Bertie Peters and the Backwards Bicycle Races

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)

I recently found this article in the 5th September issue of the 1952 Billericay Times.  Bertie was my sister Anne’s father-in-law - she married his son Claude in 1961.

The backwards bicycle races up Crown Hill have been mentioned a few times on this website.  I had known that Bertie had taken part in them, but hadn’t realised until now that he started them in 1952.

A number of people took up his challenge and the race was held annually for a few years until it was eventually stopped having been thought too dangerous.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Bertie Peters and the Backwards Bicycle Races' page

Billericay Times 1952

For ease of reading, I transcribe the article below:-

Quote:  Who will take up his challenge..?

Bertie Peters pushed back the cloth cap from his forehead, and his suntanned face wrinkled into a smile.  “Yes that’s right” he grinned, “I have issued a challenge”.

“Unusual?  Well, some folks might think so…but I mean it,” he said.  “You see I’m challenging any ‘young blood who thinks he can ride a cycle, to a race up Crown Hill, Langdon Hills – but the cycle must be ridden backwards!”  And Bertie – he wants to keep his age secret, “but I’m well over 50” – told us why.

He wants to revive the cycling feat performed by a man from Grays 17 years ago, who on two occasions rode a cycle from Oxford Street to the Crown Hotel, sitting on the handlebars and pedalling backwards – all for a £1 bet.

But Bertie would like to see this become an annual event, “Something to keep the district alive,” he explained.

This man, who claims he can ride anything with two wheels – one of his treasured possessions is a 200 year old “penny-farthing” – is confident that his challenge will be taken up.  So, to keep in trim, he trains in his spare time by riding a cycle backwards around the garden of his home in Dunton Road, Laindon.

Born in Brentwood, Bertie has been riding cycles since he was six years old.  When he found he was just as much at home on a cycle as walking, he began to teach himself trick-riding in 1912.  “I did it purely for devilment”, he told us.  “But I raised a lot of money by it for various charities.”

Riding a cycle backwards is nothing new to him.  He has cycled several local hills in this way.  “Recently I attempted Crown Hill,” he smiled, “but a woman passer-by looked so astonished to see me going along sitting on the handlebars, that I decided to pack it up before she called the police”.

Then to show us it was not just idle talk, Bertie put on a demonstration of trick-riding for us.  But when he made the daring offer to do a head-stand on the saddle while moving, we thought it time to leave!

CHALLENGERS: YOU CAN COMPETE IN THIS RACE BY SENDING YOUR APPLICATION TO THE EDITOR. unquote.

Top marks to Bertie and his great idea.  Bertie Peters 1899 – 1980.

Note:  It is pretty certain that ‘Oxford Street to Crown Hill’ refers to the Oxford Street which became Lee Chapel Lane and not the Oxford Street in London!!!!

This page was added by Nina Humphrey(née Burton) on 01/12/2014.