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Le Tour 1800s style: Sheffield has always been cycle mad

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Le Tour may have shown Sheffield is cycling mad. But, as archive images show, the city has always had plenty of pedaling pedigree

IT’S entirely possible it escaped your notice but a little cycling race was partially held in South Yorkshire on Sunday.

The Tour de France brought wheel excitement to our streets as an estimated 1.5 million spectators turned out to watch some of the world’s best bikers make Jenkin Road look like a leisurely flat.

Now organisers are talking of ‘legacy’ and encouraging more of us to take a ride.

Great news.

But - as these pictures especially supplied by Sheffield Archives prove - the region already has plenty of pedaling pedigree.

Indeed, did you know one of the oldest bike groups in the UK is based right here? That’s Sharrow Cycling Club, founded 1887. Yet even before then The Sheffield Independent was already reporting in June 1869: “the symptoms of that alarming malady, the bicycle fever, are becoming daily more strongly marked and developed”.

That fever (yellow fever this weekend, perhaps?) has been, with odd periods of exception, growing ever since.

“Sheffield is a cycling city, no doubt about that,” says Graham Waller, current secretary of the 25 member strong Sharrow club. “The hills, the greenery and the proximity to the Peak District all mean biking here is among the best in the UK.

“Of course, we always need more dedicated routes but hopefully the Tour will help increase support for that.”

Velocipede excitement first really came to the city in 1870 when the now defunct Sheffield Bicycling Club was set up.

The group encouraged men to head along to land in Sharrow Vale and not ride or race but...well, learn how to use these newfangled contraptions.

Mick Nott, the retired lecturer of Pitsmoor, who is behind Sheffield’s monthly FridayNightRide, chuckles at the thought. “You’ve got to remember this was a new concept back then, and diamond frame bikes - the standard today - hadn’t been invented. So, yes, people would have to learn.”

The first recorded race in the area was at Owler Bar in 1871. It was won by Frank Cooper who went on to become ‘Champion of all England’ in 1873. And by the time the long-lasting Sharrow club was founded 14 years later, there were a dozen groups already in the city.

Many early races were held at Bramall Lane, while the Sharrow 50 - a 50 mile time trial - was first competed for in 1908 and only ended in 2008. And, while the activity’s popularity has peaked and dipped in those intervening years, today there are some 6,000 Sheffielders bike to work every single day.

“It’s very enjoyable no matter what your ability,” says Graham, again, a 30-year-old finance broker of Fulwood by day. “It’s good for fitness and gives you a real sense of freedom. You can leave your house and be in the middle of the Peak District an hour later.”

He thinks a moment.

“Things have obviously advanced since our club was founded - bikes have improved and safety has got better - but it’s still very similar. The hills don’t change.”

 

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