Farewell to former world record holder Chris Davies, the man who cycled over 910,000 miles in his life
He was, quite simply, one of the Portsmouth region’s most remarkable sporting characters of all time.
Record-breaker Chris Davies passed away peacefully this week at a nursing home in Waterlooville. He was 83.
Until a few years ago, Chris held the world record for the most miles ever officially cycled - a quite staggering 916,791. Put another way, that’s the equivalent of cycling almost 37 times around the equatorial circumference of the world.
He was the cycling correspondent for The News for half a century - finally hanging up his pen in 2004. Every year for five decades he would turn up at the paper’s offices to deliver his report on his bike, never once missing a deadline. As a reward for his half-century of service, Chris was presented with an inscribed tankard and a bottle of champagne by Mike Gilson, then editor of The News.
The following year Chris dreamt up a unique way to mark two special occasions - his 50th consecutive year of cycling over 10,000 miles a year and the 200th anniversary of Nelson's famous naval victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. He did this by riding from Cape Trafalgar in Spain to Trafalgar Square, a distance of over 1,500 miles.
Chris said at the time: ‘I was born in Portsmouth and I am sure Nelson would have approved of the way I celebrated his victory.’
Again, his achievement of cycling 10,000 miles a year needs a closer inspection; to achieve that figure, you would need to cycle 27 miles A DAY over a 365-day period (366 in a leap year). When Chris reached his 50th year of cycling at least 10,000 miles, that meant he had cycled at least 27 miles a day over a period of more than 1,820 successive days!
Chris, who lived in his home town of Havant before moving into a care home around seven years ago, cycled all over the world - visiting America, South Africa, New Zealand and western Europe.
In 1973 he was cycling through the Middle East when he became trapped in Israel when the Yom Kippur War broke out. All flights out of Tel Aviv were suspended ‘so we had an extra four days’ holiday.
‘We seemed to be the only foreign visitors who weren’t scared stiff, but we all had memories of bombings during the war. The advice was: if you can’t get into a shelter, get under a substantial table – which the Americans didn’t think was good advice at all!’
Another memorable tour was the Bikecentennial, a ride across the USA to commemorate the US bicentennial in 1976 when Chris and six friends rode from Portland to Denver - a distance of around 1,240 miles, roughly the same as the distance from Havant to the Belarussian capital of Minsk - in four weeks.
But Chris also enjoyed cycling huge distances in the UK, and in 2004 cycled 250 miles from his Havant home in East Street to Land’s End. From there he cycled the 885 miles to John O’Groats before another 80-mile cycle along the Scottish coast. And from there - yes, you’ve guessed it - Chris cycled all the way back to Havant, taking his mileometer close to the 2,000 mark AND ALL IN THE SAME MONTH!
He competed in several 24-hour non-stop cycling races and achieved a career best distance of 438 miles in the 1960s.
Prior to having to call time on his incredible cycling career due to illness, the longest Chris had spent out of the saddle between 1952 and 2010 was 39 days - and then only on doctor's orders when he had a hip replacement in 2001!
In 2010, Chris set a new world record when he reached his 906,900th mile in his 60th year of cycling - aged 72.
Speaking to The News shortly after, he said: ‘For as long as I can remember I have loved cycling.
‘I still love it as much as I used to and I cycle every day. It keeps me in good shape and gets me out and about. My bike is an extension of me.’
Chris took his first ride in 1950 when he travelled 10.5km (six-and-a-half miles) from Havant to his grandmother’s beach hut on Hayling Island. He was so smitten with his new hobby that he jotted down the exact details of his ride in a school exercise book.
Chris recalled in 2010: ‘It was back in the days when the Hayling Billy line was still going and I thought to myself, ‘Why not cycle instead?’ and I haven’t stopped cycling since.
‘Every mile I carefully logged in an old school exercise book that I still have today. I think it is the very best way to get around.’
Chris obviously had a love of cycling from an early age. Speaking to a cycling magazine 11 years ago, he said he cycled half a mile from his then home on the Isle of Wight, onboard a bright red tricycle, before being found - his father had ordered the troops at Golden Hill Fort to leave the barracks and go and find his son.
In November 1954, Chris joined the Portsmouth brand of the national Cyclists Touring Club and began riding time trials.
‘I started with 25-mile time trials – 10-mile time trials weren’t done then, as they were regarded as boys’ events,’ he recalled.
‘Then I started doing 100-mile time trials, and then 12- and 24-hour time trials.’
Chris worked at CTC from 1962 to 1966, and led his first tour in 1963. He was subsequently involved in tours of France, New Zealand, and Argentina, but his most exciting was the aforementioned 1973 tour to Israel and Cyprus.
Chris also worked for the AA and both Portsmouth and Winchester City Councils before a spell as a railway ticket checker.
He still held roles with the CTC (now Cycling UK) and the Youth Hostel Association in the noughties, along with acting as road safety adviser for Havant, Portsmouth and Hampshire.
Cycling, though, was not Chris’ only sporting hobby when he was a youngster as he also played hockey for Havant.
‘Cycling and hockey were my twin passions,’ he recalled in 2010. ‘I very nearly became a serious hockey player, in which case I would not have had the time to do much cycling.’
Derek Hayday first met Chris when he joined the Portsmouth branch of the CTC aged 15.
Now 82, Derek told The News: ‘Chris lived for cycling, really. It was his ambition to become the first person to cycle one million miles. He would have done it had he not had to stop riding.’
Instead, another Hampshire-based cyclist - octogenarian Russ Mantle - became the first man to break the 1,000,000 mile barrier in November 2019.
The Aldershot-based Russ, now 82, still rides regularly - but nowhere near as much as he did in 2001 when he cycled 22,500 miles (an average of around 61 miles a day for 365 days).
Chris remains second on the all-time list, with Pat Kenny third on 909,654 miles. Sadly, Pat was killed by a driver who failed to see the 72-year-old as he rode his bike on the A38 near Burton-on-Trent in 2011.
Chris was a member of the 300,000 Mile Cycling Club, set up in 1962 to provide a permanent record of members' names and their distance covered. To date, only 153 people have ever been accepted as members.
Derek Hayday is one of them. ‘I joined it back in the 1990s,’ he recalled. ‘You had to have all your miles written down. I’ve got 66 diaries with all mine in and it’s marvellous to look back at them.
‘You can see what you were doing 25 years ago to the day - look in the diary and the memories come back. Without the diaries, the memories would have gone.
Chris never married, and Derek remembered: ‘In his younger days Chris said he would get married one day, but he never did. No-one would have married him anyway - he was always out on his bike or planning his next big ride!’