Fast Digs: Emile Ulbrecht and the Los Angeles to Santa Monica Bicycle Race of 1894

When I first wrote the Fast Digs post its focus was on the track, the velodrome, whether indoor or out, but since then I have continued to find all kind of references to road races, in the greater Los Angeles region, going back to the 1800s. As time goes on, I think you will notice something of a balance in the Fast Digs Updates between the disciplines of road and track and, since it is ostensibly about the places that racing has taken place, don't be surprised to see some cx and mtb in there eventually as well. For now, though, Emile Ulbrecht and a very early road race:

Emile Ulbrecht, wearing the kit of the Los Angeles Wheelmen, in 1893 (I believe that is a flag wrapped around his waist, rather than part of the LAW kit). The photo was contributed to the Calisphere by the Los Angeles Public Library, where it is located in the Herald Examiner Collection, box #1988

The story of the 1894 race between Los Angeles and Santa Monica was run in the Los Angeles Herald, volume 42, number 85, 5 July 1894:

The great 17 mile bicycle road race to Santa Monica yesterday gave Emile Ulbrecht a good opportunity to redeem himself since leaving Chicago [where, if you read other accounts, he was quite successful -ed.] He broke a record by winning first time, covering the course in 57 minutes and 1 second. This is Ulbrecht's most remarkable performance since coming to this city, luck having been against him in all previous events in which he was entered. First place was won by John Gardiner of Duarte. D. E. Whitman of University, who won second place, was disqualified, owing to his having given inaccurate history of his riding to the handicap committee before the race. His disqualification moves each of the riders up one number higher in the distribution of prizes.

A great crowd was present to see the start from Second and Hill streets At 8 o'clock the youths whose idea of fame is confined to such events were present in great numbers. They were busily engaged in betting with each other as to the merits and demerits of the various riders and prophesying who would win. By 8:30 the fairer sex was sprinkled throughout the crowd, which thronged Hill street all the way from Second to Third. By the time the first man left the tape over 2000 people were present.

Exactly 86 riders appeared for a start in the first event. There were big wheelmen, small wheelmen, fast and slow wheelmen - dressed in gay colors of such a flimsy character that it caused more than one not used to such events to intimate that some of the riders had on little more than a smile.

All the men - and boys - seemed to be in excellent condition. There had been some kick regarding the handicaps, but that is usual in bicycle racing. Everything progressed finely from the time the limit men started until Kitchen, McAleer, Jenkins and Castleman were sent away after them. There was a noticeable absence of the old-time wheelmen, the great majority of them being new riders. Fox, McCrea, Shoemaker, James Cowan and Maxson Smith, all of the Riverside team, were missing, and there was little to fear from the men from the orange center. Castleman and other lesser swifts endeavored to sustain the reputation of the yellow ribbon team who have made so many brilliant successes on the Los Angeles track.

There were riders from all over Southern California. Pasadena, Rivera, South Pasadena, Duarte, Santa Paula, South Riverside, Pomona, Ontario, Riverside, Redlands, Alhambra, University, and other places were represented, and every one of the riders showed up well.

It was exactly 8:48 o'clock when the limit men, with 12 minutes handicap, were shoved from the tape. It was 9 o'clock when the four scratch men started out to overtake 82 riders who had started before them. Some of the handicap men were two or three miles on their journey when the last riders started. The long procession of swiftly flying wheels made a pretty spectacle as they sped down Hill street to the city by the sea, 17 miles distant. So far as the eye could reach down the long, narrow street no great change was noticed in the position of the men after they left the starting point. After the two mile post was reached there came a scattering.

When the three minute men were shoved from the tape, the chain on F. W. Robbins' wheel snapped in twain. He got another wheel and tried it over again. This cycle he could not ride, so he got another. Just as he reached Fourth street the forks of the wheel gave way and he went to earth. He went back to the tape, secured another wheel, but when he reached Fourth street the second time a pedal broke. Disgusted with road racing in particular and bicycling in general, he quietly wended his way to a cool spot, where he sat thinking of the prize goat which he expected to win, but which went to another man. His friends who waited for him at the finish went away fumming, "She longed for the fellow that never came."

Robbins is considered Santa Paula's best rider, and his ill luck was bemoaned by all.

There were no serious accidents until Pico street was reached, when F. R. Martinez fell and it was thought his collar bone was fractured. The accident was caused by a rider falling in front of him.

From Pico street and Western avenue for three miles toward the sea there was a perfect line of swift pedaling cyclists. Now and then a rider would go down, covered with dust, only to arise, swear a little at fate, and endeavor to make up lost time.

From the slaughterhouse, eight miles out, the riders had to take the side ditch, the road being in a state of repair. There was little opportunity for the men to pass each other, and they took a slow pace. Two miles below the Palms the dust was so thick at times that the riders could not see the man on the wheel in front of them.

Fay Stephenson and John Edwards did some good riding. They paced each other alternately from start to finish. When the scratch men left the tape Kitchen took the lead. Jenkins next made the pace, followed by Mr. McAleer. They changed pace positions along the entire route, but Castleman did little or no pace making. He trailed the three other riders until Jenkins' tire was flattened for want of air. Fortunately he was near Billy Juenger who changed wheels with him. Kitchen and McAleer finally fell behind, and Castleman crossed the tape line at the finish just a short distance ahead of Jenkins. Kitchen then beat McAleer in.

The story continues with a list of finishing riders, their handicaps, and finish times. I am only going to list the four "time men" who, anyway, had the fastest times:
Emile Ulbrecht, 57:01, C. Washburn, 57:42, Ed. Williams, 58:03, Harry Bundy, 58:28. Finishing up the story is a list of the prizes - I am not going to list them all, it is an extensive list. Some of the prizes were pretty standard, things like bicycles, trophy cups, and gold medals, while others, especially when considered from today's perspective, sound quite unique - things like a Colt repeating rifle, a banquet lamp, a revolver, a banjo, a carving set, a meerschaum pipe, a pocket knife and, yes as Mr. F. W. Robbins was hoping to win, a goat. If you are interested in reading the entire list of placings and prizes, here is the link.

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