Alf Engers: "Time-trialling is in the mind, it's concentration."
The time-trial legend discusses pedalling technique, oblong chainrings and the new breed of riders in extracts from the Q & A at premiere of his eponymous film.
Alf Engers on... being surprised at the interest around the Alf Engers film.
“I said to [the filmmaker] Ray Pascoe ‘nobody’s going to be interested but if you insist on doing it, it’ll be good for the grandkids.’”
On the passing of time
“When I started, we had wool jerseys and alloy drinking bottles. It was a 10-year wait, just after the war, if you wanted to buy a car. Sweets didn’t come off ration until 1947.”
On the art of time-trialling
“Time-trialling is in the mind, it’s concentration. The pedalling action, for me, is akin to the track. You’ve got to be in contact with the pedal the whole of the time.
“You don’t just push down and pull it up, you’ve got to take it all the way down. There’s a technique to riding high gears. You roll it along. Once you start trying from the guts, it’s all over.”
On testing an oblong chainring
“At one stage, I had a visit from a professor at Reading University. He had a book of calculations as thick as the Bible. He came up with this chainring: not elliptical, it was oblong, made out of laminite. It looked like a giant-sized cone.
Coupled with eight-inch cranks, I was invited to try it out down the road. This oblong chainring was easier up till about 20mph. After that, it was like riding over somebody with a chest of drawers.”
On time-trial’s increased reputation
“The continentals were laughing at silly Brits, out riding time-trials. All of a sudden, it’s been realised that if you want to win a Grand Tour, you have to be able to ride a time-trial.
“There’s a lot more kudos in time-trialling worldwide than what there ever was. Hence the bikes: everyone out to save a second, the Tour can be won by a handful.”
On the new breed of cyclists
“There appears to be more cyclists than ever on the road… You can tell who a real cyclist is now. Cyclists do not go through red lights. The new wave of cyclists will go through a red light, they’ll have a phone on their ears. In a way, I think we need people to help these new cyclists, for the sport to progress as it is.”
On the 1976 Swanscombe Cutting incident: getting pulled over by police and later suspended when on a record-breaking 25 ride on the A2.
“I’ve got no qualms about exactly what happened that night. Strewn all over the inside carriageway of Swanscombe Cutting was rubbish: there was a door, pieces of wood. At the bottom of Swanscombe Cutting there was a garage, which isn’t there now. I knew that if I went into the inside lane, I was going to be in trouble with very light tyres. They were 4 ounces, white-strip Clement ones which were only used for record rides.
“At the top of Swanscombe Cutting on the way back, I was going on was a long 46, although I was certainly slowed down over the last few miles, which were more arduous.
“As I descended Swanscombe Cutting, being mindful of the rubble in the road, I came alongside then-sponsor Alec Bird who was driving along the hard shoulder, shouting encouragement.
“A police car saw this, a rider holding up the traffic and somebody on the hard shoulder shouting. And at the bottom of the cutting, I was pulled off the road – not pushed off the road – by a police car [for alleged dangerous riding on the descent – Ed]. So that was that.
“I was a night baker then. As I went to work that evening, I rang a prominent RTTC official, a friend of mine from the Midlands and told him what had happened. He said: “you’ll get a two year suspension, down to a year on appeal.” That’s precisely what happened.
On being stylish and looking like Paul Weller
“Paul Weller wasn’t born then! Very kind of you to say so: only thing is, when I look in the mirror now, I can’t believe it!”
On missing the sport
“I certainly miss the camaraderie and the racing. And I still ride for health reasons. I’ve got to be careful what I say here, but I don’t like people who come ripping past me. I went out yesterday and this girl came flying by!”
This is an edited extract from the Q & A held with Alf Engers at the Phoenix Cinema on January 25. Read our review of the "Alf Engers aka The King" film here.