Sunday, May 15, 2016

Get On Your Bikes and Ride!

From Dave Brigham:

As a kid in the '70s tearing around my neighborhood and through the woods, I figured the bike I rode was an invention as old as time itself. There were no mountain bikes in those days, kids, just cruisers, three-speeds, five-speeds and ten-speeds that you rode anywhere and everywhere, treating them alternately like motorcycles, horses, moving trucks and, well, bicycles.

The history of two-wheeled transport goes back centuries, but the advent of what we recognize today as a bicycle began in the 19th century. For a time in the late 1800s and early 1900s, bicycle racing captivated America the way that NASCAR does today. And the fastest dirt bicycle racing track in the country was located in good ol' Waltham, Mass., the city I've written about more than any other on this blog.

Opened in 1893, Waltham Bicycle Park was the first track in Massachusetts built specifically for bike racing (others were also used for horse racing), according to this article on HubTrotter. Numerous world records fell at the park during its heyday.

The park had a grandstand and bleachers that could hold as many as 9,000 spectators. On opening day, more than 15,000 bike racing enthusiasts crammed the park, according to the HubTrotter article. According to a Boston Globe article, on opening day (and probably other days), people sat on the roofs of nearby buildings, as well as hills adjacent to the park.

Here's an illustration from the article:

Racing was very popular at this park, as at many others, but a serious accident, in which two racers were killed, in June 1900 put a damper on the enthusiasm. Two years later, the city of Waltham purchased the park and turned it into a football field. Nowadays, the site, known as Nipper Maher Park, includes Little League fields, tennis courts and a playground.

Here's what the park looks like now:

Here's a current shot of the hospital where some spectators may have watched races:

Here's a current shot of a hill behind where the grandstand once stood. Paths lead up to a neighborhood.

I just recently learned about the history of this park, so I set out to see what, if anything, remained from the bicycle racing facility that had so captured the attention of locals more than 100 years ago. When I saw some stone pieces in the woods and on the perimeter of the park, I thought perhaps they had been part of the grandstand.

It's hard to know what sort of structure these stones were part of. Are they simply leftovers from a more recent set of bleachers or small buildings. Anybody know, or have any guesses?

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