Today is my 32nd birthday and I’m celebrating by with one of my favourite activities- heading out for a long bike ride. I recently discovered that I actually share my birthday with one of my biggest inspirations in women’s cycling. The legend that is Billie Fleming would have been 102 today.
Back in 1938 aged 24, Billie rode 29,603.7 miles around the UK, setting a world record for the most miles cycled in one year by a woman. She rode every single day of the year in all weathers averaging around 81 miles each day, although it could be up to 196 miles on summer days.
Billie left her job as a senior typist to promote the health benefits of cycling, after being inspired by the principles of the ‘Women’s League of Health and Beauty’. She set off on her epic ride with the aim of getting women cycling and gained a lot of publicity and attention as her tour progressed.
Cycle manufacturers Rudge-Whitworth sponsored Billie’s tour by providing her with a bike, in return for her promoting their brand. Her ride was completely self-supported- she carried some clothing and tools on her tour but very little else. Incredibly she only had one puncture in the entire year! After her day’s mileage, Billie would deliver a talk on the benefits of cycling at village halls along the route.
Of course, cycling was a very different sport 78 years ago. Billie had no padded Lycra, no Garmin, no helmet and her bike only had three gears! She had her ‘checking cards’ signed by witnesses and posted regularly to the editor of Cycling Magazine (now Cycling Weekly) for verification. How things have changed- now we rely on Strava!
Billie’s record still stands, although a Swedish-born cyclist Kajsa Tylen is currently attempting to break the record, with today as her 104th day in the saddle.
Billie passed away in 2014, shortly after celebrating her 100th birthday. Her long life really is a testament to the health benefits of cycling! Remembered as a pioneer of women’s cycling, her legacy still lives on with over 400 female riders retracing her route in 2015 on a hugely successful tribute ride.
On my birthday ride today, I’ll visit some of the villages which she passed through in 1938. As I ride, I’ll channel my inner Billie remembering the mental strength, fitness and passion for cycling which she displayed 78 years ago. Happy Birthday Billie!
Who is your sporting inspiration? Do you share your birthday with anyone inspirational?
Thanks to Tribute to Billie for use of the image.