Chris Sidwells is an author and editor who’s writing has featured in many magazines and websites including Cycle Sport, Cycling Weekly, The Guardian, The BBC and The Sunday Times. He has written best-selling books about cycling and contributed to many others.
Chris’s latest offering is his own publishing brand - Cycling Legends (www.cyclinglegends.co.uk) a website with free-to-read exclusive content. In November 2018 Cycling Legends published 01 Tom Simpson the first book of a series of beautiful illustrated publications which were are proud to stock at Mamnick HQ Sheffield.
Which are your favourite stretches of road to ride on locally and what is it that you like about them?
I love the network of lanes north and east of Doncaster, there's a tranquility there, places like Owston Ferry and Sykehouse seem unchanged for decades. I think it's a bit like cycling in the 1950s and 60s must have been. I love the hills too, especially the country just west of Sheffield around The Strines, although since I came back to this area to live about five years ago I haven't had enough time to get over there much. Hopefully I'll put that right soon.
I do more off-road riding now. I had a book out last year called Wild Cycling, and the publishers have just commissioned another called Really Wild Cycling, so I've got to get myself fit quick for that- there's a lot to explore and write about.
The same question for roads anywhere in the world?
Flanders, the Flemish Ardennes. Provence, Tuscany, the Massif Central and the Pyrenees are my favourite cycling destinations abroad.
What is your most memorable moment on the bike or involved with cycling
There have been a lot. Doing a long and very deep interview with Eddy Merckx stands out. But meeting all those guys and talking to them, and writing about them, has been pretty special.
Do you have any cycling pet hates?
Rules! It's a bike, ride it. Wear what you like, but try to have a bit of style- be smart. It can be your unique style, but a well thought out style.
Are there any cycling traditions that you think have been, or are being, lost as a result of changing attitudes and behaviour? And are we better off or worse off as a consequence?
I think cycling is poorer because of losing traditional clubs, good clubs- there were some bad ones. There's a lot to be learned from older members, and friends you make on the bike tend to be friends forever. There are still some around, and some are thriving. I'm not sure they all attract younger cyclists like they used to though.
When were/are you most happy?
Difficult to answer that. I tend to keep on an even keel. I'm an optimistic person, mostly happy most of the time. Riding my bike makes me happy, so does writing. I love telling stories. Even more so telling them in words and photos, which my Cycling Legends series of books is doing.
See ~ www.cyclinglegends.co.uk
I'm glad you mentioned your Cycling Legends books, where did that come from and what made you start that project?
I've written 19 other books and lost count of the number of magazine and newspaper articles I've done, but there is always somebody else inputting ideas or target markets when you do something for other publishers. I want to produce something that is just my vision, books that tell stories without any extra agenda or through somebody else's filter. I also want to tell stories where the words and photos work together, and do it in real depth, telling stories that are less known or haven't been told at all. That's what the Cycling Legends book series is, it's passion for cycling on pages of paper.
The first issue (Tom Simpson) is fantastic, have you always had a interest in Tom's life?
Tom was my uncle. I was 7 when he died but he was a massive presence in my life, maybe even more so after he died and I grew up realising what he'd done. He and my mum, his sister, were very close. With their brother Harry they were the three youngest Simpson kids who moved with my grandparents from County Durham to Harworth when my grandad couldn't get work in the coal mines up there. A lot of north-easterners moved to work in the newer pits in North Notts and South Yorkshire.
So they grew up together and Harry, my mum and Tom all joined the Harworth and District cycling club, where my mum met my dad, also called Harry, and Tom started racing. Later on, because we lived in Harworth, Tom was always at ours when he was in the UK. I can remember him from those visits. One that stands out was after he won the BBC Sports Personality in 1965, although I was very young then. My mum was watching TV on her own, Dad was at work, and when Tom won I was the only person she could tell, so she ran up stairs and woke me up at about 9 or 10 o'clock. Next day, or it might have been the day after, Tom turned up at our house with fish and chips for everybody.
One time, and I don't remember this one because it was before 1965, Tom turned up at our house wearing a chauffeur's uniform and he stuck me and my mum in the back seat of a big white Mercedes and drove us up to the north-east to see the rest of the Simpson clan who lived up there. He was always doing stuff like that.
What kind of character was Tom? Can you tell you us anything about him that people might not know?
Tom is well known for his cycling talent, his charisma, wearing Saville Row suits and hand-made Italian shoes and owning fast cars like the Aston Martin he bought himself at 21, when he started earning good money. But the real reason so many people who knew him remember him with love and affection, and they all say this, is that when you spoke to Tom he made you feel like you were the only person in the room, the most important person in the world to him at that moment. He always remembered names, always remembered what people did and where he'd met them. It was second nature to him. That side of Tom isn't well known at all.
Tom mentions Fox House (near Hathersage) in his book 'Cycling Is My Life'. I've always wondered, did Tom do much riding in the Peak District?
Tom rode in the Peaks a lot, both on club runs and rides he did with mates like George Shaw.
He also won a lot of road races in the Peak District, there were circuits all over the Peak in those days.
And he won the BLRC national hill climb championships on Mam Nick in 1957, of course.
Tom winning on Mam Nick, 1957
Big thanks to Chris for his time and for providing all these images above.
See more at ~ www.cyclinglegends.co.uk