The Cycle Industry/Chapter 10
THE TRADE AND RACING
There is, perhaps, no industry in the country that is connected with a sport or pastime that is or was influenced so much by successes made on its products as the cycle trade.
The manufacturers recognized in the earliest days the value of the publicity gained by an important win on a bicycle of their make and bearing their name and trade mark. The value of racing successes is not now quite so high as in the past, but it still plays an important part in keeping the names of various makes of bicycles before the public eye.
The earliest races that were supported by riders of the professional or semi-professional class were unimportant road events that were contested by men engaged in the cycle industry in some capacity or other, and retained chiefly for their prowess in pushing some particular make of machine to victory. Sometimes they were the actual producers of the machine, but it was comparatively rare to find a really good racing man who combined mechanical talent with a capacity for speed and endurance.
Racing on high bicycles began to attract the attention of the public when proper cycling tracks commenced to appear in various parts of the kingdom. Previous to the construction of cinder tracks some racing had taken place on grass running tracks, three and four laps making a mile. One of the best known of the early cinder tracks was at Stamford Bridge, Fulham, London; others sprang up at Aston Lower Grounds, Birmingham; Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London; Molyneux Grounds, Wolverhampton; Belgrave, Leicester; and many other places. The National Cyclists Union was formed and took charge of amateur racing and some remarkable contests and record results were witnessed by large crowds of enthusiastic spectators.
It is safe to say that the early N.C.U. events were contested by amateurs, but one is treading on rather delicate ground when attempting to give a faithful description of later events or to define the status of an amateur. Much the same difficulty occurs in any sport, so the less said about it the better, except that the men engaged in racing did not worry half as much about the definition of an amateur as they did about the straight riding of those with whom they competed.
The real professional rider, of whom there was, perhaps, no better example than the late Dick Howell, toured the country during the summer months in parties who were under the control of a manager. The latter engaged the track, advertised the racing, and took a percentage of the gate money; it was, of course, a regular money-making public show and did not pretend to be anything different. In the winter the same managers organized indoor races on boarded tracks at such places as the defunct Aquarium, London; Bingley Hall, Birmingham; and other towns.
Indoor races were held between these professional teams of cyclists and relays of horsemen, and I believe the late Colonel Cody (Buffalo Bill) once took part in one of these contests.
We received visits from American teams of professional riders who toured the tracks of England and rode against the pick of British "pros." Some of the events were worth going to see, others, I am sorry to say, were not.
With the advent of the pneumatic tyre the popularity of racing increased to a remarkable degree. This may have been partly due to the fact that the introduction of the pneumatic tyre sychronized with the increasing popularity of the safety bicycle, or it may have been caused by the extreme competition that was in existence at the time between rival tyre companies. Previous to the pneumatic tyre the bicycle maker bought solid and cushion tyres from firms who left the advertising of their wares to occasional announcements in trade journals and depended for trade on the reputation they had gained among their customers the cycle manufacturers. Not so the pneumatic tyre manufacturer, who commenced in an astute manner to advertise every win made on machines fitted with his tyres. Thus, the competition that previously only existed among cycle makers was increased by about 100 per cent. Men were racing to advertise tyres just as much as machines.
The tyre trade element in racing penetrated to the important club road races, and when pace making was permissible teams of pace makers were sent out to assist the best men to win. The competition became so fierce, and the speed on the road so high, that the governing bodies were compelled to step in and prohibit paced road races.
All such events are now unpaced, which means that each rider has to make his own pace, i.e. he must not shelter behind another and so gain an advantage by having the air resistance cleaved to enable him to ride in a partial vacuum.
Track racing and road racing are very different, and it is not by any means certain that a successful rider on the track will be a consistent winner on the road. Track racing requires a lot of judgment as well as speed and dash. On the road there is no finessing for position in sprints for the tape, when speedy men are often left behind or shut in by astuter competitors who may be no faster in the final rush but who secured the better position by good jockeying.
Road racing requires strength, speed, stamina, and a knack in climbing hills. Provided the rider is speedy enough there is nothing to prevent him winning important events; he has not to contend with the betting side of the question, which is sometimes rather startling to a novice. There are such occurrences as being purposely upset; luckily, they are not common, and are only instanced to show that while the average healthy youth may indulge in a little road racing every week without considering such eventualities, he who aspires to track honours must be prepared for the worst whilst hoping for the best.
Present day racing comprises track meetings, practically all over the country, every Saturday. Many of these are unimportant. The aspirants to fame should keep a look out for the N.C.U. Championships which are now allotted to various centres. The clubs in London, Manchester, Birmingham, etc., hold various track meetings for races varying from one mile to fifty miles, the longer distances being sometimes paced by tandems. Scotland and Ireland also have championship meetings.
Road racing consists of important events such as the Bath Road C.C, North Road C.C, Anfield C.C, and Midland C. and A.C. fifty and hundred mile races; the North Road C.C. 24 hours race; and other classic events. The speeds in such fifty and hundred mile races as the above reach over twenty miles an hour average, and in the last North Road 24 hours race the winner rode 378¾ miles on the fairly level roads of the Eastern counties in the neighbourhood of Wisbech and King's Lynn.