What Beryl Burton achieved on a bike over her long cycling career is astonishing, that she did it whilst working, raising a child and never turning professional is even more so. Born in Leeds in 1937 (and remaining there her whole life), Beryl was introduced to cycling by her husband, the two joining a local cycling club. At first Beryl was keeping up, being helped up the hills but it didn't take long for her to take position out the front – where she would stay for most of her competitive cycling life.
Beryl on the cover of Sporting Cyclist c.1960 after becoming both World Pursuit AND Road Champion.
Beryl’s main successes came in the time trial, though to put that into context she was also World Road Race champion twice, and World champion on the track five times. To say that Beryl dominated the National TT scene is something of an understatement, she won the BBAR (Best British All Rounder) title from 1959 every year for 25 years, and took a total of 72 national time trial titles. Often not content with just winning these races, Beryl broke records across a wide number of distances and timed events, and was particularly strong in the 12 hour TT. On her way to breaking another 12 hour record in 1967 she passed the fastest man to race that year, eventually beating him by 0.73 miles (and legendarily offering him a liquorice allsort on the way past), it was two years before that record was broken by a man, and FIFTY years before it was broken by another woman.
Top: Beryl after winning the Bath Road 100 in 1960, Bottom: 15 miles from the end as clubman Roger Wilkings watches on!
A notoriously straight-talking Yorkshire woman, Beryl lived a fairly ordinary life, working on a rhubarb farm when she wasn’t racing and being supported on race days by her husband Charlie. Her daughter Denise also went on to be a successful cyclist and the sight of mother and daughter vying for the win at the National Road Championships must have been extraordinary!
All told Beryl’s drive to succeed, and her indomitable racing spirit pushed her to the end, and resulted in a bulging trophy cabinet and an astonishing place in history.
Beryl on the podium in 1960, after becoming both World Pursuit and Road Champion!
Beryl was taken from the cycling world way too young, on the eve of her 59th birthday 25 years ago, suffering a heart attack whilst out on her bike delivering invitations to her birthday party. Such a sad end and such a loss, but her legend will no doubt live on forever. There's much more to learn about Beryl in this documentary from Trans World Sport, including an interview with her daughter Denise Burton-Cole...
Main image courtesy of Gran Fondo Guide
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