The 1930s to the Second World War
In 1937/1938 there were actually three cycling clubs registered in Penzance: Penzance Wheelers, Penzance Cycling Club and Penzance Corinthians.
The Penzance Wheelers used to meet at a clubroom in Market Jew Street, in a room on the second floor of a fruit and vegetable storehouse near the old YMCA. Here they also held social events such as dances and other get-togethers.
Weekend rides were organised on Sunday afternoons, usually starting at 2pm. Like today they went all over Penwith and the Lizard and Camborne/Redruth areas. Two groups were organised: the fast group with young racers, and the slow group with many women members and a number of tandems.
The main racing in those days was the 25 mile time trial. 10 mile time trials were not thought of. The 25 mile course set off from Eastern Green and went up the old A30 to the Plough Inn at Camborne, where riders turned for home. The riders set off with two minute intervals between them. For these races, all riders, whichever club they belonged to, had to be dressed in all black from head to toe. This was by order of the NCU - the National Cycling Union. So, a black alpaca jacket, whose sleeves could be rolled up to just below, but not above, the elbow, and long black tights to the ankles. No numbers were worn, so riders had to shout out their names as they crossed the line at the finish.
The record, which stood for some time, was 1.08. This was until George Flemming, an up-country rider and virtually a pro, rode it and did 1-06. In fact he was the first Englishman to beat the hour for the 25.
As mass start road races were not allowed at the time, the other racing was grass track. The main Penzance venue for this being the cricket field at St Clare. For these events, riders could wear club jerseys - the Penzance Wheelers strip being a white jersey with red and blue bands across chest and back. The club colours that persist to this day.
There were also grass track meetings at Falmouth, Praa Sands and Rosudgeon. This meant a cycle ride to the event, where the bike would be stripped down for racing, tyres taped on and protuberances taped up, and then all put back together again for the road ride home.
Racing further afield was rare due to transport problems. One rider who did go away to race was Maurice Nicholas, who rode at Herne Hill for the Wheelers in the White Hope Amateur Sprint. He came in second, only just being pipped on the line. A picture of this appeared in the national cycling press.
Most riders rode British frames and used fixed wheels, usually a 66" in winter, 70" in spring, and 75" or 79" in the summer months. For gears they used OS-gears, Simplex or Sturmey-Archer, all of them 3 speed. As for riders and their bikes, Spud Drew rode a Curly, Reggie Frigins a Bates, Boy Ernie Heal a Selbach, Pecker Dawes and Dennis Woodcock were on Dawes, Knockso Trudgeon a BSA Opperman Special, Garfield Ferguson a Benet Funk, Edgar Nichols on an all-chrome Baines (known as a ‘plumber’s nightmare’), and Doris Trudgeon was on an all-chrome Saxon with twin top tubes.
As with all other walks of life, The Second World War disrupted everything, with virtually all the young riders being called up or volunteering for service. So the club folded, to be resurrected after the war.
The 1950s to the 1980s
Early in the 1950s, a group of local cyclists - Mike Reynolds, Charlie Upton, Trevor Uren, Billy Robinson and Geoff Littler - who were racing time trials - got together and resurrected the Penzance Wheelers. In 1958 the club became inactive for a while, started up again in the 1960s, faded away in the late 70s, but was revived again in the 80s.
In those days most of the races were time trials, mostly 10s and 25s. The club 10 started at Roly Poly Bank - today the Mounts Bay Coaches garage at Eastern Green. The race went up the A30 to a milestone at St Erth, where riders made a dead turn in the road and headed back to Penzance. The club 25 started from the Ponsandane Hotel and headed to Camborne, where riders turned and retraced their way back. A hilly ride, since Roseworthy and Connor Downs hills had to be negotiated on both outward and homeward legs.
Grass track racing was held in the Penzance area at St Clare, the Mennaye Fields and Rosudgeon. Further afield it could be done at Falmouth, where racing was much harder because it attracted riders from Devon. The track was marked out on the grass playing fields, and with fixed wheels and no brakes the riders raced away, learning to corner on grass as they went.
The Penzance hill climb was held on Paul Hill. Most riders would tackle this on a fixed wheel, and found the going tough just like today. Unfortunately the large copper trophy that was presented to the winner has gone missing.
