Les Lowe died in hospital on 4th December 2013, after suffering a heart attack the previous week.
Les Lowe: 1931-2013 A man for all seasons:
A Sporting Tribute by John Taylor.
I’m sad to say that I’d actually envisaged writing these very words of tribute to Les so many times in the last decade, as I’d seen his health gradually deteriorate during that time, and I’m not sure in what order his illnesses occurred. I remember him observing on road record attempts around the new Millennium, and never missing his marshalling and checking duties in the Mersey ‘24’, despite him taking a day or two to get there on his trike in more recent years with an overnight stop, his last stint of duty being in 2009. His breathing during those years became gradually more laboured and he told me he had a faulty valve in his heart.
He lived alone at Stretton near Burton on Trent, but there were many other keen club cyclists living locally who knew him, phoned him, called in to keep their eye on him, and made sure he was okay. It was this vigilance by neighbours and cycling friends that helped him to stay alive, as he’d been found on two or three occasions in a very poor state, and taken to hospital for treatment, re-hydration and recovery, and on one of those occasions during the winter of 2010-2011 he had a cardiac ‘pace-maker’ fitted.
Les was the VTTA records secretary during his latter years and this took up much of his time, but apart from a touch of deafness he had a very active brain and a good memory. Over the years he’d gradually succumbed to a form of curvature of the spine, and I often wondered whether it was triggered off by a particularly painful ride he’d had on the back of a tandem in the Mersey ‘24’ back in 1982, when he’d ridden for many hours with a stiff neck, and strained back muscles from leaning to one side to see past the steersman Pat Kenny. Les and Pat put up a new competition record of 430.52m that weekend, and as one of their helpers, I wince every time I recall trying to help him to dismount at the end, where he sat on the grass bank, his upper body twisted and his face contorted with pain.
As the title of this tribute suggests, Les rode all the year round, and when the time-trialling season finished he rode Audax UK events, in fact he was one of the founder members of AUK in 1976 when he rode the inaugural Paris-Brest-Paris. His time-trials weren’t restricted just to the UK either, as Jim Hopper recalled, they both went over to Switzerland on a couple of occasions to ride a 12hr time-trial at Zurich. In the late 1980’s Les topped the 300,000 Mile Club’s total mileage competition with over 600,000m, and it’s about this time that he took up racing on a trike for a new lease of life. I used to read the Audax UK magazine, and during one Windsor-Chester-Windsor randonee ridden in atrocious conditions, Les was said to have slept inside a telephone box for a couple of hours during the night! I think it’s safe to say that he was an inspiration to many of the tough, rugged AUK riders and long distance time-trialists at that time, but by 2009 at 78yrs of age Les had dropped to 4th in the mileage competition with 787,213m, old age having taken it’s severe toll on him.
He started life on the Isle of Man, and being a keen rider from an early age he soon became well known in cycling circles. Later he came over to England to study, and further his education, which resulted in him gaining a degree in Engineering. He then joined the RAF, and flew to various parts of the world in a Shackleton as a Flight Engineer. On returning to civilian life he took a job with Rolls-Royce Aero Engines at Derby, and it must have been about this time that he continued seriously with his cycling career and interests, which were time-trials (the longer the better) and in road records, mainly with the MRRA. For relaxation Les used to ‘tour’ extensively on his bike, here and in Europe. He originally started club-life and racing with the Long Eaton Paragon CC, and Jim Hopper said the reason why he switched to the Speedwell BC was to become a member of their ‘24hr’ team. In later life he also became a member of his local club the Mercia CC.
I first met Les in the early 1960’s whilst helping my team -mates Pete Swinden, John Withers and Pat Kenny in the Mersey ‘24’ and Les was one of the first to join the 24Hr Fellowship in 1960, taking many active roles on the committee during the 53 years since then. He wrote articles and race reports for the Journal, and I’ve since used many of his event descriptions in my book ‘The 24Hr Story’. His enthusiasm for the ‘24hr’ scene was infectious, which resulted in us St Christopher’s lads regularly riding the Mersey and North Road events. Road record breaking with the MRRA was also one of Les’ interests, probably after seeing Pete & John’s tandem 24hr record of 449m in 1961, and Pat’s record ‘24’ of 430.5m on a bike in 1964, and I will now list a few of Les’ road records.
His first was the 24hr bike record of 438m in 1965, which he still holds, his 2nd record was the B’ham to Llandudno in 5hrs 10mins 16secs on a tandem with Ian Shaw in 1966, and then the B’ham to York & back with Ian that same year in 11hrs 50mins 38secs, (a record they still hold). In 1967 Les put up the current bike record of 17hrs 39mins 07secs for ‘The Circuit of the MRRA’, visiting the Midland towns and cities of Warwick, Worcester, Gloucester, Shrewsbury, Stafford, Leicester, Northampton, Nottingham, Oxford and Derby. 1981 saw him stoking the tandem for Pat Kenny and putting up the current RRA B’ham to London record of 4hrs 29mins 52secs, (you may recall me mentioning in a recent Journal, how ‘hairy’ that attempt was, when Pat and Les came close to getting squashed between two buses as they entered the suburbs of London!). On a trike in 1982 he took the B’ham to York & back with the current record time of 14hrs 20 mins 11secs; and in 1985, one of his last records was over the B’ham to Llandudno route with Jim Ithell on a tandem trike in 5hrs 27mins 36s. Of course there were many more records, including some ‘mixed’ ones, but I felt those that I’ve mentioned were a good cross section to portray Les’ strengths, and stamina.
Over a period of 36 years he rode a vast amount of ‘24’s, at least 35, and to my knowledge, only George Berwick and Jack Spackman have ridden more. Les had a few good placings in ‘24’s during those years with rides over 440m, and rather than list them all, I’ve chosen just a few of his performances. His first was the Catford in 1959 with 424.3 miles, progressing to probably his best mileage the following year with 446.7m in the North Road ‘24’. In the 1966 Wessex RC Championship with 444m he led Speedwell BC’s Ian Shaw and Ken Smith to a 2nd team mileage of 1,278m. In 1973 he came 2nd in the North Road with 439.7m. In 1982 he won the medal for the ‘fastest trike’ in the North Road event with 393.2m, and in the 1985 Mersey he put up a new tandem trike Competition Record of 419.15m with Jim Hopper. In 1985 he rode 403.4m on his bike in the North Midlands CA ‘24’, and one of his last North Road events on a bike was in 1988 with 398.9m.
At the beginning of this tribute I mentioned Les checking, marshalling, and helping riders during events, he was also an official observer and roadside checker on RRA road record attempts, and over the last 60 years he’s done more than his fair share for the sport.
Les leaves an older brother who still resides in the Isle of Man, and his niece Christine. We sadly learned of his death from Tony Shardlow who said that ‘Les had passed the timekeeper for the last time!’. My thanks go to Jim Hopper for some of the details of Les Lowe’s life.