AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Dave Barter, The Year
- Monday 5th October 2015
Amidst the preparations for his third LeJOG and the release of his new book, Dave Barter gave us a quick insight into the incredible story behind The Year: Reawakening the legend of cycling's hardest endurance record.
What inspired you to write The Year?
Most of my wild ideas start in the pub and The Year was no exception. I was boasting to some cycling friends about a long ninety-mile ride that I had carried out when one of them remarked, 'That's nothing! Tommy Godwin used to ride on average 200 miles each day in 1939.' I was dumbstruck and had to know more about this man and his incredible achievement. As I dug further I found that there was little information available and so I resolved to put that right. The stories of these men and women were fascinating and inspirational, I felt that they had been forgotten and so my mission began. My own love of cycling also played a part; I not only love doing it, I also love reading and writing about it. Add all of these things up and you get inspiration in spades.
How long did it take you to research and write the book?
I have been doing this for ten years and last year was joined by my wife Helen. Between us we have read thousands upon thousands of articles, visited vast numbers of archives and libraries, and spoken to the families of the riders concerned. We found a lot of misinformation and myth surrounding the Year Record and quickly learnt that you cannot write a book of this nature simply by searching Google.
Some of the cyclists featured in The Year overcame huge obstacles in their bid to break the record: poverty, disability, unstable family backgrounds. What do you think drove them to take on the challenge?
Many of the riders were poor and sought to better themselves by attracting the attention of sponsors and the wider cycling public. There were times when the Year Record was seen as the pinnacle of cycling endurance achievement, which would also have been a factor. It was also a record that was more accessible to riders; it’s hard to beat the best sprinter in the world if you do not have natural talent, but the Year Record is different – you need mental strength and the ability to cast aside adversity. This can be developed and does not have to be inherited from your genes.
Whose story most impressed you?
An almost impossible question to answer as I am bowled over by all of them. But Billie Dovey (pictured right, image from Cycling Weekly) does stand out as she took on the year for very altruistic reasons. She was on a mission to promote cycling and also encourage women onto the bike. Bernard Bennett and Rene Menzies, who both tried and failed twice, also need recognition. Can you imagine giving up two years of your life to ride a bike without achieving your ultimate goal?
Tommy Godwin still holds the record with his total of 75,065 miles in 1939. Do you reckon any of the current contenders to the throne will break his record?
I don’t think they will beat his calendar year record. It’s possible that both of them could surpass his mileage over 365 days but history shows us that there is no 'home strait' for the year riders. They still have a huge number of challenges and issues to face right up to the final day.
Would you ever take on the challenge yourself?
Absolutely not. I’ve ridden a couple of 200+ days in Tommy’s shoes and I know full well that I do not have the requisite character to repeat this day in, day out. I touch on this in the prologue to The Year.
What’s your personal cycling goal at the moment?
I’m riding my third Land's End to John O’Groats route in October 2015. This is a challenging ride as I’ve planned a lot of sections off-road making it into a cyclocross ride. Then, in 2016, I hope to finally complete the Highland Trail race without having to bale out due to injury.
One last thing – just how much time do you actually spend thinking about bikes?
Every spare moment that I am not riding them.