Port Sunlight Wheelers were established in 1948 by soap workers from the world-famous Lever Brothers factory and can now boast seven decades of history and success. Originally formed to provide relief from the austerity of post-war Britain, Sunlight soon developed a reputation for cycling excellence and have since gone on to become one of the most well-regarded clubs in the country.
From humble beginnings organising rides around the rural areas of Cheshire and North Wales, the club quickly began to attract interest from cyclists not employed at the factory and, after much deliberation, the decision was taken to open its doors to the general public. The move proved hugely beneficial and by the following decade, Sunlighters were taking part in regular competition and beginning to gain significant success at both local and national level.
Although strong in many areas of racing, it was time-trialling that saw Sunlight’s prowess really come to the fore. The club created a formidable TT reputation, which was enhanced in 1962 when a team featuring Brian Green, John Kennedy, Dave Allen, John Frydman and Martin Wyard broke the 30 Mile Team Time Trial competition record. To further consolidate their position at the top, they then went on to triumph in the National 25 Mile Championship 12 months later. On an individual level, Allen would also find success on both road and track and was among the first British riders to move overseas to further his development as a cyclist.
Following brief stagnation at the start of the 1970s, Sunlight’s fortunes were quickly revived when a raft of top riders joined their ranks. Led by Gerry Balshaw, more than 20 1st Category racers would go on to don the famous jersey over the next decade, not least Merseyside Divisional Champions Davy Jones and Keith McKie, and former Bantel professional, Geoff Dutton. This increase in personnel saw the club re-established itself at highest level and members would subsequently ride for national and regional teams in competitions around the world.
The eighties would prove a watershed for both British road racing and Port Sunlight Wheelers. As the UCI World Championships and Tour de France visited these shores, cycling saw a boom in popularity and the sport enjoyed increased exposure. Races were broadcast regularly on television for the first time and prize money became more lucrative. Barely a week passed without a Sunlight victory and the club was, for all intents and purposes, a full-time racing outfit. Leading the charge was Mark Bell, who would win the British National Road Race Championship at both amateur and professional level and represent his country at the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games of 1984. The club also found success during this period with Linda Flavell, who won the National Women’s Series in 1984.
British road racing had suffered a downturn in popularity by the start of the nineties, however, Sunlight continued to flourish on the road and would also build on the impressive time-trialling reputation forged two decades earlier. At the forefront of this was Andy Wilkinson, the double national junior champion and 1996 Best British All-rounder, who would go on to break numerous endurance records and become one of the greatest long-distance time-triallist Britain has ever produced. In addition to the incredible achievements of “Wilko”, the Sunlight also found success in other areas during the decade. At junior level, Chris Sanders won both the National 10 Mile and 25 Mile TT Championships in 1991, while Gordon Smith secured the National Vets Peter Fryer Series in 1990.
The new millennia has seen renewed success for the Sunlight. In 2009, the trio of Wilkinson, Roy Sumner and Terry Hughes won the National 12 Hour Championship, while the same title was secured in 2011 by Sumner, Kevin Larmer and Jill Wilkinson. The latter, wife of Andy Wilkinson, would then become Women’s National 12 Hour Champion in both 2012 and 2013. Further achievements have followed in time-trialling, road racing and mountain biking, while the club is also well-represented on the track. It is this diversity that the club holds dear to its heart.
From modest beginnings almost 70 years ago, Port Sunlight Wheelers have gone on to forge a reputation for excellence at both local and national level, while also retaining a strong bond with the local community. It continues to work with local charities and is proud the support events such as the Liverpool to Chester Charity Bike Ride. At the very heart of the club, however, remains its original mandate – that of like minded men and women bonding together in the common love of riding a bike.