New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Bicycle racing

Bobby Walthour, Sr.


Bobby Walthour, Sr. (Bicycle racing.  Born, Walthourville, GA, Jan. 1, 1878; died, Boston, MA, Sept. 2, 1949.)  One of the true folk heroes of American bicycle racing, Robert A. Walthour, Sr., not only set numerous world speed record in his motor-paced specialty but also won two six-day races at Madison Square Garden in the early years of the 20th century.  Walthour was such a well-known star in the American sports firmament that his elopement with Miss Blanche (Daisy) Bailey was thought to have fostered a popular song known variously as “On A Bicycle Built for Two” and “Daisy, Daisy” (although the song was written in 1892, when Walthour was 14).  In 1901, Walthour and Archie McEachern won the six-day event at Madison Square Garden and he won again in 1903 with Benny Munroe as a partner.  In 1902 he performed one of his greatest feats.  On a cement track in Cambridge, Mass., Walthour set 26 national records in a 31-mile race during the National Motorpace Championship.  In 1904, he again set records for five, 10, and 25 miles in the Motorpace Championship.  He went to France in 1904, winning 16 races in a row, then captured the motorpace world title in London.  But before his retirement in 1917, he had suffered 32 broken ribs and 46 collarbone fractures, among other injuries.

Willie Ratner


Willie Ratner (Sportswriter.  Born, Newark, NJ, June 3, 1895; died, Newark, NJ, Apr. 3, 1980.)  For longevity at a single newspaper, the career of Willie Ratner may be unique.  Ratner joined the Newark Evening News as a copy boy in 1912 and remained with the paper until it closed Aug. 31, 1972.  He became a sportswriter who covered bike racing, then a major sport in Newark and nearby Nutley, N.J., moved on to boxing, and then thoroughbred racing.  The bike racing world championships were held in Newark the year Ratner began with the News.  His career as a boxing writer began during World War I, when he covered Jack Dempsey, later a heavyweight champion who was to become a life-long friend.  For many years, Ratner wrote a column entitled “Punching the Bag.”  He covered most major fight cards at the Garden for decades.

Freddie Spencer


Freddie Spencer (Bicycle racing.  Born, Westfield, NJ, Aug. 9, 1902; died, Rahway, NJ, Feb. 9, 1992.)  During the last Golden Era of bicycle racing in America, no star was bigger than Fred Spencer, who in 1925 accomplished a feat never duplicated when he won the American Pro Sprint championship and two six-day races in the same calendar year.  Over the next decade before his retirement in 1938, Spencer burned up the wooden banked tracks in major arenas and velodromes across the northeast, the hotbed of international bike competition.  His 1925 performance included the first of his four six-day victories in Madison Square Garden, when he teamed with Bobby Walthour, Jr., to win the March event.  That October, after winning the sprint title, he and Walthour, Jr., won the Chicago six-day. Spencer repeated his Chicago win in 1926 with Franco Georgetti and then won three more Madison Square Garden grinds (Dec. 1927, with Charlie Winters; Dec. 1928 with Georgetti, and Dec. 1932 with Torchy Peden (q.v.)).  On July 26, 1928, he set a world record for the half-mile at the Newark Velodrome (52.3).  On Aug. 9, 1929, Spencer set four world records in one day at the New York Velodrome (which burned down a year later). He set new clocking standards for 10 miles (10:14.2), 15 miles (29:41), 20 miles (39:23) and 25 miles (49:28.3).  Spencer won the U.S. Pro Sprint crown for a second time in 1928 and again in 1929.  But injuries began to take their toll as he was forced out of the Garden six-day in December, 1930.

Frank L. Kramer


Frank L. Kramer (Bicycle racing. Born, Evansville, Ind., Nov. 20, 1880; died, East Orange, N.J., Oct. 8, 1958.) During the first decade of the 20th century, Frank Louis Kramer was the world’s highest-paid athlete, earning more than $25,000 per year. Nicknamed “Big Steve” by his competitors, Kramer was the national pro U.S. sprint cycling champion 18 times in 21 years. Son of Louis Kramer, a world champion gymnast, he won his first race in 1896 at the Waverly track in Newark, N.J., and was the L.A.W. amateur champion in 1898. Kramer won the pro sprint title from Major Taylor (q.v.) in 1901, eventually losing it to Fred Spencer (q.v.). In between, he held it from 1901-16, again in 1918, and regained it in 1921. Kramer won the world sprint championship when the competition was staged in Newark in 1912. On July 6, 1922, he equaled the world sprint record (15.4 seconds for 1/16th of a mile) at the Newark Velodrome and announced his retirement to become chairman of the board of control of the National Cycling Association.

Pop Kugler


Pop Kugler (Bicycle racing. Born, Somerville, NJ, June 4, 1900; died, Winter Garden, FL, Oct. 24, 1991.) Frederick William Kugler, Jr., was successfully able to tap into New Jersey’s long history of bicycle racing by founding what became a major annual event. Kugler operated a bicycle shop in his hometown and, in 1940, started the Tour of Somerville, which, with a few disruptions, has grown into an extravaganza divided into several classifications. The major men’s open competition is named for Kugler.

