John Woodburn 1937 - forever

One of the senior Tin Can Tenners
John Woodburn is the Peter Pan of cycling. Not that Peter Pan ever did any decent times (did his manager Walt Disney ever put him on a bike?) But John has long been on a bike and continues to register great achievements. And he refuses to age. He was a postman, and lugging one of those PO bikes with huges loads must have been good for his fitness. On the other hand when he retired he set about upping his mileage.

He was born in 1937. Last week ( 10 July 2011) in the Chippenham & District Wheelers Open 25 mile Time Trial he did a time of 58m 04s. I believe that makes it at least 55 years in succession he has got under the hour. To most, getting under an hour once in a lifetime would be pleasing, if not beyond them.

He did very well in the 50's but his achievements were alongside many others :- Alf Engers, Ray Booty, Reg Harris and so many more fine riders. It was viewed as the Golden Era of British Cycling. We all must wonder what they would have done in the Tour de France. It seemed that John was waiting for all the others to decline and age. He wasn't going to. He did all distances of time trial and did over 500 miles in 24 hours several times. He held the record for that. In 1981 he attempted the Lands End to John O'Grouts. He had a virus and had to pack in near Edinbrough. Next year, at 45 years old, he broke this iconic and tough End-to-End record by a whole 96 minutes. The hardest bit probably was at John O'Groats, limping out to meet the press and Cycling Weekly, when sleep and / or a beer would have been more to his liking. "The old man's back" he proclaimed. Still able to deliver a killer quote.

His time was 45 hours and 4 minutes. The record survived many attempts, all probably made by younger and specifically trained riders. John had probably done a "25" a couple of days before. The record fell to younger tyro whipper-snapper Andy Wilkinson in 1990, but only by a margin of under 2 minutes. The holder now is Gethin Butler, who did 44h 4m 20s in 2001, still under an hour better less than JW.

So many are his achievements it would probably exceed the memory of my computer to record them all. Often results and records have seemed to be transient and get lost in the sands of time. Perhaps that is why John kept going.

Here's a brief Palmares

  • In 1961 John Woodburn became National 25 mile champion.
  • In 1962, he broke the 162 miles Cardiff - London record on a research model Sixspeed Moulton.(see photo below) (record never beaten due to course being "ruined" by the building of the Severn Road Bridge). His time was just over six and a half hours, and his speed approx 26mph. 40 years on and the Moultoneers Club did a re-run to celebrate the record. Fittingly, John rode the last few miles on that same Moulton.

    John Woodburn on the 1996 TCT

  • In 1996 he entered the Tin Can Ten. He was incumbered by loaned machine with steel mudguards and chain guard. He wasn't in the first three. This demonstrates that he is falable - but not often!
  • In 2001 the RTTC honoured him as British Veteran Champion on target time*, getting his award from Eddy Merckx at the at the RTTC Champions Evening at Derby. Eddie was about 18 stone at the time and maybe John inspired him to both keep slim and keep riding. Too many free lunches!
  • In July 2002, he broke the over 65's 50 mile time-trial National Age Record. His time was 1 h 47 m and 40s over the Didcot course. He came 4th in the race and took the record by 3 minutes.
  • John earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records; recording a time of 9h 3m 7s for London Bath - London, as well as other feats.
  • Roger Iddles of Stourbridge C.C. recalls:- "In 2003, together with John Woodburn I represented the RTTC at the Duo Normand 2-up time trial in France. We could only manage 3rd place, however, as the two pairs that beat us were only in their 40's !"
    * Male Vets are 50 or over : "on target time" is time after age weighting, like a golf handicap

  • Below, left is a table of Mens Solo Age Records recorded by VETERANS' TIME TRIALS ASSOCIATION( WESSEX GROUP ) over a 10 Mile course
Age  Name       Year     Time
68 John Woodburn 2005  21:03
69 John Woodburn 2006  21:27
71 John Woodburn 2008  21:43
73 John Woodburn 2010  21:56

As you can see from the table he was clearly in decline. At this rate, by the time he gets a telegram from the queen at age 100, he will be slipping outside 25 minutes.
And lastly
  • John did 1h 04m in the 2008 Tin Can 25 but wasn't using hub-gears, and was in the "boringly fashionable class"! Two spurious postscripts :-
    In the Tin Can 25 John nearly beat me by an hour (Ok, he knew where the start was and didn't stop for breakfast)
    Eddy Merckx was born the day before me, was the same height and weight (in our "fighting days") We did differ a little in terms of cycling prowess. But nowadays, in a tin can race........?

    © Stuart Collins July 2011

    <- A Video was made of his Lands End effort. It is produced by Bromley and is available to purchase. It's said to be very good and atmosheric. (DVD also available)
    Link to Woodburn Video

    For cheapskates there is a Youtube clip with John being interviewed, against a sound-scape of a main road. His dry wit and philosophical approach shines through.
    Click here