Fast Digs: Los Angeles' First Bike Race?

The fact that it was treated as no big deal suggests that a bicycle race held in Los Angeles on 21 October 1880 was, perhaps, not so extraordinary as I thought it might be. The race was held during the annual Agricultural Fair, sometimes also called the Horticultural Fair. This was, in some ways a precursor to today's county fair with displays of agricultural products, competitions between people submitting crafts and foods, etc. I had assumed this race might have generated a little more interest because it is the earliest reference to a bicycle race held within the city that I have, so far, found; it is also the earliest mention of bicycles within the city. While we can be fairly certain that these were not the only bikes within the urban streets and rural roads, we can also assume that, in 1880, bicycles on city streets were still quite rare, far from the common sight that they would become within another ten to fifteen years. Why so little coverage was given to the race may have more to do with bicycling still being, largely, a rarity on the Pacific coast.

The race, for a distance of one mile (the track at Agricultural Park was one mile in distance), or one lap around the track, was the second event on the third day of the fair. Sandwiched between a unique "ladies' riding match" (horses), and another between fire companies from San Bernardino and Los Angeles, the race seems to have been as much part exhibition as series competition. However, the value of the first place prize, must have elevated it, to something more that mere sideshow, and presaged bicycling's (and racing's) growth over the next two decades. The short report in the Los Angeles Herald notes that there were three entries - Henry C. Finckler, Hugh Glassell and Glassell Patton. By winning the race Finckler claimed a new Harvard bicycle as his prize. Glassell finished second, Patton third.

first prize probably looked a lot like this 1879 Harvard Highwheeler from the
Owls Head Transportation Museum, Maine