|Born||c. November 1889
|Died||c. 1971, aged 82|
World Endurance record for a single year
- 62,785 miles (101,043 km) in 1952
|Infobox last updated on
22 November 2009
René Menzies (c. November 1889 – c. 1971) was a French long-distance cyclist who at 48 held a record for the greatest distance ridden on a bicycle in a year. He rode 61,561 miles in 1937. He was decorated with the Croix de Guerre in the first world war  and was chauffeur to the French leader, Charles de Gaulle in the second world war. After the war he tried to ride 63,000 miles in a year to celebrate his 63rd birthday but finished with 62,785.
René Menzies was born in Caen, France, of French and Scottish descent. He moved to England in the early 1930s. His talent for long distances was well known, and it eventually led him to try for the record for the greatest distance in a year.
World endurance record for distance cycled in a single year
In 1911 the weekly magazine, Cycling began a competition for the greatest distance cycled in a single year. The first holder was Marcel Planes of France, with 34,666 miles (55,790 km). The record has been established nine times. A tenth claim, by the English rider Ken Webb, was later disallowed.[n 1]
|1911||Marcel Planes||France||34,666 miles (55,790 km)|
|1932||Arthur Humbles||Great Britain||36,007 miles (57,948 km)|
|1933||Ossie Nicholson||Australia||43,966 miles (70,756 km)|
|1936||Walter Greaves||Great Britain||45,383 miles (73,037 km)|
|1937||Bernard Bennett||Great Britain||45,801 miles (73,710 km)|
|1937||René Menzies||France||61,561 miles (99,073 km)|
|1937||Ossie Nicholson||Australia||62,657 miles (100,837 km)|
|1939||Bernard Bennett||Great Britain||65,127 miles (104,812 km)|
|1939||Tommy Godwin||Great Britain||75,065 miles (120,805 km)|
In that era bicycle companies competed to show their machines were the most reliable. Menzies was sponsored by a British manufacturer, Rudge-Whitworth. Menzies' ambition was to break not only the record for the year but another, for 100,000 miles (160,000 km), which he achieved in 532 days.
The year record was held by an Australian professional, Ossie Nicholson. It was established in 1933 and broken in 1936 by a one-armed English amateur, Walter Greaves. Nicholson said he would set it again. He had competition, however, from Bernard Bennett, another British rider, and from Menzies. All three men were trying for the record at the same time.
Nicholson started more than 10 kg overweight but rode 300 km a day. He had ridden 40,000 km by the end of May but Menzies had started to close the gap. Menzies, in the European winter, had fallen on icy roads, broken a bone and missed 24 days. The writer Jock Wadley recalled:
That first day of January 1937, soaked to the skin, he came running excitedly to the office about teatime with the news: 'One hundred and feefty miles.' It was the first day of a year's ride; 364 days later he had ridden 61,561 miles and had shown the real meaning of the French word courage by riding for weeks with a broken wrist in plaster and sling.
Winter arrived in Australia as summer came to Europe. Nicholson often rode in the dark to keep up his distance but Menzies had daylight and the two men were level by the start of October. They both beat Greaves' record on the same day.
A year's race had commenced between two widely separated contestants, Ossie Nicholson from Down Under who had already tasted success, and a newcomer, René Menzies, a 48-year-old Frenchman of Scottish descent. René rode in the UK and on the Continent, searching for the hotter weather... Many miles away, Nicholson had found better weather and financial support; at the end of his year he had collected an amazing 62,567 miles this time tasting more than glory as he had also pedalled his way clear of beating the 100,000 mile record, this time in 532 days.
Dorothy Curtis, writing in the magazine of the National Cycle Collection in Britain, said Menzies lived in London and sometimes rode 100 miles from there to Brighton and back in the morning and then to a café that her mother owned near the Bidlake memorial at Girtford Bridge near Sandy, Bedfordshire, north of London, in the afternoon before returning to London. She said:
He asked my mother if he could put a hut up in the garden with a single bed and a chair so that is he did a night ride he could pop in there and not disturb anybody. Of course we had to sign papers that he had done the miles and also feed him. Sometimes he used to be a bit downhearted so we girls used to buck him up or cheer him on. We used to say 'Now come on, you know all after this looking after you we're expecting a nice prize at the end. I shan't get that free Rudge-Whitworth bike if you don't keep on with your ride.'[n 2]
War stopped Menzies from trying to beat Nicholson. The Australian's distance had in any case been improved to 75,065 miles by a British rider, Tommy Godwin, in 1939, a distance that still stands.[n 3] Menzies decided in 1952 to beat Nicholson's distance regardless, to set an unofficial veterans' record, and to ride 63,000 miles to mark his 63rd birthday. Jock Wadley wrote:
We have known René Menzies a long time now... It was therefore not much of a surprise at 1.30pm on December 31, 1951, just as we had closed for press, to get a 'phone call from René saying he was starting his record at midnight. 'Yes, René,' we said. "Which record?"
'Why, of course, the year's mileage record, of course!...' Only four watched that story translated into reality as we saw him off at about twenty past midnight on January 1, 1952. He started without much trade support, but with supreme confidence in his ability to command it as he went along. 'I post my first card from the post office at Marble Arch,' he called out... Since then these cards have showered on our office - there must have been well over 1,000 of them. Each one was signed at the start of a day's ride, at the 'turn', and again at the finish by anybody who happened to be around (postmen, policemen and pull-up-for-carmen-café workers were the chief witnesses), the mileage at each point being logged according to the speedometer reading.
He left from Big Ben in central London as it chimed in January 1. He wore three woollen sweaters, a beret and plus-fours. He started with a circuit of Parliament Square and rode to Oxford Circus, then Marble Arch to end his first day at Wolverhampton after 121 miles. At one stage he considered returning to France to ride the same roads as the Tour de France. He was dissuaded by the race official, Jacques Goddet, who sent a telegram: "Menzies - don't be a fool. Stay where you have roads like a velodrome. Don't you know when you're well off?" Menzies completed the year with 62,785 miles, beating Nicholson's figure at 10.16am on the last day. Among those who celebrated with him was another Frenchman, Marcel Planes, who set the first distance record, 34,366 miles, in 1911.
- Ken Webb's claim was for 80,647 miles (129,789 km) in 1972. Webb insisted he had completed the distance but others said he hadn't and he was removed from the Guinness Book of Records.
- Menzies remembered the help he had been given and Dorothy Curtis was sent a five-speed Rudge-Whitworth.
- A better distance, 80,647 miles, was claimed by a Briton, Ken Webb, and appeared briefly in the Guinness Book of Records before being removed
- The Canberra Times Monday 26 January 1953
- Cycling Museum - Rene Menzies
- The Children's Newspaper, UK, 2 June 1936, p10
- Randonneurs History David Minter
- The Bicycle, UK, 28 January 1953, p17
- The Times, London, UK, 11 August 1972, p14
- Northwood Wheelers
- The Bicycle, UK, 9 January 1952, p13
- Cycling, 1972, undated cutting
- Friends' Magazine, Autumn 2006, National Cycle Collection, National Cycle Museum Trust (UK), p22-23
- Canberra Bicycle Museum, Ossie Nicholson
- Journal, Fellowship of Cycling Old-Timers, vol 144
- Cycling, UK, 6 October 1937
- The Bicycle, UK, 30 July 1952, p33
- The Bicycle, UK, 28 January 1953, p16