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Escaping City Life with the Glasgow Cycling Clubs

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He’s Scottish by birth, a Highlander by blood, lives in the USA but Glasgow is the city which defines him.

Glasgow in the 70’s wasn’t the stylish, cultured city it is now; the London Government still hadn’t forgotten or forgiven 1919 with troops on the streets as ‘The Dear Green Place’ teetered on the brink of a ‘Red Revolution.’

Funding for development was denied and the city was kept ‘down’ by the powers that be. 

There were many ‘rough edges,’ one of which was the street gangs and then there was the Calton area of the city which had the lowest male life expectancy in Western Europe, mid-50’s years-of-age with bad diet, drinking, smoking, drugs and knife crime all contributing. 

The rider in our tale lived in Maryhill, he had to pass the territory of six different gangs on his way to school.

Crombie coats, Sta-Prest trousers, 16 hole Doc Martens, Argyll House jerseys, Arthur Black shirts, the street uniforms of the day.

If you were a ‘wee guy’ the gang members would pick you up by the ankles and shake you until your lunch money spilled out on the pavement.

Glasgow Cycling Clubs
Dr. Martens, yellow laces, Arthur Black and gallus braces! Our man joined the Glasgow Cycling Clubs to escape the scene. Photo©Getty

On his first day at high school there was a guy brandishing a straight razor in the playground.

But there was no violence on the club runs, just Glasgow Road Club banter round the drum up fire, albeit there were ‘kickings’ of a different kind as the schoolboy struggled when the ‘Heads’ stepped on it up the climbs.

But the bike meant escape from the street gangs and constantly being on your guard about which gang’s patch you were trespassing on.

And friendships were formed in those early days which he still holds dear.

There were perhaps two dozen guys on the Glasgow scene who meant so much to me – great lads, I don’t want to name them all in case I miss someone!

“But two guys I will name are Harry Tweed senior, he was a plumber and had greyhound painted on the side of his van, a real character.

“Then there was George Berwick, he won the Scottish 12 hour championship, rode 24 hour time trials and was in the Rough Stuff Fellowship, he used to pedal up to Cape Wrath and sleep in remote bothies.

“His spectacles were always held together with tape, he was eccentric, a real character.”

Glasgow Cycling Clubs
George Berwick looking perfectly safe whilst crossing the River Alness in Ross-shire. Photo©supplied

After a year with the Road Club there was a year away from club life, doing the weekend rounds of the hostels with his buddy, Russell.

I loved to race but the hostels, club runs, drum ups and going out with the Anniesland training bunch were my favourite things about cycling.”

Coming back to the club scene with Glasgow United in junior races he was a much stronger young man, all those miles with a laden saddle bag had built what they now call, ‘core.’

One of his first senior races – by now he was with Glasgow Wheelers – saw him take second place to the man he calls ‘Big Sanny’ – Sandy Gilchrist.

Glasgow Cycling Clubs
Sandy Gilchrist, ‘Big Sanny’ in action for Scotland in the Tour of Ireland. Photo©supplied

On the strength of that ride he was selected for Scotland, the tough Easter stage race, the Tour of the North in Ireland. Too much, too young? The man himself says; 

Oh yes, I was out of my depth and found it a very tough experience.”

But wasn’t he mentored by the more mature riders on the team, shown the ropes, picked up off the floor and dusted down?

No, not at all, there wasn’t really that kind of vibe on the team, the older riders were jealous of their position and watchful for ‘new kids on the block’ challenging there status.”

Despite these factors the Scotland selections kept coming, around a dozen times.

I rode the Tour of the North, the Sealink on three occasions, the Rás, the Tour of Scotland.”

The Sealink International now there’s a hard race…

There was echelon riding and one stage where we did 90 miles in three hours, at the time it was the fastest-ever stage ridden in the UK – I loved it!”

Glasgow Cycling Clubs
Another Scottish rider, Graeme Nisbet won the ‘Queen stage’ of the 1979 Sealink International in the Wicklow Mountains outside Dublin. Photo©supplied

And he was on the team which backed Jamie McGahan to two of Scottish Cycling’s most memorable achievements.

