Brenda Mitchell led the Borders Belles on Bikes tribute to Billie Fleming last week by taking part in a national celebration of the woman who still holds the women’s world record for the greatest distance cycled in a single year.
The Billie Fleming Tribute Cycle Ride 2015 attempts to emulate Billie’s achievements of 1938, when she who rode 29,603.4 miles – 35 times the distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats - by staging a ride everyday this year.
Brenda and the Border Belles, who were joined by Kathy Gilchrist of Scottish Cycling, cycled 20 miles from Peebles to Galashiels, recreating part of Billie’s tour of Scotland.
The Borders ride is one of a number planned around Scotland, culminating in a ‘Ride like Billie’ event on 15 and 16 August.
Local lawyer and passionate cyclist Brenda Mitchell, set up Belles on Bikes in the Borders a year ago and regularly organises bike rides, training and maintenance instruction specifically for women. She commented:
“Billie’s aim was to get women cycling and she set out on a year’s cycle tour of Britain to demonstrate the joys of riding a bike. What could be better than that! This tribute ride is a wonderful legacy of a remarkable woman and will show that women of all ages love cycling, that we’re up for a challenge and we’re self-sufficient hardy souls, just as she was.”
Kathy, who is on Scottish Cycling’s Board of Directors in charge of the Development of Women's cycling added:
“Billie once wrote that she wanted to see 1 million more women cyclists - a goal shared by Scottish Cycling and is a major objective in our strategic plans. Our goal is to inspire and encourage more cycling opportunities for women in Scotland. Whether it is on the bike path sharing a ride with your children; on the roads enjoying the challenge of a ride; or on the trails mountain biking, cycling is fun and empowering. Go for a bike ride!”
Billie Fleming, who died in May 2014 aged 100, was born in London in April 1914. She developed apassion for cycling when she met a boy at a youth club who rode a bike and he taught her how to ride.
Known as the "Rudge Whitworth Keep Fit Girl", after her bike sponsors, she set out on January 1st 1938 from the New Horticultural Halls, Westminster, and rode to Mill Hill, Aylesbury and then back to Mill Hill, a total of 71 miles. Each morning she set out on a different route covering every county in England and most of Scotland and Wales. She averaged 81 miles (130 km) per day, although this could be up to 196 miles (315 km) in summer. The summer weather in 1938 was good, but by December it had become cold and snowy.
Billie 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; she was completely self-supported. Apart from one puncture, the bike suffered no mechanical problems. The Tribute Ride retraces her route as far as possible.