What's Cool In Road Cycling

Time Trial King: Alf Engers Part 2

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Interview with the TT King: Alf Engers was the fastest man in short UK time trials in the 70s and was the man to break the 50 minute barrier for the 25 mile distance. Ed Hood talks to the King about that record setting and the bike for the job.

In Part I of Alf’s interview, we found out about his childhood, his coach and mentor, and his track and time trialling records. In Part II, we talk to Alf Engers about that British 25 Mile Time Trial Record: 49:24.

Before we do though, let’s find out a bit more about the bike. ‘The Speed Machine’, as Cycling Weekly magazine called it in May 1978, was Alf’s gem of a Shorter TT iron. One of the radical features employed was to place the brake levers behind the flat tops of the bars, thereby tucking them out of the wind and allowing Alf to get his hands deep into the Cinelli 66 bends, like a pursuit rider. The RTTC’s response was immediate, a rule was rushed through, the essence of which was that the brakes have to be operable from the ‘normal riding position.’

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I still smile to myself when I look at tri-bars, I’d like to ask the Cycling Time Trials (formerly Road Time Trials Council) why they don’t apply the rule to them. It meant that when Alf took the record the bike was spec’ed like this:

Mafac ‘kiddie’ brake levers chosen for their small size and light weight, in the usual position pulling on Weinmann 605 side pulls; the front one was mounted behind the fork crown on the original bike but was back in the conventional position on the record bike.

The frame was of lugless welded construction and track tubing – Columbus PL (Pista Leggera) but with Super Vitus fork blades, chosen for their aero advantage. The fork crown was by Cinelli but was filed down to reduce frontal area, as were the Campagnolo fork ends. The head angle was 75 degrees, the seat angle 73 with a 21.5″ seat tube and 22″ top tube, wheel base was 36.75″ An Edco alloy headset took care of the steering.

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According to Alf, Alan Rochford and Barry Chick collaborated on it. Clearances were six day bike tight. A full complement of titanium replacement bolts to gears, cranks, stem and hubs were used. According to Alf a Reynolds chain drove the Maillard alloy block, usually 12 up but 13 up on the record day – he had been experimenting with a titanium chain but Alf felt that it ran very rough. (Other sources say it was a Regina Record drilled chain on the day of the 49′). Rear mech was a Huret Jubilee – which had been lightened – operated by a filed down Campagnolo down tube lever.

Pedals were Campagnolo black road pedals but with the ‘quills’ sawn off, toe clips were Galli alloy and the Saba toe straps were trimmed to length. Bars and stem were Cinelli with the 66 x 44cm. bars welded to the 13.5 cm. stem on the original bike – but not on the record bike – to save the weight of the clamp bolt and give cleaner lines. The seat pin was Laprade, hollowed out and care had to be taken lest it slipped as it couldn’t be over tightened.

Saddle was the Saba alloy framed ‘super light.’ (The Cycling Weekly piece on the bike from May 7th 2009 says it was a TTT but the Saba is more likely). Cranks were 177.5 mm Campag pista driving a 57 tooth ring with an Omas titanium bottom bracket axle running on roller bearings. The tyres were Clement Silk ‘Ones’. The wheels were super light 24 spoked small flange and prone to deflection despite tieing and soldering, standard road wheels were much more rigid but Alf always felt it was the tyres that are most important. (According to the 2009 Cycling Weekly article the hubs were Campagnolo Record but other sources say that Omas ‘Big Sliding’ hubs with titanium spindles and roller bearings were used). Alf had no input on the ideas – that was down to his ‘technical team,’ and the bike’s weight was rumoured to be ‘around 15lbs.’

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PEZ: Started by asking Alf if there had been other times that the record was ‘on?’
Alf Engers:
Probably twice; when I was forced off the road by the police on the Q25/3 in ’76 – that was a 47. And in ’78 I was on a 49 and punctured.

PEZ: And what about the morning of the race?
I was working until 02:00 am and I had to get up at 06:00 to go to the race. There was a cold river of sweat running down my back and I was conscious of every tick of the clock. And I remember that I ate a couple of cheese rolls and a tin of rice.

PEZ: But you knew this could be the day?
I’d tapered for it from June onwards; I’d done no long rides at all – long rides equal tired legs! There was stress in my life, I was about to get divorce, but yes, I felt that it was the big day.

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PEZ: What was the day like?
The E courses are fast – on the Southend Road, East of London. It’s what I call a ‘thin air day’ when you seem to be able to slice through it – but a dead still day is no good, you need a 3/4 mph wind.

PEZ: And what about the ride?
I felt an inner calmness that day, as if it wasn’t really me and I was watching it all happening. I started as fast as I could with the tail wind; the time checks were on Eddie Adkins the reigning British 25 mile time trial champion. I started to fade from 12.5 miles but went through 14.5 miles in 25:04 with the last 10.5 miles taking 24:20.

PEZ: You did 14.5 miles in 25.04?
I’m a track man, I can go fast if it’s easy! I was counting the distance down – there was a picture of me in Cycling Weekly going up the slip road to the finish, the rear wheel is creaking and my ham strings were straining, I was thinking; ‘I’m going to cramp up!’ But I got to the finish and wrenched myself across the line.

PEZ: Did you ride to a watch.
I was hurting so much that I wouldn’t have been able to see a watch – and I’m not a machine, I’d never ride with a computer or SRM cranks.

PEZ: The Holy Grail, ’49’ – how did it feel?
I still get a lump in my throat when I think about it – after all that had gone before; I’d done it! And it felt good that I wouldn’t have to chase it anymore. Alan Rochford kissed me at the finish; but I really expected to hear a choir of angels!

PEZ: But London East RTTC had to have a kick at you.
They tried to get me disqualified for ‘riding wide,’ but at the hearing the committee came to the conclusion that the complainants had been at home in bed and the record was approved.

PEZ: What now?
I’m still heavily involved in fishing and I’m walking again – I’d like to walk the Pennine Way.

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That’s a mere 268 miles; but Alfred Robert Engers never was one to do things by halves. It’s not every day you get to talk to your hero – he didn’t disappoint me.

# Read Part 1 HERE. #

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