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

Category Archives: Bicycle racing

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.

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.

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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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About Bill Shannon

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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