South West London DA: Sou' Wester Archive
Profile of Francis C Syred

Profile: Francis C Syred - Cyclist Extraordinaire - (Nov/Dec 2003)

Whilst 83 year old Frank immediately gives you the feeling of being a born Londoner, his birthplace was Thakeham in Sussex. The family moved to Camberwell in 1934 and Frank became apprenticed at age 14 to his father's building business. He remembers seeing his father boxing in the ring at Blackfriars for 12/6d. Father was the cyclist: his bike was for getting about London not for leisure riding. Frank remembers his mother for her Music Hall performances.

Frank took to cycling "in search of adventure". His first bicycle was a Raleigh Gold Arrow from Edwardes of Camberwell on which, when 15, he cycled from London to Devon and Dorset. He still holds memories of the countryside and of the low cost of touring: B&B at 2/6d a night and a haircut in Lyme Regis for 9d.

In his first club, Brixton CC, he became a friend of the famous cyclist Alf Rossiter. Alf had a bike repair business in Water Lane, Brixton where "he kept a couple of Austin 7 cars for sale in the yard. One went for £35, the other at the give-away price of 2/6d!" Frank was introduced to track racing and rode 22 miles for the Club's One Hour Track Record at the age of just seventeen under the guidance of Tiny Johnson, 1922 World Sprint Champion. He rode at both Herne Hill and Paddington Tracks and 100km races at Brooklands: "hair raising!" In 1938, Frank tried for selection for the 100km World event in Rome, abandoned because of the impending war. Rules were strict, riders had to race 22 laps before they were allowed to drink, in those days, water from aluminium bottles. At the end of 1939, he transferred to the Balham CC when the Brixton CC disbanded.

In the Navy during the Second World War, he had some exciting adventures including aboard HMS Aubretia which played a key role in capturing the Enigma Code Machine from U-boat U110. Frank was on active operations in the hazardous North Atlantic and the North Africa landings where another local cyclist, Alec Wingrave of the Redmon CC, was in submarines.

In 1944 Frank was promoted and seconded to the Royal Indian Navy to improve the operation of the Bombay dockyards. He acquired a bike, a Dawes Marathon, with Endrick wheels and John Bull tyres but it was good enough to earn him recognition as a racing cyclist doing both road and grass track events. Although he was selected to compete in the Indian Olympic Games, he reluctantly declined and returned to England in 1947 to work in his father's business and study at Brixton College for Building and Quantity Surveying. The works were in Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill, so Frank was able to return to cycle racing.

In the 1950s, a hey-day period for cycling, he toured and raced on the continent and returned to an earlier pleasure of time trialling but now on long distance events. Amongst others his team from the Balham CC won the 1954 Catford 24 hour and Frank held the Club Record with 430 miles. In 1955 he rode an Ultra-Short Wheelbase Claud Butler tandem to pace for an attempt on the 12 hour track record. Pacing required one of four tandems being "thrown in" every three laps. The famous coach, Bill Mumford, coordinated this with expert precision which Frank still admires: "It was exciting - it took blood out of your boots!"

In 1955 Frank evoked memories of the world of entertainment of his mother's days when he took part with the 29th Wheelers in roller displays on the stages of the Brixton Empire and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Frank retired when the building business moved to Carshalton. As it had been successful, funds were available for new activities in addition to racing and touring.

Frank gradually acquired interesting bicycles to form his own museum. During our recent London Heritage tour Frank commented with some authority on early machines which he had owned. His remarkable collection was featured on the Blue Peter programme on Kirkpatrick Macmillan but the collection of 21 bicycles was dispersed when Frank's marriage sadly ended in divorce. What a spectacle they could have created in London for the 125th Anniversary Rides this year!

In his sixties and seventies Frank has taken up golf, yachting, fixed wing flying, ballooning and aerial racing, including the International Air Race in Jersey. Frank refers modestly to his Mercedes 500SL and the incident when, having flown his four-seater aeroplane to Athens, he got out his bicycle. He was told he could not ride it on the active control tarmac and was arrested and put into prison on the basis that a man riding a bicycle could not be the owner of an aeroplane and a Mercedes 500SL! His response was "Never judge a man by his mode of transport".

We are glad that Frank has joined the CTC to enjoy cycling in his semi-active quieter years - which is how we have learnt about the extraordinary life of Frank Syred.