Posts Tagged ‘racing’

Elsa Von Blumen & Detroit’s first indoor bicycle track

Friday, January 26th, 2018

Some might think the new Lexus Velodrome is Detroit’s first — or even the first one indoors. It’s not. The Dorais Velodrome isn’t either.

In fact it’s challenging to know how many bicycle tracks Detroit has had since many were built just for a specific event.

One of those — and perhaps the first  — was built inside the former Music Hall for an endurance event in 1882.  Ms. Elsa Von Blumen (a pseudonym for Caroline Kiner) had come to Detroit in an attempt to ride 1,000 miles in six days, something she’d accomplished in Pittsburgh during the prior December.

Von  Blumen was born in Pensacola, Florida (or Kansas?), and not unlike Susan B. Anthony, moved with her family to Rochester, NY .

At age 19 she became a pedestrian racer, which was a popular sport at that time. There were plenty of endurance walking races, including six-day races in places like Madison Square Gardens and even Detroit. In 1881 she rode her first bicycle race against a horse: one mile for her, one and a half for the beast. She won 3 of 4 heats.

Many considered her the world’s top woman bicyclist of the time. Sue Macy, author of the book “Wheels of Change” says she was “one of the first competitive female athletes in the United States” — a role model for girls and young women at the start of the suffrage movement.

She told Bicycling World in 1881, “I feel I am not only offering the most novel and fascinating entertainment now before the people, but am demonstrating the great need of American young ladies, especially, of physical culture and bodily exercise. Success in life depends as much upon a vigorous and healthy body as upon a clear and active mind.”

Her Detroit Endurance Event

Her visit to Detroit didn’t start out well. She contracted a mild form of smallpox (called varioloid) shortly after arriving and was confined to the “pest house.” The case was very light and she soon recovered according to city’s Board of Health report.

To promote her race, images of her were posted at store shops around town. She offered a special invitation to other women.

Her plan was to ride for 91 hours at 11 miles an hour on a track that was 15 laps to a mile. The track was surveyed by the Assistant City Surveyor for accuracy. Chairs were arranged inside the track for spectators. There was a band to play music whenever she rode.

The Free Press downplayed her chances simply based on her appearance, “115 pounds, apparently not possessed of any of the physical characteristics essential to the successful accomplishment.”

She began her Detroit ride on Monday, April 10th, 1882 at 1 AM wearing a steel-gray suit trimmed with bullion fringe. She bowed to the crowd, got on her silver highwheeler bike, and the band started to play. She rode 35 miles in 3 hours before stopping for a two-hour sleep break. At the end of the first day, she’d ridden 140.

She mostly lived out of a Music Hall dressing room, ate three regular meals along with beef tea with crackers and some sips of port wine.

On Tuesday, she rode nearly 60 miles in the morning. Mr. Snow from the Detroit Bicycle Club rode with her for nine miles and crashed “in fine style” per the Free Press. The event manager also offered any local bicyclist $100 if they could match her miles for the final four days. She rode another 100 miles before the day was over.

Wednesday saw a slower pace at just over 10 MPH. Local ride “Robinson” was on the track riding behind her and hoping to win the $100 challenge. She finished the day with just over 449 miles.

Von Blumen continued on Thursday with another 70 miles by 3pm. The Free Press reported her looking “pan and wan, but as determined as ever.” She confidently stated that she would finish, but her nurse did mention her feet were getting cold. They had resorted to using a battery (!) to restore the blood circulation. She ended the day with 583 miles.

Friday’s low moment occurred when a spectator stepped on the track and caused her to crash over the bars.  She was thrown up against the steam heaters, hurting her head, and bruising her right leg from hip to ankle. She was carried to her dressing room and everyone thought she was quitting. Not so. She was back on her bike in 30 minutes, dizzy, weak and riding slow. While she ended the day with 707 miles, Robinson was now 7.3 miles ahead of her.

She started riding on Saturday still sore from the previous day’s crash yet got in 46 miles by noon. Her pace quickened. She had 800 miles by her dinner break. Many Detroiters began filling the Hall to watch, but especially women.

At 11:58 PM she got in 850 miles and the crowd burst into enthusiastic applause. As she stopped, so did the orchestra It was an impressive endurance feat, but especially given her illness before the event began.

Robinson did out ride Von Blumen over the four days by just thirteen miles, earning himself the $100 prize.

Financial Troubles

Although the event drew a fair number of paying spectators, it still lost $400. Oddly enough, the event manager died just after the event as well.

To help pay off her debt, Detroit citizens arranged a benefit race at Recreation Park. Von Blumen would race in a 5-mile time trial event and two 5-mile races against some horses. The Detroit Bicycle Club would also hold races for its members. There was a 25 cents admission.

But before the event took place, her doctor during the 1,000 mile attempt claimed he was owed $121 dollars and the police seized her bicycle.

Fortunately a sympathetic officer let her ride her bicycle and she beat both of the horses before a good number of onlookers.

