In 1938, Billie Fleming rode 29,603 miles on her bike. That's 35 times the length of Land's End to John O'Groats. Or an average of 81 miles per day. Some days she rode up to 200 miles. And all on a 3-speed steel steed. It's a record that's never been beaten.
This year, to mark her 100th birthday, a year of rides is being organised to celebrate this unique achievement. Women around the country are taking place in dozens of rides throughout 2015 as a mark of respect to Billie, who died last year. You can find out more at Tribute to Billie.
Dubbed the "Rudge Whitworth Keep Fit Girl", Billie climbed on her bike on January 1st 1938 from the New Horticultural Halls, Westminster. She rode to Mill Hill, Aylesbury and then back to Mill Hill, a total of 71 miles.
For the next 12 months, she rode her simple steel-framed bike with a consistency and stamina that's never been matched. And, by all accounts, she did it with a smile and a zest for life that flew the flag for female cycling even way back in 1938 when times were very different.
During her tour, she often visited the Rudge Whitworth cycle dealerships that had provided her bike, and would often speak inspiringly at local cycling events. Her ride attracted huge attention at a time when both mass media and women's equality were in their early stages.
She kept it simple - not for her technical panniers or isotonic drinks. She took a few spare clothes and some tools in a rudimentary saddlebag. She placed her wellbeing in the hands of local cafes and shops. "I just got on my bike in the morning and kept cycling all day. I rode all over the country," she later recalled.
In the entire year, she had just one puncture, and her bike never missed a beat. Billie's views on more complex bikes with multiple gears was disdainful — "three is plenty" she claimed.
But simple bike technology never slowed her down. One morning, in York, she decided on a whim to cycle the 186 miles back home to Mill Hill. Billie's record year is thought to have remained unbroken to this day.
During her year on the road, Billie found time to write a number of articles published in Cycling Magazine. One was entitled 'Wanted 1,000,000 more women cyclists – An appeal for women to ride bicycles'. She explained how a bus strike had helped get women onto their bikes and how cycling shortened the distance between friends.
Dave Barter interviewed Billie for Cycling Weekly shortly before her death. Asked her what advice she'd give anyone planning a challenge like hers today, she replied "The only thing I could say to that is that you have to really want to do it. Whatever the weather is that morning, you have to put your clothes on and get on and ride the bike. It's not funny walking out in the pouring rain and getting on your bike. You have to hold the determination to want to do it. You will have bad days, but the good days make up for all of the bad ones".
Inspire a generation? Billie was at it long before those 2012 Olympics!
To find out more about how you can be part of a Billie Fleming ride, like the one pictured here on New Year's Day this year, click here.
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