Britain’s best long-distance cyclist will attempt to break a 32-year-old record later this week when he rides between two old post offices, one in Edinburgh and the other in London.
Mike Broadwith, who in 2018 reset the best Land’s End to John O’Groats time with 43-25.13 and recorded a record 507.9 miles in a single 24 hour period, is aiming to ride the distance of 386 miles from the Scottish to the English capital in pursuit of a long-standing but rarely attempted record.
The Road Records Association (RRA), the body that oversees long-distance cycling records in the UK, has recorded just 12 successful attempts on raising the challenge’s benchmark, with the last by Pete Wells in 1989 being ridden in a time of 17-48.04. The first record was set by F. Wright in 1903 with a time of 31-48.
Maths teacher Broadwith is confident that he can beat Wells' time, but concerns around the traffic in London and not being able to use the entire stretch of the A1 means he has set a target of 17-30, an average speed of 22mph.
But, first, like all long-distance records, the question has to be asked: why? “After the disaster of the National 24 hour," Broadwith reveals.
"I thought I was in good shape, but it came on the hottest weekend of the summer and I struggle in hot conditions. I climbed off after seven hours, stressed and downbeat, and that led me to investigating other record attempts to make the most of the season.
"I've also been working for the RRA, promoting record attempts, and I thought it was time I attempted one again. This one jumped out because it's iconic, it's capital to capital and it's between 18 and 24 hours which is a distance I am used to riding."
There's also the romance of it. "Historically," he continues, "it was between two post offices. What I love about the RRA are these beautiful, archaic rules, things drummed up in the Victorian ages. The record was born in 1885 and started outside the general post office in Edinburgh, ending at the city post office in London.
"The Edinburgh building is still there but I think it's a bar, and the London one there is now a statue outside of the chap who invented the postage stamp."
As good as Broadwith is - and there's an overwhelming case for saying he's this century's best long-distance rider - he will require fortune to beat Wells' record.
Exhibit A: the roads. "Back in the day, after you crossed the border and hammered it towards Newcastle, you could jump on the A1 south all the way, but now most of that is motorway," he explains
"So I will have to use service roads, bits of the old A1, going off roads and onto others, before eventually crossing onto the A10 to take me into London." A less-than-straightforward, eyes-down, focus-on-the-road route, then.
And then comes London itself. "London's traffic is notoriously difficult, but I've timed the effort to make sure I arrive in the evening," he adds.
"I did a test run a few weeks ago riding into London at 10pm and it was reassuring - I was really pleased and happy with how I came in.
"Sure, I'll lose average speed in comparison to thundering down the main roads in the country and I'm conscious that cycling conditions in London have changed and I have to be realistic. But the trial run went well."
Broadwith only has a small window of the school half-term to attempt his record, and the wind seems to favour either Thursday (October 21) or Friday (October 22).
"The difference between a head and tailwind can be as much as an hour," Broadwith says. "I'm really conscious that I've got people coming out to support me: I've invested time and energy into this, so I'm just hoping there's a window that will open up. A tailwind will make such a difference."
And for fans of Broadwith's Excel graphs that he posted on Twitter during Christina Mackenzie's successful female LEJOG record, fear not: "I've got someone to do the graphs for me," he laughs. "I've set them up on the Excel sheet and I think it'll go well."
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