Five Thousand Kilometres Through France

In the trail of the Young Lawrence of Arabia


TE Lawrence - The Cyclist

The young TE Lawrence, known to his family as Ned, was an avid cyclist. It was a pastime he developed with the encouragement of his father and it gave him the independence he sought. As a boy he would head off for the day, sometimes with a friend, into the countryside around his home in Oxford, visiting local churches and castles to see at the carved stone effigies of crusader knights and to take brass rubbings. He was in thrall to the crusader age.

Over the last two years of his schooldays and his first year at university (1905-8), the young Lawrence made longer and longer trips around Britain and France. In 1906 he toured Brittany from the town of Dinard, where his family had lived a decade before, and in 1907 he passed through Brittany again between riding in Normandy and the Loire Valley. In 1908 he undertook an independent trip of 2500 miles around France, pretty much encircling the whole country. See more about his cycle trips.

TE Lawrence enjoyed the mechanical side of cycling and was adept at mending bicycles (later he was to work as a mechanic in the RAF). He also loved to test his body and his endurance, stating that he could ride 180 miles in a day (an extrordinary feat on the bicycles and roads of the day). In his letters Lawrence comments quite regularly about his cycling. In my Journals of his trips, I highlight any comments made about his cycling in xxyellow text. See the xx2019 Cycle Journals.

Interestingly at the time when TE Lawrence was cycling in France, famous cycle races were in their infancy. The Paris-Brest-Paris had come into being in 1891 and the first Tour de France was staged for the first time in 1903. The 2794-mile race in 1908 set off from Paris three days before Lawrence arrived in France, and followed a roughly similar course around the country as he undertook. Unfortunately there is no record of TE Lawrence’s thoughts on the Tour de France (which was very different in those days: cyclists raced independently and were able to get support from shops and people along the way), but Lawrence was certainly interested enough in competitive cycling for him to muse on the idea of entering the Bath Road 100, a popular cycle race of the time.