Seventy years ago, Elsie travelled by bus from Spennymoor in County Durham to Coventry. Shortly after arriving here, she mailed this postcard to Mrs Allen, telling her about the trip, which gave her a splitting headache (Elsie’s full text at the end). Having recovered, she went for a bike ride. With her bike ride immediate in her mind, she probably chose this card because of the cyclists in the picture. It’s a photographic card, an image printed on postcard stock, which allowed small runs of local images to be sold. The card is postmarked with a slogan of a 1946 advertising campaign: “Take no chances, Keep death off the road.” The internet has images of attractive posters associated with the campaign
According to the text on the front, the image shows The Long Avenue. This is now called Kenilworth Road or the A429. The photographer stood near the top, where Gibbet Hill Road intersects Long Avenue. To a modern eye, knowing the road, the photograph is striking for its lack of development, and for the fact that there are so many cyclists and no cars on the road. There are more than 40 cyclists visible on the road sweeping back toward what is now the A45.
The modern Kenilworth Road is a busy highway, where the intersection with Gibbet Hill Road has recently been redeveloped with a roundabout to speed cars either in the direction of Kenilworth, the A46 or Warwick University, which would not come into existence until nearly twenty years after Elsie posted this card. I stood just below a bus shelter on Kenilworth Road to recreate the postcard image.
Only one cyclist in the picture is riding up the last, steepest section of the hill. At that point, the rise is an eight per cent grade, a climb that increases steadily for third of a kilometre from the intersection with The Spinney. The sweep of the road into the distance is now a Strava segment, which Michael Krukov holds as King of the Mountain. He covered roughly the distance visible in the postcard, about 1.3 km, in a minute and a half, so travelling 44 kmph or 27 mph.
The cyclists in the picture would have been riding heavier mild steel bikes, and in this period of petrol rationing, they would have used their bikes for all travel short of a train journey. In 1946, Raleigh introduced the Lenton Sports, their first bicycle made with Reynolds 531 tubing. The picture below, of this bike, is taken from Peter C. Kohler’s blog (Peter Kohler’s blog post), which has an extensive discussion of this bicycle, which marked the beginning of a new golden age of cycling in Britain.
Kyla has a couple of Lentons – a Lenton Sports that we’ve dated to 1951 and a Lenton Marque III that is from 1957. The plan is to start restoring these once we’ve pieced her Chopper back together again. If you look closely, you’ll see that the chainring has the Raleigh heron emblem as the spokes of the ring.
Elsie’s postcard message:
Got here alright. I was never once out of the bus till i got here. I had enough trouble getting in. I had a splitting headache when I got here but feel great now. Having a nice time, been out for a bike ride this morning.