One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers

Tim Hilton

Read September 2005

The autobiographies of the great and good have a tendency to be either needlessly revelatory or excessively discreet. Better, therefore, the autobiographies of common folk, except for the (often fatal) flaw that they have nothing distinctive to report. Tim Hilton is of the decidedly common sort; how, then, does he write such a compelling book?

``Tim Hilton'' sounds about as innocent a name for a western author as you might expect, until you learn (pg. 63) that Tim is really short for Timoshenko. This book is an account of the peculiar institution known as the British bicycling club, of which scene Hilton was an avid observer and participant. This is interwoven with Hilton's often contemptuous, sometimes excited, always funny account of that other peculiar institution known as British communism, in which, too, Hilton was deeply immersed by virtue of being the son of two rabid participants (of the ``bohemian'' and ``severe'' sort (pg. 265)). It is not too hard to see that Hilton found the former as an escape from the latter.

The book briefly discusses Continental cycling, to its detriment, especially when it tries to cover the Tour de France. But when Hilton lays off the popular stuff and sticks to the obscure (including the Spring Classics), his keen eye and biting wit are a delight. We learn (pg. 28) that the great Beryl Burton was in a line of work only the British could conceive and support: ``rhubarb-forcing''. We learn of the annual British racing calendar, and of the dozen bikes Hilton owns. We hear about the lost era of the ``amateur'' professionals, such as the Isle of Man race of 1959 that featured Coppi, Bahamontes, Simpson and others. Hilton tells us why Liege-Bastogne-Liege is harder than the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and why it turns around in Bastogne. We read about Frank Patterson and his sentimental art, quite the opposite of comic-strip Frazz's creator Jef Mallet. Hilton reports on cycling club meet talk titles that drip with the remains the Victorian era, such as ``Their abiding splendour'' or ``Blue skies and good companions'' (pg. 10-11). Hilton tells us about riding from Land's End to John O'Groats. And just to ruffle things up, he tells us (pg. 135), ``women are not by nature sprinters''.

So, how can an ordinary autobiography be interesting? When it focuses not on the person but on the curious cast of characters he spent a lifetime studying, recording and, eventually, lovingly reproducing. And that's just what Hilton does here.