Looking back at the club with Hon Member Stephen Pitts


Following on from our interview with Life Member John Parfitt, it is great to get catch up with Honorary Member Stephen Pitts, and get another view of what the club, and cycling used to be like.

Q. When did you start cycling, and how many years did you ride for?

A. My elder sister taught me how to ride a bike a week before my 4th birthday. Even then, the sense of adventure that I felt when out cycling is hard to describe, but it was a complete revelation and I was hooked for life. I am still riding regularly 70 years later.


Q. Did anyone else cycle in your family ?

A. My father did a lot of touring in the early 1930s, and was a member of the CTC.  He and a pal regularly went out for the day, and on one occasion they rode 129 miles. This was no mean feat when you consider the poor quality of the roads in those days. In the summer, they would sometimes go away on camping weekends carrying tents, food and cooking utensils in saddlebags and pigskin panniers. It must have been quite a load, but he had an early 3 speed Cyclo derailleur with an exceptionally low bottom gear to help him with the hills. His Raleigh Clubman was fitted with Lauterwasser handlebars, and a large bell that weighed over half a pound. As we had no car, all members of the family rode bikes for transport to school, and journeys around the Cookham area.


Q. How long ago did you join the Club, and were you a member for long ?          

A. I joined the cycling section of Maidenhead Cycling & Athletic Club in 1962, and started time trialling in 1963. Unfortunately, my racing career came to an abrupt end in late 1964, when I developed knee trouble. However, I was still able to ride on club runs at moderate speed, and continued my role as club Press Secretary until I left for college in September 1965. The cycling section of the MC & AC split from the athletes the following year to form the MDCC.


Q. Were there many club members in those days ?

A. After the boom years of the 1930s, cycling was becoming less fashionable, and by the early 1960s club membership was in general decline. The MC & AC  cycling section had been having a lean time when I joined the club. While total membership stood at about 14, only 6 or 7 stalwarts attended club evenings in the Kidwells Park venue. The number turning up at the Clock Tower for Sunday club runs varied between 2- 6 members. However, while numbers may have been on the low side, the general camaraderie and feeling of fellowship was strong.  In short, they were a very good bunch to be with.


Q. Can you tell us a bit about the club runs you did ?

A. Someone at school had told me about the Sunday club runs. I thought these would be an ideal way of exploring the countryside, and visiting places I hadn’t been to before. I was particularly interested in seeing new landscapes such as ‘Little Switzerland’, and natural features like the ‘Devil’s Punch Bowl’. 

John Parfitt usually led the club runs, and introduced members to many places of interest eg. Selborne. The annual Pompey run was a much anticipated event at the start of the season, and a few riders treated it as more of a race than a club run. If anyone suffered from the dreaded ‘bonk’, or were unable to keep up, John was always available to lift their spirits, and see them safely home.


Q. Did you have coffee stops during the ride - which was your favourite café ?

A. A. In the early 1960s, Cafes that were open on Sundays and cyclist friendly were few and far between, but were well known to the cycling fraternity. Club runs incorporated strategic stops at these cafes. In the Yateley area, we would visit ‘The Manor’ on the A30. We didn’t have any particular favourites - we were just glad to have a break from riding, and a hot drink to warm us up.  

On one Pompey run, our group decided to have lunch in a Chinese restaurant. The food was delicious, but to our dismay we found that we were hungry again within 40 minutes of setting out for home. This was very bad news, and some of the group really struggled over the last 30 miles or so.  


Q. What were your bikes like, and did you have a favourite ?

A. I had a string of very average bikes until 1960, when I bought my first handbuilt cycle, an FH Scott tourer for £ 26. The spec was Reynolds 531 d/butted frame;  GB Maes alum bars, stem, centre-pull brakes and large flange hubs; 5 speed Benelux derailleur; steel rimmed wheels with double butted spokes. Mr Scott was well past retirement age, and quite set in his ways. I asked him about the cotterless chainsets that had recently come on the market, and he responded:- “Don’t touch them Boy -  a Williams steel chainset is much better for touring”.

