Steven Abraham, Kurt Searvogel chase Tommy Godwin's year of cycling record

At 5am on New Year's Day, 1939, in the depth of the northern winter, Englishman Tommy Godwin got on his bicycle and went for a ride of 234 miles (376 kilometres).

It was the first leg of his attempt on an exotic cycling challenge  - the Highest Annual Mileage Record.

The 26-year-old was chasing the mark set by Australian Oserick "Ossie" Nicholson, who in 1937 had covered an amazing 62,657.6 miles. That's more than 100,000 kilometres cycled in a year.

For the first few months he rode cautiously, but by July he was smashing it. On the last day of 1939 he had cycled 75,065 miles, or 120,805 kilometres, at an astonishing average of some 330 kilometres every day.

In the many decades since then, Godwin's record has been described as "unbreakable". Who would want to spend a year of their lives trying to surpass that feat of human endurance?

Well, two people, as it turns out. Since January, challengers Steven Abraham and Kurt Searvogel have been putting in heroic distances as they race the late, great Tommy - and each other.

To make it more fun, it's a trans-Atlantic competition. Abraham, aged 40, a top UK Audax rider who has taken leave from working in a warehouse in Milton Keynes, comes across as quietly spoken in videos and is described as someone who tends to underplay his achievements.

Across the pond in Florida, Kurt "Tarzan" Searvogel is a 51-year-old (!) distance cycling champion and business owner who is hilariously animated in videos shot by a support crew trailing him up and down the Sunshine State in a campervan. 

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Already there has been controversy from observers regarding the weather ("if it's not British, it's not fair"), the consumption of beer (it's allowed, thank goodness), and the choice of equipment (is there ever a bike race where technology isn't a talking point?).

Of course, it would be impossible to replicate Godwin's experience. He was riding in a time before Lycra on a four-speed bike, without any electronic navigational aids, counting his distances with a sealed odometer as he rattled along the rougher roads of yesteryear.

An uphill battle

With four months left of Godwin's 1939 ride, Britain had declared war on Germany, and he was soon riding through wartime blackouts. A strict vegetarian (take that, palaeos!), he was faced with wartime food rationing. 

Godwin had a Raleigh bike, and one fun fact is that his modern English counterpart, Abraham, is riding the same marque. It looks remarkably "normal" - disc brakes, a sturdy rack for supplies, aero bars, a trusty Brooks B17 saddle and mudguards to cope with the miserable conditions he has often endured.

Meanwhile, Searvogel, daubed in sunscreen in Florida, is swapping between several bikes including, controversially for some, a recumbent. Aficionados say you can ride all day on one and not be uncomfortable, but it's approved by the recently drafted HAM'R rules (as, in fact, is drafting - anyone want to do a day on the front for these guys?).

The best part about the contest is that you can be a spectator. Few people in 1939 had much idea of Godwin's daily trials and triumphs, but the duelling duo of 2015 are supplying a steady stream of updates to their Facebook pages and websites. (A third rider, William "IronOx" Pruett, started on January 4 but seems to have dropped off the radar.)

If you're on Strava, I'd recommend you look them up, if only for the comedy value of the panel that compares your "year to date" effort with theirs. The distances defy comprehension. The furthest I've ridden in a day was 215km. I'd like to point out that it involved climbing Mount Buffalo in the Victorian alps three times - but it's still more than 100km short of world record pace, and I sure as hell wasn't game to go again the next day. 

For the spreadsheet nerds there's a daily chart pitting the past and present heroes against each other - it helps that the US and Britain have both failed to join the world in embracing the metric system, because it's all in miles.

Can they do it?

So, what will be the outcome? There are many factors in play. Searvogel started 10 days behind Abraham (it doesn't have to be a calendar year, just 365 consecutive days) and so is able to pace himself against the Briton's efforts.

At the moment, the American is doing the biggest daily distances. But, to reverse the Game of Thrones, winter is going, and Abraham intends to lengthen his efforts as the weather warms up. Searvogel may move north to cooler climes, and he's also spoken of competing in a favourite event, the Race Across America, just to mix things up. 

Will they both stay healthy and motivated, and avoid any race-ending incidents? Will they both ride on to the end, even if one opens a significant margin on the other? 

Just getting started

And there's one more intriguing issue.

Did Tommy Godwin have the world's longest lie-in on January 1, 1940?

No. He rode on. He was determined to also set the record for the fastest completion of 100,000 miles, which he achieved on May 13 of that year.

He then finally quit the bike and spent several weeks relearning how to walk, before reporting to the Royal Air Force and joining the war effort.  

If Searvogel or Abraham are shy of that mark after a year, will they, too, plough on? Time, and social media, will tell. 

Handy links: All about Tommy Godwin; Abraham's Facebook, website and Strava; Searvogel's Facebook, website and Strava

Who do you think will hold the record by year's end? What's the furthest you've ridden in a day - or a year?

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