Tag Archives: history of cycling in Massachusetts

Over 100 Years Ago, Bicycling Ruled Boston & Bobby Walthour Sr. Led The Way

Bobby Walthour Sr. was the king of cycling or better known as “motor pacing” in the early 1900’s.  He was the “Michael Jordan” of this dangerous sport and competed in races all over the world including Boston. He took home over $60,000 (millions in today’s dollars) in winnings.

The following is an excerpt from the book, “Life In The Slipstream: The Legend Of Bobby Walthour Sr.” 

Walthour’s first race north of the Mason-Dixon line for the 1903 cycling season was at the newly refurbished Charles River track, in Boston. The old three-lap-to-the-mile cement track had been ripped out and replaced with a modern wooden five-lap-to-the-mile track. The surface was twenty-five feet wide, with turns banked at thirty-eight degrees. The open-air grandstand at the start-finish line could seat 8,000 spectators, and the bleachers that wrapped around the remainder of the track could sit at least 6,000 more.

Memorial Day, May 30, was a beautiful spring day and more than 15,000 people, including Blanche Walthour and the flaxen-haired Walthour children, Viva, Nona, and eight-month-old Bobby Jr., crammed every available inch of space to see the first race at the updated facility. Four of the best motor-paced riders in the country, Walthour, Elkes, Will Stinson, and Jimmy Moran, were to race behind the fastest motorcycles available. The technology of gasoline engines was improving by the month, and motorcycle speeds spiraled up at a dizzy rate. The Charles River track had been purposefully designed to withstand record speeds. In practice a few days before the race, both Walthour and Elkes had clocked a mile behind motorcycle pace in 1 min 13 sec at Charles River—almost fifty miles per hour.[i]

The featured Memorial Day event was a twenty mile race. Seconds after the starting gun, the four riders caught up to their pacing machines. The roar of the four motorcycle engines, combined with the screaming 15,000 spectators, was deafening. At one point the pace was too hot for Walthour and he lost his machine. Elkes yelled at his motor-man, Franz Hoffman, for more speed. By mile fifteen, he had a three-lap lead over Walthour, in second place. At mile sixteen, Elkes again called for Hoffman to pick up speed. Hoffman turned around to tell him they were going fast enough. Suddenly, however, Elkes’s bicycle chain snapped.

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