McGahan won the legendary Rás in Ireland and the Tour of Scotland, and according to ‘our man’ he did so largely on his own; ‘all for Jamie’ was not the order of the day.

But I’ll tell you who did work for Jamie with me and Norman Lindsay on the last stage of the Rás, John Mangan, the legendary hard man from Southern Ireland – there was a lot of rivalry and politics in Irish Cycling back then.”

Could McGahan have been a professional?

Our man thinks so.

Oh yes, he was certainly strong enough and there were a lot of guys on the English pro circuit who weren’t nearly as capable as he was.”

Glasgow Cycling Clubs
Jamie McGahan, rode for some famous Glasgow Cycling clubs, and would have made a very good professional. Photo©supplied

On the subject of team mates, there’s no doubt who he rates highest.

Big Norman Lindsay, who was your team mate with Musselburgh Road Club and GS Modena, and who I mentioned above, was a great guy, we bonded well.

“One of my proudest moments was winning the team prize with Norman and Jamie in the Rás – the Scotland team against 200 Irish guys.

Billy Bilsland used to say that in your whole career there would only be four or five days when you were ‘special’ – that was one of them.”

But he has no enmity about Irish riders, quite the contrary,

“The late Billy Kerr and Morris Foster were heroes of mine, hard, strong bike riders but great, friendly guys.

“I’d love to have matured into a rider like Billy.”

What about mentoring and/or coaching?

Billy Bilsland, who’d been a professional with Peugeot and Raleigh did so much for me, advice on training, tactics, helping with equipment.

“It was at Billy’s suggestion I joined the Glasgow Wheelers when I raced as a senior.

“But I sometimes wonder what I could have achieved had I enjoyed proper coaching.

“I’d start training in the winter before most guys did, be flying early season but be burnt-out by May.

“Then, come late summer I’d get the urge to race again.

“I mentioned the Irishman, Morris Foster – he managed me in the Tour of Ireland and was a great motivator, if I’d had him as my coach and mentor all the time then my career may have been different?”

The legendary Billy Bilsland in his heyday. Photo©supplied

That move to the Wheelers did his selection for Scotland teams no harm, not with the late Arthur Campbell being a ‘Wheelers Man’ and having great influence in the upper echelons of Scottish, British – and world – cycling.

Arturo was another man who helped me a lot; when Jamie and I were down in Nice racing we got in a bit of a fix and it was Arturo who poured oil on the troubled waters for us.”

How was life down by the Med. in Nice?

Despite the fact it was a beautiful part of the world, it didn’t work out for us, there wasn’t actually a lot of racing down there so Jamie suggested we move up to Belgium.”

To the land of cobbles, cross winds and combines?

That didn’t work out for us either, Jamie couldn’t get to grips with the style of racing and we came home; but not before we’d met and trained with some interesting guys.”

Who sticks in his memory?

Bradley’s dad, Gary Wiggins, a very strong but very angry man.

“Then there was Paul Jesson, the New Zealander who was also a very strong, talented rider, he won a stage in the Vuelta.

“He had been selected to ride the Tour de France for Splendor but sadly, he had a really bad crash in the Dauphine and lost his leg as a result.

The other guy from New Zealand who I have fond memories of is John Mullan, he rode and finished Bordeaux-Paris, that’s 619 kilometres, whenever I was in Belgium I’d stay at John’s attic room.”

Glasgow Cycling Clubs
Paul Jesson in Splendor colours before suffering a career-ending accident. Photo©supplied

And who gets his vote these days?

I love Peter Sagan, I was there when he won the Worlds in Richmond, Virginia.

“Wout Van Aert is special too, he never backs down, he reminds me of myself in that respect.”

As for his reasons for quitting the sport before his potential was realised?

I was 23 or 24 years-old and I just lost interest, it was as if my body didn’t want to do it anymore, I’ve been like that all my life.

After the bike I went on to be a Zen Buddhist monk for 15 years, but that’s another story…”

Ed Hood
Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 47 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, a team manager, and a sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days for some of the world's top riders. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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