Ted Harrison started bike racing in 1946 in Bairnsdale where his father, Bill, and two uncles competed. Bairnsdale was a professional club and so at the age of 14 Ted was classed as a professional and competed from 1946 to 1964 across all aspects of bike racing. When he was 19 Ted moved to Melbourne where he applied to enter the Fire Brigade but failed the requirement on chest measurement! Ted lived in a hostel in Northcote, where he met Gil Wright, and joined the Footscray Cycling Club in 1951. At this time Ted took up cycling very actively and made his living from professional racing together with carpentry.
Ted receiving a hand-sling from Sid1 Track racing on the old Essendon board track was very popular and drew big crowds. Ted said: “The key skills for general bike racing are built at the track – how to hold onto a wheel, how to handle your bike and how to position yourself in a bunch”. These skills must have been well learnt as Ted teamed with John Perry and Sid Patterson as the three man team that won the 27hr Madison race in 1963. Ted said that Sid knew they had the race won and offered to set Ted up for the sprint finish, but John missed the position to hip-sling Ted who fortunately was able to launch Sid into the sprint for the line and the win.
Six day track races were another of Ted’s events. Here about 12 to 14 two man teams rode the track continuously with sprint race sessions throughout the day and evening and then a slow period during the wee small hours when one member of the team had to maintain a presence on the track while the other caught some sleep. Sometimes the spectators would stay very late and the promoters would not allow any team rest until the crowd had gone, so team supporters would “encourage” the stayers to leave! Ted rode five of these, two with Terry Davis and one with Clive Middleton. But six day races couldn’t have been all hard work as Ted met his wife after a six day race!
On the road Ted regularly rode off scratch and had the experience of riding with Russell Mockridge several times. One memorable ride was the 1957 Midlands tour (140 miles) with the scratch bunch of Russell, Ted, George Goodwin and Jim Taylor all together at the Pentland Hills but then losing George before Daylesford and Jim Taylor by Greendale. Russell broke away from Ted up the hill just before Blackwood but Ted got back onto Russell in Blackwood; however soon Russell was away again and rode through the field to win the day. Ted still thinks the Midlands tour race is an event he regrets not winning.
Ted rode Warrnambool to Melbourne several times and in 1955 he was among the six remaining from the original scratch bunch of 17 with 20 miles to go when his handlebar snapped at the headstem. He was about to throw it away when he realised that the brakes were attached so he held onto the broken section, rode one-handed and stayed with the bunch until they hit roadworks and shale at Footscray, where there was an attack and with one handlebar it was the end for Ted. However a big career win was winning the Victorian Championship in 1961 by winning the150 mile race held as part of the Melbourne to Warrnambool classic.
It is not well-known that in 1958 Russell Mockridge put an Australian team together to compete in Europe in 1959 with Ted as one of the team selections. The team had been accepted into the Giro and Russell was in the process of gaining an entry into the Tour de France when he was killed in the tragic accident during the 1958 Tour of Gippsland.
Tough day on the road! And then there were the Sun Tours. Ted rode 11 Sun Tours and in 1955 he was equal leader with Peter Panton and Alan Geddes at the start of the tenth and last day. A mile from the start Ted punctured and lost time. Not far ahead Peter Panton also punctured and both were unable to get back into the lead which was won by Alan. The 1956 race included unsealed roads up Mt Hotham and a bad fall close to the stage finish in slush and snow see photo2 of “Mud, sweat and blood”.
The hardest race for Ted was the first multistage race from Sydney to Melbourne in 1954. There was no rider support car or crew; Ted carried tyres, spares, and money to buy food along the way. The roads were mostly dirt and the tyres singles. Time lost during a multistage day was held over to the next stage on the day, so if you were one minute down after the first stage you actually started the second stage of the race one minute behind the leaders. All started the next day together. Ted won the stage into Jerilderie and finished 10th overall.
While Ted clearly enjoyed great success in professional cycling he has some regrets that the professional tag in the 1950’s eliminated him from eligibility to try out for the Olympic team in 1956. How times have changed!
Ted finished professional cycling in 1964 due to work commitments (he passed the Fire Brigade entry when he was 26) but after retiring he competed in the World Police and Fireman Games winning gold and silver medals in triathlons. Also he was an active part of the management team for various Sun Tour teams over a 10-12 year period.
This is a very small part of the many interesting stories and memories Ted has about his life in cycling. When asked what advice would he give riders today Ted said: “Be prepared to work hard” – clearly advice based on many hard miles on the bike.