Billie Flemings Bike

Almost three years ago now, I wrote an article entitled, ‘Male Pale And Profitable To Know’ which you can read here. It was all about my trip to The Cycle Show at the NEC in Birmingham, and poked a bit of fun at middle aged men in lycra, and the large sums of money they are happy to spend in pursuit of cycling nirvana.

Having recently given in and bought a bike (and some lycra) myself, I was in danger of getting sucked down the same path. And then I read an article about a lady called Billie Fleming. It’s an inspiring story and one that should be heeded by anyone who thinks that money, equipment or tools are what are separating them from their goals.

Billie Fleming is a world record holder. Nothing unusual about that, but Fleming set her world record in 1938 and it still stands today. Back in that year, just before the outbreak of the second world war, Fleming became concerned about the proliferation of traffic on British roads and wanted to do something to promote the health benefits of cycling to the public. Armed with support from two sponsors – one providing a bicycle and the other providing chocolate – she committed to riding every day for the whole of 1938. And over the next 12 months she rode a total of 29,608 miles, averaging more than 81 miles per day.It’s an achievement that’s never been equalled by any other woman.

Today, any semi-serious cyclist who ventured out on a bike with 10 gears would be laughed at (22 is the norm) but Fleming’s bike had just 3 gears. It wasn’t a lightweight affair either, being made of heavyweight steel, rather than carbon fibre which today’s cyclists can’t possibly do without. It stood on tyres which suffered just one puncture in over 29,000 miles, presumably because the manufacturers had yet to start making them from rubber the thickness of a featherlight condom to save weight.

Something else modern cyclists can’t do without is regular hydration and sports nutrition, but Fleming seemed to manage without either. She didn’t have a regular supply of water because her bike didn’t even have a bottle cage. As for nutrition, well the chocolate supplier saw to that. There were no energy bars or gels to ‘fuel up’ – indispensable to the modern cyclist.

Hi-tech Kit is another big thing that modern cyclists must have in abundance – Special shoes, helmets, gloves, gel padded bib shorts and skin tight cycling tops – but again, Fleming seemed to get by without any of this. Look at pictures of her during her epic year long ride and you will often see a woman wearing a skirt and baggy top. No helmet, no gloves, in fact nothing out of the ordinary at all. And yet almost 80 years on, no other woman has matched her feat.

Billie Fleming died in 2014 at the age of 100 – perhaps cycling is good for health after all – but leaves behind a legacy and a message that transcends cycling, and indeed sport and physical endeavour.

Whatever you’re trying to achieve, it’s very easy to lay failure at the door of a lack of money, tools, equipment or resources. But that’s seldom, if ever, the case. The top performers in every field are there, not because of the resources, equipment or tools they have, but rather because of the way they have been able to harness and utilise their own physical and mental attributes. The ‘tools’ are a very thin layer of icing on a huge cake that has been baked through a process involving much blood, sweat and tears.No amount of gear or equipment will compensate for even a tiny deficit in these areas.

If the business of money making project you’re working on isn’t getting the results you’re looking for, don’t even think about blaming your crappy premises, your sub-standard tools, or your outdated computer system. I can guarantee that somebody, somewhere is making a fortune with a lot less. These things are inconsequential details in comparison to ability coupled up with hard work, effort and sheer bloody-minded determination. It was these attributes that enabled Billie Fleming to do what she did back in 1938, whilst equipped with none of the paraphernalia that her modern counterparts would see as essential today. And you can use the self-same attributes to take your enterprise exactly where you want it to go.

Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea – I’m not a luddite. If you have access to the best ‘tools’, and can afford them, they’re nice to have. They will give you an easier and more comfortable ride on your journey. But their absence won’t stop you getting there, nor their presence guarantee your arrival. The perhaps uncomfortable and scary truth, is that it’s completely down to you.

6 thoughts on “Billie Flemings Bike

  1. Wojtek Gaworzewski

    Hi John,

    I hate to rain on your parade but isn’t there a contradiction between your stating that “the top performers in every field are there, not because of the resources, equipment or tools they have” and the fact that Billie had tyres which had just one puncture in 29,000 miles?

    1. John Harrison Post author

      Not really. High performance tyres tend to puncture more often because they are designed to reduce weight and rolling resistance, rather than for durability. The ones Billie used at that time were probably very heavy – and hence puncture-resistant. The weight and structure would have made the rides far more difficult than would be the case today.


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