1946: A First-of-a-Kind Bicycle Race for Postwar America is Held in Chicago

April 28, 1946

The start of the first six-day bicycle race to be held in the United States following the end of World War II took place inside the Chicago Coliseum. Those six-day races had become hugely popular nationwide in the years leading up to the war. A six-day race involved having teams of bicyclists compete against each other by pedaling and zigzagging around an indoor track during a continuous 144-hour period. Such a race was ultimately won by the team earning the most points, or laps. 

The Chicago event — the first of its kind in the Windy City since the early days of the war in 1942 — was widely viewed as the long-overdue resumption of a missed sports competition. The Chicago Tribune noted a few days before the event began, “There’s a robust stirring among the six-day bike race folks who were put out of business early in the war because their peculiar trade relied heavily on rubber and lumber.” The Sunday night start of the race was attended by approximately 5,000 people. The next day’s edition of the West Virginia-based Charleston Gazette recounted both the excitement of the event and how a number of its participants were out of practice. 

“Six-day bicycle racing, a wartime casualty, returned to the United States last night with 12 teams including the ageless William (Torchy) Peden and most of the world’s greatest riders competing on the Coliseum saucer,” reported the Charleston Gazette. “Spills were numerous in the early hours of the race as the riders, who had no opportunity to compete indoors since 1942, apparently had lost [some] of the finesse necessary for taking the turns at high speed during jams and sprints.” At the end of the six days, the team of Tino Rebli and Edwin Pesek were declared the winners of the race. (The above 1937 photo features, from left to right, “Torchy” Peden and his brother Doug.)

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Additional information on the history of cycling in Chicago is available at https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-vintage-bicycles-bikes-photos-20140423-photogallery.html and http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/136.html

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