In 1956, British cyclist Eileen Sheridan published her autobiography, Wonder Wheels. She was just over thirty years old, but she had already broken 21 records of the Womens’ Road Records Association for place-to-place and long distance rides. Imagine riding 874 miles in 2 days, 11 hours and 7 minutes. Or 1000 miles in 3 days and 1 hour. Of her 21 records, five still stand.
What makes this book so much fun is Sheridan’s love of the bike. No matter what, she always had a broad smile on her face. Whether riding in a downpour or 20 hours into a marathon ride, she radiates happiness.
During one very wet fifty mile time trial, she passed all the women on the course and overtook one of the men. Ever the lady, she wondered, “…what on earth could I say to the poor man? He must be taking a dreadful hiding.”
Properly fitting bikes for small riders were non-existent in those days, but this didn’t stop Sheridan, only 4’11″ tall. Photos of Eileen Sheridan on her bike are fascinating to look at. I measured one photo and estimated that she was riding a 52 cm “square” (the top tube and seat tube are the same length) frame. This was the center to center measurement of a bike with a horizontal top tube. Typically, that bike would fit a woman around 5′ 4″, not a woman 4′ 11″. Yet Sheridan was incredibly efficient when she rode.
Her very telling comment about her fit on the bike was this: “They all laughed at my handlebars, my great big handlebars. But I got into a lovely flat position … on that bike. And I used to lie almost on the tip of the saddle. And all the fast men now, when you see their position, they are down, very flat and they are right on the tip of their saddle….But that’s how I found I was doing the fastest times.” 
What an inspiration she is! Here is a woman who set the standard for other female competitors. And she did it with no ego about her at all. She weaved cycling into her life as a mother, wife and employee — something difficult for any woman, let alone a world class athlete.
1. Jack Thurston, “Eileen Sheridan”, Rouleur Issue 33, pp. 112.
Photos of Eileen Sheridan can be found on this Flickr site.