Category Archives: History

The Death of Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson is a British cycling legend. He was the first Brit to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, first to win the World Championship rode race, and won several Spring Classics and Vuelta a España stages. He died in 1967 on the 13th stage of the Tour de France, while climbing the Mont Ventoux. A potent combination of amphetamines and alcohol in his system allowed him to literally ride himself to death.

In 2010, BBC produced an hour long documentary about Simpson called Death on the Mountain. It not only looks at the fateful 1967 tour, but Simpson’s escape from poverty through cycling, his rise to fame, and the circumstances that lead to his unfortunate death. The program is filled with interviews with Simpson’s teammates and competitors and excellent footage of professional races from that era.

Graeme Obree’s Landspeed Record

Graeme Obree likely needs no introduction among cyclists who’ve been involved in the sport for any length of time. The Scotsman is famous for his world hour records and the unorthodox “superman” position he used on his custom built track bike, Old Faithful. Nearly two decades after beating the UCI hour record, Obree is chasing a new world record, the human powered vehicle land speed record. Given that the only rule for the HPV record is that the vehicle must not have an engine, Obree is free to play to his creative strengths and build any wild bike he can dream up.

Humans Invent–a British website focused on inventions, design, and innovation–produced a series of video interviews with Obree as he built his bike and prepares for the speed record. They’re well done and provide terrific insight into Obree’s unique way of thinking about bikes, design, passion, and more.

Return of the Flying Scotsman: inside the mind of Graeme Obree from Humans Invent on Vimeo.

Graeme Obree: Hand-building the fastest bicycle in the world from Humans Invent on Vimeo.

The Mysterious Nelson Vails Documentary

Nelson Vails was the first African American cyclist to medal in the Olympics, making history when he won the Silver in the 1984 track sprint. Before his professional cycling career, he made his living as a bike messenger in New York, which earned him a role in the famed Kevin Bacon messenger movie Quicksilver. In short, he’s an awesome figure in cycling history. He’s also one of the featured athletes in a forthcoming documentary on African American cyclists called RIDE: In Living Color. Click here to read the recent interview with RIDE’s director Yolanda Davis-Overstreet.

A few weeks ago, a teaser for a Nelson Vails documentary was posted on youtube by user stephgauger1. It’s made the rounds on cycling blogs, but nobody seems to know who’s behind its production or anything about the film beyond the stated “2013″ release date. In this day and age, a movie trailer without any accompanying information pretty much constitutes a mystery. But, a little Internet sleuthing reveals that stephgauger1 is Stephane Gauger. He is one of the two filmmakers involved in Cruzin’, about a ride former professional cyclist Tony Cruz did down the length of Vietnam.

I contacted Cruzin’s production company, One World Media Group for a little information on the Nelson Vails film. Cruizin‘s director Scott Nguyen responded. He said: “As of right now we’re still in the development phase for the documentary film. It basically outlines Nelson Vails life story, his trials and tribulations, etc. We are set to shoot the film in NYC this December for an April, 2013 release.”

Chicago’s Original Freak-Bike Club; Cooler Than You

Though far from mainstream, freak-bike gangs have become a fairly ubiquitous part of American bike culture. Black Label Bike Club, C.H.U.N.K. 666, Dead Baby, most major cities seem to have their own version of tall-bike riding, vest wearing, bike clubs. But long before crusty punks were bike jousting under bridges, the clean-cut Chicago chapter of the National Bicycle Dealer’s Association was building amazing freak bikes in their bike repair shop.

Life Magazine published photos of the artsy creations in a December 1948 issue. From the magazine:

To Webster a bicycle is ‘a light vehicle having two wheels, one behind the other.’ Such a definition theoretically describes the contraptions [seen in the article], but fails to do justice to the imagination of the Chicago chapter of the National Bicycle Dealers’ Association.

By artfully applying welders’ torches to metal tubing, the chapter’s members transform ordinary, utilitarian bicycles into traveling monstrosities. By far the most outlandish ideas have come from the Steinlauf family, who produced from their bicycle repair shop most of the oddities [shown in the article]. They are hazardous; generally at least one member of the clan is to be found in the hospital.

Here are a few more of the photos from Life. Click to see the full gallery on Time Magazine’s Life archive.

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Yolanda Davis-Overstreet: Sharing the Story of African American Cyclists

Yolanda Davis-Overstreet is the Director of the upcoming documentary RIDE: In Living Color. The film looks at African American cyclists through history from Major Taylor’s amazing achievements in sport to people using bikes to change their lives in present day. Most of the filming is complete and the RIDE team is currently raising money through an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund post-production work. I spoke to Yolanda about the film and its production, her background in cycling, media coverage of African American cyclists, barriers to entry in cycling for people of color, and more.

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