There was little transport, but riders would occasionally go to Devon. Sometimes a lorry was hired, leaving Truro at Saturday lunchtime. The Penzance riders would first have to catch a train to Truro, where the lorry with about six riders and bikes aboard would leave to drive up to Devon. Here they would race, then afterwards put the bikes back on board, drive back to Truro, and finally catch the train back to Penzance. Sometimes on a Saturday morning they would catch a train from Penzance to Exeter. There they would cycle to the venue, stay in a pub overnight, and race the next day. Then it was a cycle back to Exeter, catch the train and arrive back in Penzance on Sunday afternoon. All for a 25 mile time trial on the old S1 course.
Everyone wanted to hold the St Just-Penzance record. Riders would set off from St Just Square and race over the moors and down to Penzance, to be clocked on near the roundabout near St John’s Hall. This was approximately 7 miles. The Wheelers also held the Leedstown Hilly 17, and the 27 miles Leedstown-Hayle-Long Rock-Helston race.
There was no official kit at this stage, but riders wore woollen jerseys with Penzance Wheelers stitched on to them, and long woollen shorts. There was no actual clubhouse or meeting place either, the riders just meeting up at Penzance promenade or Eastern Green. Bikes at that time were mostly British: McLeans, Gillot, Pearcy Cursee, Selbach, Daton and Roadtracks.
In the 1970s, circuit races were held at Predannack Airfield, just as Portreath is today. The dead flat course made racing fast, but the wind often dictated the speed - incredibly fast with the wind, and deadly slow into it.
The eighties to the present day
Towards the end of the 1970s, the Wheelers fell into a dormant period. Cyclists wishing to ride with a club joined Kernow CC, which was essentially based at Falmouth, geographically a long way for riders from Penwith. Things got back on track in 1983, when the Wheelers started up again under the impetus of Jim Payne, Keith Stockham and Geoff Littler. It wasn't long before the club was thriving again, with the club run meeting every Sunday in front of St.John's Hall.
Time trials were held locally - namely the S32 course. Riders started at Praa Sands, made their way down to the Cheshire Homes roundabout, and turned to head back to Praa Sands. A shortened, 5-mile version of this course used the same road, starting and finishing near the roundabout at the top of Marazion.
In the nineties the club secured the use of Long Rock Memorial Institute as a clubhouse, with club nights held every Tuesday. In the summer months riders trained on the Marazion/Ludgvan Leaze/Long Rock triangle circuit on the doorstep of the clubhouse.
Bikes ridden reflected the growing internationalisation of cycling. While good old British marques such as Mike Tonkin's Stan Pike continued to be ridden, Terry Waters rode a Gios, Andy Ellis and several others Bassos, while Tom Southam and Tristan Harris rode yellow Fausto Coppis. One of the first aluminium bikes could be seen in the shape of Jason Ball's Cannondale.
RAF Portreath was first used by the Wheelers for road races in 1995. The exposed, 1.3 mile circuit made for hard, competitive racing, with competitors making the trip to compete there from as far afield as Plymouth and Somerset.
Club runs at this time started at the Star Inn at Crowlas, where riders would converge not just from Penzance but also from Hayle and Helston. A strong source of membership has always been RNAS Culdrose, with riders such as Agi Weston, Brian Edmonds and others.
Tom Southam joined the Wheelers at the age of 12, following in the footsteps of father and club chairman Matt. At 14 he raced abroad for the first time, and several years later entered the professional ranks when he joined the Italian Amore e Vita squad. This was followed by stints at Barloworld and Rapha Condor Sharp. During his pro career he remained a Penzance Wheeler, and on visits home could be seen at Long Rock at 9am on a Sunday morning ready to roll once more over the tough but beautiful training roads of West Penwith.
Steve Lampier was another Wheeler who progressed from outings with the club to high-level racing. In Spain, France and Belgium and then in the UK with the Pendragon and Sigma Sport Specialized teams.
In 2006 club member Tony Farnell created the Penzance Wheelers website, bringing the club into the digital age and allowing members and public alike to keep up to date with club activities.
During the winter of 2010/2011, Dave Henderson took control of a second club run group, which proved inspirational in attracting new members and spreading the appeal of the club. Membership has risen proportionately, so that today the club can boast around 80 members.