Race winning bikes
Beryl Burton’s 1963 Viking track bike
A bike ridden to victory in the 1963 world pursuit championships by a British cycling legend
Words: Chris Sidwells
Photos: Andy Jones
Beryl Burton won everything she could win in the restricted world of women’s cycling that existed when she raced. Women have had a bad deal in sport, but cycling has been one of the worst offenders.
There were no official women’s world titles until 1958, and when they were introduced it was just a road race a track sprint and an individual pursuit. It took until 2017 for women to get full world championship parity with men when the Madison was added to the women’s track program. And the Olympic Games was even worse.
Women weren’t included in the Olympic cycling program until 1984, when one event, a road race, was introduced in Los Angeles. Beryl Burton was 47 when that happened, still racing but well past her best.
She won an incredible 96 British titles, 72 in individual time trials, 12 on the track and 12 in the road race. Internationally she won her first world title in the pursuit in Amsterdam in 1959. She won the pursuit title again the following year, and won again in 1962, 1963 and 1966. She took silver medals in 1961, 1964 and 1965, as well as four bronze medals between 1967 and 1973. Burton also won the world road race title in 1960 and 1967, and was runner up in 1961. She won her 1963 world pursuit title on this Viking track bike.
Viking was a Midlands bike manufacturer founded in 1908 as a spare-time project repairing bikes by a railway clerk, Alfred Victor Davies. His business quickly blossomed into a bike shop, then around 1934 Viking became a bicycle manufacturer.
Viking Cycles Limited was formed in 1939, producing 800 bikes per year. By the end of the Second World War production was over 2000 bikes per year. Then Viking decided to get into racing. The company sponsored a men’s professional team from the birth of road racing until the 1960s, and many successful amateurs raced on Viking bikes ‘loaned’ to them by the company.
Beryl’s bike frame is made from Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing. It has some nice curly lug-work and was resprayed at the Universal Cycle Centre in Maltby, South Yorkshire, who loaned us the bike. The 1960 paint finish has been copied quite well, the big differences being the omission of the white head-tube seen on the original in the above photo, and the use of more recent Viking decals. The seat-tube decal references the five Tours of Britain won by Viking sponsored riders.
The wheels are 28 spoked, tied and soldered where the spokes cross to make them stiffer, with Airlight hubs, which were a brand made by the British Hub Company. Airlight were jewels of British engineering, and had terrific bearings. The rims are Italian, made by Fiamme. And the tubular tyres, which are too old to inflate, are the legendary Clément number 1s, known as ‘white strips’. The word ‘Seta’ refers to the silk tube, which a thin rubber tread is bonded to and can be seen in the sidewalls.
The handlebars and stem, while from the correct era and of a type Beryl Burton used, aren’t original, but the Unica Nitor saddle is. Before the 1960s all race saddles were made of thick leather. They were comfortable once broken in, but they required care, no two were ever the same, and they were heavy.
Then in 1961 Tommasso Nieddu of Turin and Cino Cinelli started producing plastic saddles under the Unica-Nitor brand. They were black or orange, very light and very stiff, which made them quite uncomfortable over long distances. They were perfect for shorter races like the track pursuit though. The one on Beryl Burton’s bike is wider at the back and is the women’s version of the basic Unica Nitor.
The drive-train is by Campagnolo, but although the 49 tooth 1/8 inch pitch chainring is original, the 16-tooth Campag fixed sprocket was fitted by a later owner. Dave Marsh of Universal Cycle Centre says; "Beryl's husband Charlie told me they sold the bike to Walt Hall, owner of the Bridge Tearooms in Blyth, Nottinghamshire, who they were friends with. Viking had promised Beryl a £100 bonus for winning the worlds on their bike, and they didn't pay, so they sold the bike."
Walt Hall then sold it to Tony Siviter, who worked at Henry Holmes Cycles in Rotherham. He sold it to 12-hour time trial champion Tom ‘Ticker’ Mullins, who sold it to grass-track ace Ken Cowdell, who then sold it to Roger Hampshire. All of the last three owners won the Brookhouse Hill climb, which is a bit of a South Yorkshire classic, on this bike.