Beryl Burton, OBE (12 May 1937 – 5 May 1996) was an English racing cyclist who dominated women’s cycle racing in the UK, winning more than 90 domestic championships and seven world titles, and setting numerous national records. She set a women’s record for the 12-hour time-trial which exceeded the men’s record for two years.
She was introduced to cycling through her husband, Charlie, whom she married in 1955. Two years later, she took her first national medal, a silver in the national 100-mile individual time trial championship, and before the decade was out was competing internationally.
Burton won the women’s world road race championship in 1960 and 1967 and was runner-up in 1961.
In domestic time trial competition, Burton was almost unbeatable. She won the Road Time Trials Council’s British Best All-Rounder Competition for 25 consecutive years from 1959 to 1983. In total, she won 72 national individual time trial titles; she won four at 10 miles (the championship was inaugurated in 1978), 26 at 25 miles, 24 at 50 miles and 18 at 100 miles. Her last national solo time trial titles were achieved in 1986 (at 25 and 50 miles; she was part of the fastest team, Knaresborough CC, in the 50 mile event in 1969).
She also won a further 24 national titles in road racing and on the track: twelve road race championships, and 12 pursuit titles.
In 1967, she set a new 12-hour time trial record of 277.25 miles – a mark that surpassed the men’s record of the time by 0.73 miles and was not superseded by a man until 1969. While setting the record she caught and passed Mike McNamara who was on his way to setting the men’s record at 276.52 miles and winning that year’s men’s British Best All-Rounder. She is reputed to have given him a liquorice allsort as she passed him. Apparently, McNamara ate the sweet.
Recognition of her sporting achievements came with her appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1964 and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1968. Burton also won UK cycling’s top accolade, the Bidlake Memorial Prize, a record three times, in 1959, 1960 and 1967.
Burton, who had always had a somewhat odd heart arrhythmia, died of heart failure during a social ride, when she was out delivering birthday invitations for her 59th birthday party. Her daughter also suggested that Burton’s competitive spirit and drive eventually just wore her body out.
A memorial garden was established in her home town of Morley. Morley Cycling Club also donated a trophy (previously won 20 times by Burton) to the RTTC for a Champion of Champions competition for women of all ages: the Beryl Burton trophy.
The Beryl Burton Cycle Way allows cyclists to travel the 2.8 km between Harrogate and Knaresborough without using the A59 road.