Another benefit was held a week later where Von Blumen rode a 7.5 miles race against three horse relay team doing 15. She won by a mile, literally.

It appears she left Detroit via Grand Rapids during the couple weeks that followed. She continued bicycle racing until the highwheelers went out of style.

It doesn’t appear she came back to Detroit, but she certainly left her mark. There’s little doubt her event inspired many Detroit women and girls to take up bicycling, but especially after the safety bicycle became popular in the 1890s.

Further Reading: An interesting interview with Elsa Von Blumen about a “very funny incident.” It was published on the front page of the Detroit Free Press on April 28, 1882.

Detroit Criterium in Downtown is tomorrow!

Friday, July 8th, 2011

From bagels to bike racing, Detroit is getting a Do It Yourself reputation — at least in the media.

The Detroit News is reporting on tomorrow’s bike race in Downtown Detroit.

Downtown Motor City hosts its first bicycle race in more than 20 years Saturday with Criterium Detroit City, which is expected to draw at least 1,300 and is the latest example of a young Detroiter fusing D.I.Y. energy with corporate backing.

Criterium is the brainchild of 28-year-old Erika Fulk, who was tired of defending Detroit to non-Detroiters.

“I did it mostly out of spite,” Fulk said. “This is my city ? come and see it. You’ll see how amazing it really is.”

More details about the race — whether you’re participating or spectating — are on their Criterium Detroit web site.

Criterium Detroit City set for July 9th

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Plans are well underway for another USA Cycling race in Detroit this summer called… Criterium Detroit City.

Imagine Tiger Plaza at Comerica Park decked out with banners and flags, both sides of the street filled with thousands of screaming spectators ringing their race bells and cheering on their favorite cyclists as they battle it out lap after lap.

Our primary goals for the race are to promote cycling as an excellent activity for living a healthy lifestyle, recreation, exercise, and transportation and to promote the city of Detroit as vibrant, fun, entertaining and livable, to both city dwellers and especially those new to the city.

Erika Fulk is one of the race promoters. Fulk was very involved in event planning for the 2010 Tour de Troit, so we’re quite confident this will be another great cycling event in Detroit.

It looks like a great course, too.

Of course, we’d love to see this become an opportunity for Detroit’s youth to get a taste for competitive cycling — or just cycling in general.

Criterium Detroit City is also on Facebook.

The other USA Cycling race in the city of Detroit is the Mad Anthony cyclocross race at Fort Wayne.

Detroit bike racing: a hit and a miss

Friday, October 15th, 2010

The Hit — Mad Anthony Cyclocross

October 23rd is the second annual Mad Anthony Cyclcross race at historic Fort Wayne on the Detroit River.

The course features the usual cyclocross mix of grass, dirt and pavement,BUT there are also “150-year old cobblestones as well as the famous ‘TUNNEL OF TORTURE’, a 25 meter tunnel thru the walls of the old fort.” Sounds painful.

Last year’s race was super successful as this video shows.

The Miss — Thunderdrome

This was a great idea — bring some racing back to the city of Detroit’s famous Dorais velodrome. The promoters and Mower Gang have put in some serious effort to repair the old concrete track.

Unfortunately they didn’t put that same effort into getting approval from the city’s Recreation Department. The event is a “no go” according to the Recreation Department.

We thought it was odd to read about this event in the Detroit News when the promoters hadn’t yet spoken with the city about having it — and the event was less than three weeks away. Also, their claims of not being able to “reach the Detroit parks department” rang hollow. Detroit’s mayor, directors, and city staff had never been more available during the previous couple weeks with the Detroit Strategic Framework public meetings.

We tried helping out by emailing our Recreation Department contact information to the promoters. We also sent them some leads on event insurance since they didn’t have any.

As it turned out, Alicia Minter, Director of the Recreation Department had read the same Detroit News article and contacted the promoters to “assist them on event requirements.”

Yesterday, we sent another email to the promoter to make sure they’d gotten everything worked out with the city. Their response: “Yes, we met the city’s event insurance policies and we are all set.”

Not true.

According to the Recreation Department, “They have not met the requirements.” And the deadline for those were yesterday.

Minter responded, “It’s a no go. Did not receive any information.”

UPDATE, 10/15/2010 at 12:18pm: We just got an email from the Recreation Department saying that the event is now a go.

It’s really a shame the event promoters didn’t plan this properly from the beginning, work with the city, and have a successful event like Mad Anthony. They tried building and hyping an event before building a good foundation — ironically one of the problems with the velodrome, too.

Someone mentioned that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission, but this isn’t about being right or wrong. It’s really about liability, which is pretty significant for motorized competitive racing that charges fees and serves beer.

In a city that is self-insured, the money to defend lawsuits and pay settlements comes from the same fund that pays for police and fire. This city — actually any city — is in no position to increase their risk.

People don’t sue for forgiveness.

UPDATE, 10/15/2010 at 12:18pm: We just got an email from the Recreation Department saying that the event is now a go.