with a twist to them,” he said.
“A lot of people have enjoyed today and we were planning it definitely as a one-off to celebrate the centenary of the park.
“But it’s gone so well and been enjoyed by so many people that we’ll have to have a little chat and think about how we could do something more.”
Pennies in the Park - penny farthing race result
1 Jim Brailsford (32 laps)
2 Dave Preece “
3 Richard Thoday “
4 Joff Summerfield “
5 Katrina Jungnickel “
6 Phil Saunders (@ 3 laps)
7 Edwin Knight “http://www.sportsshots.co.uk/klubdarkroom/
8 Jim Crew “
9 Graeme Waters (@4 laps)
10 Karl Webster (@5 laps)
11 Barry Denny “
12 Les New (@6 laps)
13 John Darbyshire (@7 laps)
14 Bruce Dawson (DNF)
Pennies in the Park raises over £1000 for Charity
For all the images from the racing action go to the galeries page http://www.sportsshots.co.uk/index.php?menu=110
For Films from the event follow links below
Report by Rob James Images by Mark Ludbrook