Rob in Keirin action: pic by SportivePhoto.com
Rob Jefferies, a close friend of mine, was killed last week, hit by a car while out training. Even now it seems scarcely possible that such a towering figure, in every sense, could be gone. His is a loss greatly felt, the many tributes posted to his memory united in remembrance of a man of great generosity, integrity, zest for life and accomplishment. He was a talented artist, skilled metalworker, knowledgeable mechanic, teacher, author of British Cycling commissaires’ handbooks and, of course, cyclist.
It was in one of my first seasons racing at Herne Hill that I first met Rob, then in the Festival Road Club. He and his late friend Adrian “Hacker” Hawkins, both about 16 at the time, were the terror of the track despite their tender years, Robert having even then the staggering jump and top end speed that would bring him bronze (in the sprint) and silver (Keirin) medals as a senior at the national track championships.
Before long we were both members of the De Laune CC and, living close nearby, would do a couple of training rides each week, typically leaving Crystal Palace at around 07:30 for an hour and a half of hammering around the lanes around Cudham before lining up a final sprint up Sylvan Hill. He could climb, could Rob, at an incredible pace for someone standing 6’4″ and weighing 15 stones, and only by going flat out from the bottom of the climb could I even hope to win. On the flat, never – like most of his competitors.
His racing talents weren’t confined to the track. On one occasion, he had caught the train to Worthing to ride the sea-front criterium junior race. I drove down with my wife (then girlfriend) and her sister in my Citroen Dyane, which had a bench front seat. Rob won his race and was about to head back to the railway station in heavy rain when it occured to me that we could get him and his bike in the car if he sat/lay/crouched sideways in the boot while the three of us sat on the bench seat, the two bikes going in the middle of the car. It was a slow drive back, the rear of the car sitting lower than the front.
Not long afterwards, we rode back down to Worthing so he could redeem the voucher he had won, donated by a local bike shop. The route formed the basis later for my annual January coast ride, the “Coastal Clog”, and took in the tough Steyning Bostal climb over to Sompting Abbots – “Stomping Hill”, as Rob dubbed it. Unsurprisingly, the 16-year-old blew up horribly on the way home, obliging us to stop in the Billingshurst Little Chef. Here he ate several slices of cheesecake, staged a miraculous recovery and gave me a memorable beasting on the way home.
I repaid him years later when, after surgery, he was obliged to spend six weeks with his jaw wired and a supporting frame fixed to his face. Unable to eat solid food, he was also unable to ride his bike and was easy meat when we went for a training ride once his treatment was finished.
The following years of his cycling career were notable not least for Rob’s constant struggle to find a bike that could cope with his vast power. One, a T J Quick steel road bike, must have had at least six new rear dropouts, each inevitably cracking at the stay after a couple of months of racing. Each breakage was greeted anew with Rob’s usual keen and cheery inquisitiveness. His problems with wheel durability led him to build many of his own in the search for reliability; his views on wheels, formed by the experience, were trenchant.
As were his views on frame construction and bike design. With a degree in silversmithing and an array of welding qualifications, he was well-informed on metallurgy and a great source of advice on the reasons why some weld or other had cracked or broken. His own most trusted machine was surely the aluminium-framed Cannondale track bike he rode for many years without problem. When he took up motorcycling for a brief period, he eventually bought a Yamaha GTS1000, a large and powerful machine chosen, as far as I could tell, for its unusual front suspension with hub-centre steering.
Moving with his family from south London to Dorset, Rob continued his track racing career at Calshot’s tight, tricky indoor velodrome even as he took time trialling a little more seriously. But then he’d been riding time trials for many years, with wins in open “10s” under his belt. For years he insisted on riding the East Surrey Hardriders 32 on 100″ fixed wheel, a feat in itself with the climb of Rusper’s hill to negotiate.
A couple of years ago, he paced me around the Redmon CC’s Grand Prix des Gentlemen. Funnily enough, it was one of the easier rides I’ve had in the event despite hurtling along the Capel bypass at over 30mph; Rob’s huge frame offered more shelter than a pacing motorcycle and all I had to do was sit there and be sucked along in his slipstream, something I’ve done for many a mile.
It would take a substantial volume to list his achievements as a racing cyclist, which in addition to those mentioned include repeatedly winning Herne Hill’s Monday Competition and the London roller racing championship. Just how he was able to notch up such a rich palmares was made clear one day in 1995 when, presented with an early pair of SRM Powercranks at Cycling Weekly, I needed someone able to ride around the Hill at high speed for lap after lap so I could compare the aerodynamic performance of various cycling components.
Rob was the obvious candidate and was, naturally, eager and willing to take part. The idea was to ride around at a steady 50km/h for three laps at a time so the power required could be recorded, each item taking three repeats of the three laps to ensure a consistent reading. The full story was recorded in the magazine. The first series of rides saw Rob riding around wearing jeans, a Barbour jacket and bobble hat, a combination that required a power output of over 750W. Two hours later he was still bombing around at 50km/h, albeit at a mere 550W since we’d fitted more efficient equipment.
More recently, he turned out for this year’s Coastal Clog and reviewed a pair of Northwave Aerlite shoes for RCUK. Not long parted from his position at British Cycling, he was looking forward to getting back into teaching. Only last week he rang to ask my opinion on feeding for the 50 mile time trial he had entered. Almost his last post on his Facebook page was a picture of a gold leaf-decorated stone carving he had made in a moment’s spare time. He is greatly missed.
A memorial ride took place yesterday; there’s a report here.