A tribute to Bob Thom,
successful cycle rider and manager.
This is the
story of Bob Thom, one of Wolverhampton’s most
successful cycle riders and managers. He was one of
nature’s gentleman, a most mild-mannered and affable
|Bob Thom after
winning his first area champion's jersey at
Donnington in 1938.
career began when he joined the famous Wolverhampton
Wheelers at the age of 17 and entered a novices ‘10’
race on his first bicycle, a ‘Lion’. He finished in 27
minutes, 52 seconds and won the first handicap prize, a
year’s membership with the Wheelers. Percy Stallard, one
of the club’s most successful riders, took Bob under his
wing and showed him the delights of road racing.
Bob Thom began
racing at Donnington and won the Midland Area
Championship at the age of 21. In 1938 he finished in 6th
place in the National Championship, by which time he had
won many medals for road racing, team pursuing, time
trialing and cycle-cross.
During World War
2 he served with the RAF in Rhodesia, where he went on a
1,000 mile tour of the southern part of the country,
riding a home-made bicycle built from ex-aircraft tubing
with heavy wired-on wheels. He also won the Rhodesian
Sprint Championship on the same machine.
|He was demobilised at the age of
29 and soon started racing with the Wheelers again.
During his time in Rhodesia the British League of Racing
Cyclists (B.L.R.C.) was formed, with Percy Stallard as
event organiser. After 12 months Bob decided to become
professional and joined the B.L.R.C.
He had many successes, his first
league win being the 100km circuit at Dudley. He was
also a member of the winning team that competed at
Tilburg. His career went from strength to strength when
the Viking Road Racers were formed in 1948 and he joined
the team as player- manager. Other members included Ben
Whitmore and Bill Allen. The team was very successful
and did a lot to promote the company's products.
Bob successes continued, both as a
team rider and an independent rider for Viking Cycles,
where he soon progressed to Sales Manager.
Bob in 1946.
team. Left to right: B. Whitmore, B.
F. Nicholls, J. Welch, T. Jones.
successes include his win of the National Independent
Championship at Weston Super Mare in 1949. He also came
in 15th place in the National Road Championships in
Scotland and won the Severn Valley Grand Prix for two
years running. One of his crowning achievements was to
win Britain’s toughest road race, the notorious Tour of
the Peaks. He also finished 12th in the 1947 Brighton to
By 1951 he was a
married man with a family, and after failing to win the
national title he decided to call it a day. He became
Viking’s team manager and was replaced in the team by
his brother-in-law, Ian Steel, whose many successes
include the 1951 Tour of Britain, the 1952 Peace Race,
and the 1955 trade teams Tour of Britain. Even as a
manager Bob was still one of the boys and knew how to
get the best from them. He could instinctively “read” a
race and sense the correct time to make a break. The
team included some of the finest riders in the country.
Bob also acted as mechanic during Ian Steel’s 1952 Peace
Race and in the 1955 Tour de France.
team in the 1955 trade teams Tour of
Riders - left to right: Ian Steel, Ken
Jowett, Doug Booker,
Joe Christison, and Les Gill. Bob Thom is on
the far right.
|He also became England team
manager and was the architect of many famous British
victories including the Tour de l'Avenir, Tour of
Holland, Tour de St Lorient, Tour of Sweden, Giro Della
Regioni and the World Road Championships. He was
affectionately known as "Uncle Bob" and looked after
many famous riders such as Simpson, Hoban, Brittain,
Elliot, Downs, Waugh and Griffiths. Two of his riders,
Les West and Bill Nickson won the Milk Race under his
guidance and others achieved yellow and stage wins in
the Tour de l'Avenir, the Peace Race and a win in the
Grande Prix Liberazione in Rome. Bob also took the
women's cycling team to Japan on a number of occasions.
|Bob finishing in
6th place in the first London to Holyhead
race in 1951.
Some of Bob's
other roles were National Cyclo Cross Team Manager and
president of the B.C.C.A. In the late 1960s Bob and
Charles Rhyss were instrumental in bringing the 'Skol
Six' to Britain. One of Bob’s strangest assignments was
to work as a stunt man and extra in the film “A Boy, a
Girl, and a Bike” which starred Honour Blackman and
Diana Dors. He continued at Viking until the business
was purchased by two Americans who sent him to work in
California for a couple of years. On his return, he
joined Middlemores, then Shimano agents, until taking
In 1970 he was
in charge of race service at the World's in Leicester,
and in 1982 at the World's in Goodwood. He was President
of the Pedal Club, President of E.S.C.A. and of his own
club, the Wolverhampton Wheelers. He was also a member
of the Pickwick Bicycle Club for over 30 years.
Bob and his wife Jean enjoyed holidays in their camper
van and always visited the World’s and the Tour de
France. On his 77th birthday Bob and Jean did
a 10 week backpacking tour of the Far East.
He continued to
ride his cycle on his “Thursday run” until he reached
the age of 85 when he wasn’t so good on the hills any
more. He then joined the “Thursday Old Boys” and
continued to support local clubs, giving any help he
could to young riders.
Bob Thom junior.
In 2003 he broke
his wrist and was well on the road to recovery when he
suffered from a severe stroke. He ended up in hospital,
during which time his family were told that he would
pass away, on three separate occasions. He ended up in a
nursing home and had a satellite dish fitted in
preparation for the forthcoming Tour de France. In June
2004 he was admitted into hospital again, with
pneumonia, and passed away on 2nd August,
2004 at the age of 87.
Bob and Jean had two sons, Bob and Michael, and a
daughter, Vicky. Bob Thom Junior, who was a mechanic in
his father’s team, and a successful rider, later became
England team manager in his own right.