Tommy Godwin’s 75,065 Record (as written by Dave Barter before Steve's first attempt at HAMR in 2015)

A lot of myth and folklore surrounds the cycling year record, much of it propagated via hearsay and interpretation. Many believe the Guinness Book of Records to be the custodian of the year record including the statement that “it can never be broken as Guinness deem it too dangerous”. The truth is that the year record has never been formally sanctioned or approved by any official cycling body. Its roots lie in competitions run by magazines and road clubs encouraging their riders to notch up the largest number of century rides in a single year.

Tommy Godwin’s record began with a rider called Marcel Planes who won Cycling magazine’s century competition in 1911 and notched up a grand total of 34,666 miles in his quest to win the competition. His mileage was officially verified by Cycling magazine using checking cards. A number of other riders pushed this figure higher and higher during the 1930s culminating in 1939 with Tommy Godwin riding a heroic 75,065 miles in a single year. Tommy then rode on to complete 100,000 miles in 500 days a nice round average of 200 miles per day. His ride was overseen and verified by Cycling magazine and was effectively an individual time trial with a fixed duration of 365 days.

The Guinness book of records did not exist in 1955 and hence they could not have verified Godwin’s record nor could they have stated that it was too dangerous. The record entered the book in 1972 after a rider called Ken Webb claimed to have beaten Godwin and ridden 80,647 miles in 365 days from summer 1971 to 1972. Guinness did not verify this claim, it was added to the book on Ken’s say so. Many in the cycling community questioned the validity of Webb’s ride. He had held a full time job for part of it yet claimed to be doing 220 miles in his spare time. There were inconsistencies in his mileage cards as the distances form town to town did not match those he had claimed. After much correspondence the record was removed from the book and replaced with Godwin.

As you can see there is no “official” record for Steven to beat. Godwin’s mileage was strictly verified and witnessed and as such remains the best historical marker for year mileage that we have. This will change with the brave decision of the Ultra Cycling Marathon Association to set criteria for and verify a year mileage record. They are the first official cycling organisation to do this and Steven will be closely monitored throughout the year by the UCMA via both technology and random checks to ensure that his mileage is real and belongs to his legs alone.

Tommy Godwin is one of Steven’s cycling heroes and in attempting to better Tommy’s mileage Steven is paying Tommy the greatest tribute that a cyclist could offer. Their attempts have a lot in common. Both riders were supported by the cycling community throughout their year. Both riders sought out their own sponsorship in order to get their attempts off the ground.  Both riders have a cycling pedigree that shows they are capable of staying the course of the year. Like Tommy, Steven has chosen to ride a steel framed Raleigh bicycle replete with Brooks saddle. Tommy rode a state-of-the-art 1939 Raleigh Record Ace with four speed Sturmey Archer hub. This was a lightweight racing machine and would have tipped the scales circa 22-27lb. Steven will ride similar routes to Tommy and have the additional challenge of dealing with significantly increased traffic volumes compared to the roads of 1939.

Steven is taking Tommy’s record on very similar terms and his ride will no doubt show that Tommy’s feat was incredible for a rider of that era.


© Dave Barter.