After riding some time trials in 1963, I bought a Bianchi from Condor Cycles. It had been ridden in the Tour de France, and was only a few months old. Fitted with Campag equipment throughout, it had 10 gears to give the full range of ratios for road racing in all terrains. It weighed just under 22 lbs.

Inspired by my visit to Condor Cycles, I bought a bespoke Condor Italia for time trialling in 1964, and the Bianchi was relegated to a hack iron for everyday use. Built with Reynolds 531 tubing, the Condor was fitted with Campag equipment throughout, and had 10 gears with handlebar controls. It was a dream to ride, and was the favourite of my bikes.


Q. What are your most memorable rides ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     A. There are several contenders, all memorable for different reasons.

1  Hostelling solo for a week in the Yorkshire Dales at 15 – a great experience.

2  A weekend away with 3 club members to Ashton Keynes YH in the arctic winter of 1962/ 63.  Although the side roads were covered with a 2” layer of packed snow and ice, no -one came off. The air was crystal clear, the country- side was white and there was no traffic to break the silence. It was Magic !  

3  Much of the 100 in 8 reliability trial in February 1963, was on ice and snow.    Nobody achieved the 8hrs deadline, but every member completing the course received a Certificate. eg “Steve Pitts rode a bicycle a distance of 100 miles, when the elements at the time dictated that all sport be abandoned”.

4  I won the 1963 Club Hill Climb Championship on Britwell Hill, and successfully defended my title the following year on Honey Lane, Hurley. Unfortunately, the cartilage in my left knee was quite badly damaged by the effort.

5  Much to everyone’s surprise, I won the 1964 early season Medium Gear (72”) 25 mile TT in 1-9-48, nearly 2 minutes ahead of the club champion, John Parfitt.         I was rewarded with a full race report and photo in the Maidenhead Advertiser.

6   Just after my 17th birthday, I rode the 272 miles from Gwithian, near St Ives, to Cookham in 22.5hrs. I then slept for 17 hours, and it took me nearly a month

to regain my speed. My previous record for a day’s ride had been 140 miles.   


Q. What is your favourite memory of the club ?

A. I always enjoyed the general camaraderie and banter with like-minded cycling enthusiasts in the club. The annual club dinner was also a highlight, and very different from the staid events put on by other organisations. Family members and visitors from other clubs in the Border League were invited, so there was always plenty to talk about. One character always came in knee breeches and bedroom slippers. 

There was an established tradition of cross-toasting during the meal for all to hear.  e.g. “I would like to take wine with the person who arrived home late and rather the worse for wear, only to find that he had been locked out by his wife. He had to sleep in the garden shed”. The poor man would then have to stand up, raise his glass and try to think of a suitable response. Few secrets and embarrassing moments remained secret at the club dinner, but it all added to the friendly atmosphere that drew people to it every year. 

 At the presentation of prizes and awards after the meal, one visitor used to forward roll to the table, receive his prize, then turn and forward roll back to his chair. This was accompanied by a lot of cheering and laughter.  


Q. What do you think were the benefits you got from cycling ?         

A. I think it is vital to find a physical activity that you really enjoy, and are able to pursue regularly without it feeling like a chore. This is even more important in a world where sedentary jobs are on the rise, and home comforts beckon at the end of the working day. It is little wonder that many countries, including the UK, are currently facing an epidemic of obesity. This surely has to change.   

My interest in cycling has provided me with a strong motivation to get out of the house to exercise on a regular basis. For me, cycling is as good for the soul as it is for the body. The pull of the Chilterns’ landscape is undeniable, and I always enjoy the sense of release from the stresses of life when I ride there. I feel a real connection with the beauty of the place, and am truly refreshed and invigorated by the time I return home. My GP tells me that I am as fit as many men 10 years younger. I would recommend cycling as a recreation to anyone!