VANDERSTUYFT's 1928 Hour Record
  Posted April 16th, 2009 by Zdenko  in Cycling | One comment

VANDERSTUYFT’s 1928 Hour Record

By Zdenko Kahlina

One cold winter evening I went with my family for a dinner at the “Earls” restaurant. In the restaurant there was this big picture on the wall with Belgian cyclist Leon Vanderstuyft during his attempt to break the Hour record on the velodrome.

dsc_1802bBeing a cyclist myself, I was curious about this event and wanted to discover the story behind this picture… and here is what I discovered using the Internet:

 Vanderstuyft’s 1928 Hour Record

On 30th September, 1928, Belgian racer Léon Vanderstuyft regained the Paced Hour Record, covering 122.771 km (76.29 miles). On the left, Vanderstuyft’s trainer Rody Lehmann holding the monsterous 45 C.V. motorbike. Note the massive chain and complex front suspension. On the right, Vanderstuyft on board his bike. Note the beautiful chain ring. From “Le Miroir des Sports” No.447/783, 11 September 1928. Later that same month he tried one more time and broke his own record with the 125.815 km covered in one hour.


One of the more impressive sights must have been the huge three litre V-twin Anzani-powered pace bike that enabled Leon Vanderstuyft to set a 76mph speed record at the Montlhery circuit south of Paris in 1928.

cb1aaLaps of the gods: a model R Triumph pace bike at Herne Hill in the Twenties and (below) Triumph Thunderbird that continues the tradition today.




… but for how much longer? Modified TR65 Triumphs are continuing a long tradition by acting as pace bikes for cycling racing at the last velodrome in London. But its days may be numbered as the local council threatens to wave the final chequered flag…

When London staged the Olympic Games in 1948, more than 48,000 people packed into the Herne Hill Velodrome to watch the cycle track disciplines. Fast forward 54 years and I am greeted by blank looks and the shaking of heads when I ask directions to the venue that still stages cycle events.

The evidently little known Herne Hill track, in south east London, is the last remaining velodrome in the whole of the Greater London area and the south east. And there is now a question mark over its future the local council is undertaking various feasibility studies and there is talk of cycling giving way to football. A final decision will be made in October, 2003.


So I had better get a move on. I am here in Herne Hill to try out one of the ten 1982 Triumph TR65 Thunderbirds used as pace bikes.

Pace bikes in the sense that the ten Thunderbirds stay on the track for the entire race, getting their pursuing charges up to racing speed and then adjusting accordingly.

It makes for the extraordinary spectacle of up to ten motorcyclists and ten cyclists haring around the velodrome, with the spoils going to the first, hard-pedalling cyclist and Thunderbird ‘driver’, as the Triumph riders are called, to cross the line. 

classi1Above: this heavyweight machine in action on the Continent.

And a Thunderbird in the sense that, at first glance, the machine I am given to try out certainly looks like a Thunderbird and, notwithstanding the absence of any form of baffling, it sounds like a familiar Meriden twin. But when you actually start to ride this adapted machine, you quickly realize that a good part of what knowledge you have acquired about motorcycling is of little use.

For a start, you straddle the bike rather than sit on it. There isn’t a seat… well, not one worthy of its name. Instead, there is a rump shaped panel.

But then, with this machine you are forced to either stand on the ground or on the footplates. Making the transition from one to the other is the catch.

Fortunately I have 57 year old Colin Denman, one of the three coaches at the track, as host for the day. He explains that the secret of getting safely airborne is to have someone hold the back end of the bike and give you a running start, while you perch on that absurd panel and work out which way you are planning to wind the throttle. After all, you do have a choice.

cb4bProfessional pace riders know that every wisp of air flowing beneath their underarms is literally a drag to the following cyclist, which is why a crude mechanism allows them to turn the throttle in reverse. This means that their arms are pinned tight against their, bodies.

However, when you are standing on the hot seat and hanging on to those absurdly long handlebars, you revert to being a slave to convention and wind up the throttle as normal anti clockwise. Thankfully this is only a practice run. It would be a different ball game in competition.

Then, you suddenly notice that the gear lever is on backward, so the sequence is one up, three down. As for fifth, forget it. It is not on any of the bikes. Colin does not know why.

A short stroke (76 x 71.5mm) torque twin, the 65Occ machine is as forgiving as Hillary Clinton, and soon you are wobbling your way to the first embankment. You could imagine them all sniggering behind on the terraces but you are too busy trying to work out the laws of physics to worry about image. The huge rear sprocket demands that you shift up rapidly, and soon you and the bike are climbing the wall. Instantly, you begin to reappraise gravity and realize just what a big baby you are.

I hope you liked the story about Thunderbirds…






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One comment to “VANDERSTUYFT's 1928 Hour Record”

  1. Comment by Cyril:

    Hi, I actually have the poster (original and not a copy!) for sale. Would you be interested at all? thanks for letting me know, Cyril.

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