Marcus Hurley


Marcus Hurley (Basketball, bicycle racing.  Born, New York, NY, Dec. 22, 1883; died, New York, NY, Mar. 28, 1941.)  Marcus L. Hurley was one of the most celebrated and versatile athletes of his time.  Hurley was an outstanding basketball player in the game’s primitive years, earning what was considered all-America recognition three times (1905-07) while playing at Columbia.  In 1904, Hurley won the world amateur sprint cycling championship at London.  The same year, a chaotic Olympiad was held at St. Louis, where it became a sideshow spread out over nearly five months for the World’s Fair held there that summer.  While there were no official cycling events, Hurley won three gold medals in various exhibition events, which some considered part of the Olympics, although they are not now recognized by the I.O.C.

Alf Letourner


Alf Letourner (Bicycle racing. Born, Amiens, France, July 25, 1907; died, Paris, France, Jan. 4, 1975.) One of the most popular of the European riders to appear regularly in the six-day bicycle race competition at Madison Square Garden, Alfred Letourner was also one of the most successful. Letourner, who defied superstition by usually wearing No. 13, first rode in the Garden at age 20 on a team that finished sixth in the Mar. 1928 event, but he was subsequently to win six times in the Garden. He also accomplished the somewhat unusual feat of sweeping both the spring and fall six-days twice in the Garden, as well as recording other wins in the six-day circuit in Detroit and Chicago. His first Garden win came in Mar. 1931, when he partnered with Marcel Guimbretiere, and the pair came back to complete the sweep in December. In 1933, Letourner completed his second sweep by winning both Garden races in the same calendar year in a somewhat unorthodox fashion. He was on the winning team in the March race with Gerard Debaets and paired with Torchy Peden in December. One year after that triumph, Letourner was back in the winner’s circle in Dec. 1934, when he was reunited with Debaets. In March 1935, he notched his sixth Garden victory, this time teamed with Franco Georgetti. That put Letourner on the winning team for the fourth time in five races over the Garden boards. Letourner continued to compete and was a major rider until the onset of World War II in 1939 ended Garden six-day racing.

Reggie McNamara


Reggie McNamara (Bicycle racing. Born, Grenfell, New South Wales, Australia, 1887; died, Newark, NJ, October 1971.) Though born in Australia, Reggie McNamara became an American citizen early in his racing career in this country. McNamara was also one of the great stars in bike racing in an era when there were plenty of competitors. The years between the wars were the high noon of bicycle racing, and rugged European teams were a major feature on the U.S. circuit. McNamara set his first world record at the Newark Velodrome in 1915, and by 1920 held five world records for unpaced speed at various distances. But it was in the six-day bike events at Madison Square Garden that McNamara made his reputation. He won seven of them with six different partners between 1918 and 1932. He accomplished this despite a series of injuries that included four broken collarbones, 12 cracked ribs and a pair of skull fractures sustained in a variety of collisions and crashes. From a mileage standpoint, his best victory in the Garden was 1918, when he logged 2,447.0 miles, but his finest season was 1926, when he won the six-day grind in both March and December in the Garden, a rare feat.

Torchy Peden


Torchy Peden (Bicycle racing.  Born, Victoria, B.C., Apr. 16, 1906; died, Northbrook, IL, Jan. 26, 1980.)  A writer once said that William John Peden led the pack at a bicycle race “like a torch.”  Indeed, Peden was known throughout his career as “Torchy,” although perhaps it was for his torch-like shock of red hair.  Peden was one of the most popular of all riders in the six-day bike races at Madison Square Garden, where he debuted in 1929.  He won four of the Garden races.  In addition to the U.S. and his native Canada, Peden raced in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Poland, and Denmark during his career, which ended with his retirement in 1948.  He is officially credited with 123 race titles, unofficially with 15 more, and won 34 other six-days besides his four Garden wins.  His first Garden win came in Mar. 1932, paired with the great Reggie McNamara, and his second completed a sweep for that year in December when he partnered with Freddie Spencer.  In 1933, Peden won the December race with Alf Letourner.  In 1936, he and Bobby Thomas missed winning the December event on points with 2,499.7 miles to tie for the lead.  Peden’s final victory in the Garden was perhaps his most satisfying.  He won the May 1939 race teamed with his brother Doug.  An outstanding competitive swimmer, Peden soon became known as the “King of the Six Days” in bike racing.  A physical training instructor for the R.C.A.F. in World War II, he became a U.S. citizen in 1952.

Alfred Goullet


Alfred Goullet (Bicycle racing.  Born, Emu, Australia, Apr. 5, 1891; died, Toms River, NJ, Mar. 11, 1995.)  Alf Goullet was one of the first great stars of the six-day bike racing circuit, emerging before the First World War and becoming a dominant force for more than a decade.  Goullet won his first six-day race at Madison Square Garden in 1913 and won a record eight of them in 11 seasons through 1923.  In 1914, he not only won for the second straight year, but, with partner Alf Grenda, set an all-time mileage record of 2,759.2 around the Garden boards.  He also partnered with Grenda for his last Garden win in Mar. 1923.  His eight New York victories came with six partners.  All of his wins came in the second Madison Square Garden, located at 26th Street and Madison Avenue, but he did race in the third Garden at 49th and Eighth Avenue in 1925.  Like most of his contemporaries, Goullet also raced and did sprints at other facilities through the years.  In 1920, he set a world record for time in the 1,500 meters (1.49 4/5) at the Newark Velodrome.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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