Motorcycle: Sports Two Wheels - Early Racers
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 17:35:57 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
When motorcycle racing began, at the end of the last century, riders had to contend not only with their rivals but with the fragility of their crude bikes and the often appalling condition of the roads. Many early racing machines were tricycles, some with engines as large as two litres. Riders competed in gruelling inter-city marathons on temperamental bikes with no suspension, typically wearing clothing no more protective than a woolly jumper, plus-fours, stout shoes and a peaked cap.
Continental Europe was the birthplace not just of the motorcycle but also of bike racing, with the first major event being held between Paris and Rouen in July 1894. The next year saw pioneering races in both Italy and America. Other, even longer, events around the turn of the century included Paris-Vienna and Paris-Madrid. In the early 1900s short-circuit races became popular, often held on banked cycle tracks such as those at Lille and Paris's Pare des Princes in France, and at Plymouth and Crystal Palace in Britain.
The first big international race took place in France in 1904. The Coupe International was a 170-mile (273-kilometre) event in which a maximum of three bikes from each country was allowed. French rider Demester won on a Griffon, at an average speed of45.1mph (72.5kph), but the race was declared void due to the dubious legality of the winning bikes, and after it became clear that tyres had been sabotaged by nails sprinkled by spectators.
The year 1907 was notable for two momentous events in Britain, one of which was the first-ever Tourist Trophy meeting in the Isle of Man. The other was the opening of Brooklands, the world's first artificially constructed race circuit. Surfaced with concrete and 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometres) in length, the egg-shaped Surrey track included two high and wide banked turns, remains of which are still visible today. Brooklands' layout allowed high speeds and attracted bike racers, record-breakers and testers until its closure at the start of the Second World War.
Banked tracks of a different kind became popular in America, where big V-twins from Indian, Thor and Flying Merkel thundered round narrow wooden circuits with sides as steep as 60 degrees. These were thrilling and highly dangerous events, at which professional racers with names like "Fearless" Baike and "Dare Devil" Derkum raced head-to-head, reaching speeds of 100 mph (160kph), in front of crowds of 10,000 people. Board-racing's decline can be traced almost exactly to the day when two riders and six spectators were killed in a crash at Newark, New Jersey in 1912.
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