I never met Cliff Pratt. Although his name was (and still is) over the door of the main Raleigh dealership in Kingston Upon Hull where I grew up, Cliff had long since retired before I picked out a blue Raleigh Viper 5 there for my 10th birthday in 1985. The ubiquity of Raleigh in those days meant that visits to Cliff Pratt’s were a regular occurrence, despite having at least three other bike shops closer within a 3 mile radius of our house. Sure, we would use Doug Scott’s at the end of the street for repairs, Schofield’s a little further along for buying and trading second hand parts and Ken Ellerker’s for exotic stuff like Mountain Bikes and lurid Lycra, but you couldn’t be a cyclist in Hull and not visit Cliff Pratt’s. I always knew that it was ‘a city institution’ but had little idea about how deeply rooted it (and by ‘it’ I mean Cliff himself) was in British cycling’s formative years.
The bike shop names above will mean little to anyone who doesn’t know Hull and it’s cycling scene and I’ll confess that I certainly wouldn’t have read this book without the connection. The semi-regular appearance of names I am familiar with from Cycle Touring Club rides and YHA weekends – names of old wheelmen who are made youthful again as Cliff dredges the decades of his memoirs – does make the book more appealing but, even without this, it remains a unique window on a world now long gone.
Cliff Pratt took up cycling in 1927 and, as the title suggests, remained committed to the ideals of cycle touring for his whole life. As well as setting up the eponymous cycle shop, he would go on to be a key man in the CTC and organiser of the hugely popular York Rally. He innovated and popularised Bike Polo – the grass version rather than the currently fashionable hard court sport – and undertook extensive European cycling tours, even as World War II threatened.
The book is a collection of thoughts, memories, recollections and opinions. It is, at times, repetitive and overly interested in matters of the District Association of the CTC but what shines through is CP’s (as he was universally known) sheer delight in cycling. Whether he is describing the ancient equipment he started out on, recalling one of many all-night rides with the ‘Hard-rider’s’ group, or detailing some aspect of CTC or bike shop business, it’s all done with the thoroughness that comes from a deep love and passion for the sport. Hidden within the occasionally tepid pages are some real gems of stories, characters and information, which should be of interest to people who also love cycling as much as CP did.
Through Cliff’s nephew I have a number of copies of this out-of-print book, which are available at the cover price of £9.50 plus postage. Drop me an email or note in the comments if you want a copy.