Clifton Cycling Club York - A Brief History

The Clifton Cycling Club was founded at a meeting held on 28th February 1895 at the Old Grey Mare Public House on Clifton Green on the north edge of the city. The first clubrun held that spring was led by the captain A Mason and after three laps of The Green they headed out to Blue Bridge on the A19.

In the early years winter riding was restricted by the poor state of the unmade roads, indeed the club paid an annual donation to the "road menders" for their up-keep.

The winter of 1895 was so cold that the Ouse froze to a depth of several inches. "Tommy" Lumb and his partner rode a tandem from York to Poppleton on the ice!

The first "Club Event" was the "50 Mile Record": the best ride against the clock on a measured course done at your own convenience, unpaced, introduced in 1896. The first winner, A Mason, recorded 2-53. In 1906 a "100 mile Sealed Handicap" was introduced, competitors starting together and timed at the finish where their handicap time was disclosed (an event format it would seem guaranteed to cause conflict.) No rider could claim any racing award unless he had completed at least 15 clubruns during the season! Several trophies inaugurated in this period are still presented annually at the club dinner.

In the Edwardian period there was a strong interest in Hill Climbs (up hill time trials) and the Clifton had a very strong team. The club paid Lock Lazenby's expenses to ride the Catford Hill Climb in Kent in 1909. He rode down overnight on the Friday, rode the event on the Saturday afternoon, then rode back again in time for work on Monday. Catford CC's history says of the 1910 edition; "Lazenby, the Yorkshire 'crack' did not favour us this time. After ascending the gentle slope on one occasion he modestly declared 'there was no hill'".

"Smokers" were held by every self respecting club, including the Clifton and consisted of a gathering of kindred spirits, tobacco provided in bulk and clay pipes provided by the landlord. Drink was liberal, songs were sung, recitals given and stories told. These were held throughout the winter at The Old Grey Mare and sometimes even on clubruns and "midnights"!

Ladies were not admitted to full membership until 1923 and formed a "Ladies Section" in 1902. Combined clubruns were held once a month; a Mrs Fowler said half a century later "our hats and dresses were a bit of a problem at times, but it was great fun".

By the club's 40th anniversary in 1935 the Lord Mayor of York was patron (and still is) and the annual programme included; Treasure Hunt, Tourist Trial, Speed Judging, Reliability Ride, 100 mile Handicap Time Trial and Interclub 25 mile Time Trial.

The club magazine, The Cliftonite, was introduced in 1936 and continues to be published twice a year.

During WWII the club lent its support to a scheme known as "Holidays at Home" sponsored by the City Council (fuel being needed for more pressing purposes at the time). Clifton's contribution was to organise a series of Sunday afternoon bike rides for all-comers, with a "get you home" guarantee!

In 1949 the Clifton organised its first "mass-start" race at Eastmoor Aerodrome, open to all York clubs. Track racing was also particularly popular among club members during the 50s.

In the mid 50s there were 7 clubs in York: Clifton CC, CTC, Clarion C&AC, Derwent Valley Wheelers, Ebor CC, York Olympic RC and York Pheonix RC. Of these only Clifton and the CTC have survived to the present day.

The 60s and 70s was an era of exceptionally high achievement for the racing members of the club. Pete Smith rode the World Championship and Commonwealth Games Road Race and won the King of the Mountains Jersey in the Tour of Britain. John Watson also rode the Worlds RR and won the British Best All Rounder competition. Roy Cromack along with John and Pete made up three of the four man British team to ride the Team Time Trial at the 1968 Olympics. They were joined by Ian White and Dennis Pickard in breaking all the British Time Trialling records from 50 miles to 24 hours and winning a plethora of major team competitions.

Another notorious Clifton rider was the great Ray "Ironman" Thompson who, though never a racing man, was famous for his epic rides around the north of England at a pace that his clubmates could barely match. On the occasion of his 80th birthday in the early 90s he celebrated by walking from York to Scarborough in a day. Being a bikie he knew the distance was exactly 47 miles and on the way back in the bus that evening decided that 50 was a more round number. So on his return to Huntington, showing the true cyclist mentality, he walked an extra three miles around the village to make up the distance!

Through the 90s the ever increasing traffic on the roads made it unreasonable to promote time trialling as it had been for nearly a century; where the flat main roads were used for courses. The new millennium brought a club decision to cease promotion of events on busy roads with a move to more road racing and time trials on minor roads and an increased focus on sociable clubruns, Audax and Sportif type events. Since then membership has been increasing steadily.

In 2006 the Clifton CC York were ranked number 1 Road Racing team in the Yorkshire Region.

(Much of the above is taken from "Clifton Cycling Club Potted History - Centenary Year 1995", Herbert Dixon and Norman Hails)

World War 1, Plague in memorial of Clifton CC members that gave their lives.

Image © Mike Berrell