01 November 2020

Sisters in the Saddle: Billie Fleming tribute ride

March 19, 2015

Billie Fleming, who died in May 2014 aged 100, has a unique place in the history of cycling. In 1938, she cycled every day and set the women’s world record for the greatest distance cycled in a single year.

Photo credit: BillieFleming.com

Born in Camden, London in April 1914, she developed a passion for cycling when she met a boy at a youth club who rode a bike and he taught her how to ride.

“I just met a boy who rode a bike; he introduced me to it”. In an interview with Cycling Weekly for her 100th birthday, she said “I guess I was 18 years old at the time, I couldn’t ride a bike; I’d never been on a bike before. He used to take me onto the Barnet Bypass in Mill Hill, London, in the evening and teach me how to ride this bike.” Billie became inspired by the ideas of the Women’s League of Health & Beauty, an organisation founded in the 1930s by Mary Bagot Stack as “a league of women who will renew their energy in themselves and for themselves day by day”. By now a keen cyclist, Billie thought, “Well, you could do that by riding a bicycle” and decided to do just that.

Billie put principles into action by embarking on an extensive cycling tour of the British Isles. The cycle maker Rudge Whitworth agreed to provide her with a bike — a heavy steel machine fitted with a three-speed cycle derailleur gear — to arrange sponsorship, in return for her agreeing to ride the bike every day of the year and to help promote the company.

Last year, Billie reached her final goal of celebrating her 100th birthday and receiving a card from the Queen. She was also pleased to see her 1938 achievement of cycling 29,604 miles in print.

Her stepson, Peter Samwell, commented “I am certain that Billie would not want people to mourn but instead to use her death as a source of inspiration to carry on cycling, For her, death is probably no more than a puncture in life’s cycling journey, and now she can be reunited with her beloved husband George Fleming who passed away in 1997”.

To celebrate the achievements of this remarkable woman, an ambitious tribute ride is currently taking place and you can join in. Billie’s primary aim was to get women cycling: the tribute ride aims to deliver Billie’s legacy by encouraging women to join in for a stage of the years’ ride near them. It will also demonstrate that women of all ages love cycling, that we’re up for a challenge, and we’re self sufficient, hardy souls.

If you’d like to get involved go to: www.tributetobillie.co.uk
Find out more about Billie here: www.billiefleming.com

Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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