Keighley area bike legend who took ‘holy grail’

Keighley News: Cycling legend Pat Kelly in full flow Cycling legend Pat Kelly in full flow

In the latest in a series of occasional articles during the run-up to the Tour de France Grand Depart, Keighley cycling enthusiast Frank O’Dwyer reflects on one of our local heroes

 

Until the 1950s, time trialling had been the dominant sport in England and races from ten miles up to 24 hours were run in summer.

A time trial was an unpaced ride on your own, against the watch. The rider who covered the distance fastest was the winner.

In the Keighley area, we had some of the best exponents. Tony Cutler (Skipton), John Brooks, Colin Hesketh (Keighley Road Club) and quite a few other riders who, in their day, could push the aces to the limit.

At my club, we had probably the best specialist of them all – Pat Kelly.

Our local courses were very hard, with lots of hills and drags. The fastest courses in the country were flat with a heavy traffic flow. These conditions favoured riders,who could push big gears. Suction from passing vehicles assisted them to false fast times.

Pat competed on these roads, but his style was to pedal a lowish gear fast and it wasn’t really suited to these ‘drag strips’, as they were known, but on the harder, more unfashionable courses.

But Pat’s style came into its own and for a few years he dominated the local racing scene.

Pat was brought up down Lawkholme in Byrl Street. Next-door neighbours were the Kennedys, founder members in 1946 of St Christopher’s Cycling Club. Pat, Jack, Frank, Paul and Michael, not to forget sister Kath, were all keen cyclists and when Pat got his first decent bike in 1953 he became part of their “family”.

The fashion in the 50s, when not racing, was to go on long, steady runs. These hard days in the saddle soon started to build strength and stamina. Pat took to it like a duck to water and started to compete in time trials.

When he left school, he worked down Low Street in the fruit and veg department of the Co-op. A hard, cold job in the winter, part of his duties was making wreaths using wire frames and sphagnum moss – hard on the hands and standing on cold wet floors was not good for the legs.

After National Service in the army, he resumed his job and began riding with St Christopher’s again. His two years’ army service had matured him. He was much stronger and his results began to improve.

Tony Cutler, of Skipton CC, had been the fastest rider on local roads. A similar type of rider to Pat, he had an elegant style on his fixed-gear track bike. During the latter part of the 50s there was not much between them. Then Pat started to forge ahead, setting new course records at all distances.

For a few years Pat was undisputed champion on local roads. The high point of his career came in 1962 when he achieved his greatest ambition when he beat the ‘hour’ in Leeds St Christopher’s own 25-mile TT with a time of 59.21.

Beating the hour was the holy grail for riders at this time, as was the four-minute mile for runners. Kelly didn’t rest on his laurels and he carried on competing and winning events well into the 60s.

One of his best friends, team-mate ‘Dusty’ Rhodes, had married Pat’s sister, Molly. Both of them were starting families and planned to ride one more season of racing. Pat married his fiancee, Valerie, in April 1963 (daughter Linda was born May 1964; Annette July 1965; Lorraine March 1968). They travelled to events and cheered Pat on at the finish.

Then tragedy struck. Dusty – a real popular guy – was riding in a road race in the Dales. He crashed on a descent and died from his injuries. This awful tragedy prompted Pat to retire.

Pat was a true club man. All his career he stayed with St Christopher’s and we all basked in his reflected glory. Pat rode everything – reliability trials, club runs, hill climbs, road races, cyclo-cross. His speciality was short distance time trials – ten, 25, 50 miles – but longer distances didn’t bother him. He won the Bradford to Morecambe return race, though not suited to him. He rode 12-hour races, doing 231 miles in the Yorkshire TT.

His records and wins are too numerous to mention. He always gave 100 per cent. He was a man we all looked up to as a great role model. He practised what he preached – no pain, no gain – and always had encouragement for the younger and slower riders. A true champion.

I would like to thank his widow, Valerie, and daughter, Linda, for letting me have access to his scrapbooks.

The amazing thing about Kelly and Cutler was their ability to rev a small gear and maintain a high cruising speed of 25mph.

Many of today’s riders, with their disc wheels, carbon frames and multiple gearing are still not able to get near their times.

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