Billie Fleming - obituary | Telegraph
Billie Fleming was a cyclist who in 1938 pedalled nearly 30,000 miles around the British Isles, setting a women’s world record
Billie Fleming, who has died aged 100, set a women’s world record in 1938 for the greatest distance cycled in a single year.
Billie Dovey, as she then was, was a 24-year-old secretary and typist who had become inspired by the ideas of the Women’s League of Health & Beauty, an organisation founded in the 1930s by Mary Bagot Stack as “a league of women who will renew their energy in themselves and for themselves day by day”. A keen cyclist, Billie Dovey decided to put principles into action by embarking on an extensive cycling tour of the British Isles.
The cycle maker Rudge Whitworth agreed to provide her with a bike — a heavy steel machine fitted with a three-speed cycle derailleur gear — and to arrange sponsorship, in return for her agreeing to ride the bike every day of the year and to help promote the company. One of her sponsors, Cadbury, provided her with 5lbs of chocolate every month in return for her appearing in their advertisements.
The “Rudge Whitworth Keep Fit Girl”, as she was billed in the press, set out on January 1 1938 from the New Horticultural Halls, Westminster, and rode to Mill Hill, Aylesbury and then back to Mill Hill, a total of 71 miles. After 365 days she had ridden her bike 29,603.4 miles — 35 times the distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats; more than eight times the distance from London to New York; and almost three times the distance from London to Sydney. “I just got on my bike in the morning and kept cycling all day. I rode all over the country,” she recalled. A hard day’s pedalling was often followed by a promotional visit to a Rudge Whitworth cycle dealer, and then sometimes a talk at a village hall or cycling event.
Billie Dovey had no pannier on her bike – just a small saddlebag with a change of clothes and a few tools. She carried no water and relied on local cafés and shops for food. Apart from one puncture, the bike suffered no mechanical problems.
To prove she had travelled the miles she claimed, Billie Dovey had to complete “checking cards” and get them signed by witnesses and posted back to Cycling magazine. She had a cyclometer on her bike and she had to go to the magazine’s offices in London at intervals to prove that it had not been tampered with.
Although her average was 81 miles a day, there were days when she did far more. One morning, in York, she decided to cycle back home to Mill Hill, a distance of 186 miles.
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