Retro Gravel: 1909 Gravel Grinding – South Africa Style

GravelGrinding1909-2016-1These articles circa 1909 South Africa were sent our way from friend of the Gravel Cyclist crew, Big Head Todd. As a reference, the first paved road in the USA came about in 1909.

Remember – All 1909 Races were Gravel Grinders

GravelGrinding1909-2016-2“The cycling and foot marathon races arranged by the Johannesburg Athletic Club (Stadium) were decided yesterday in the teeth of a westerly dust-laden gale.”

“For the cycling event, the following riders lined up at Kilfoil’s Hotel, Boksurg at 2:28pm. T.J. Gascoyne, P.B. Quinlan, F. Murphy, A.V. Heerden, V.D. Walt, R. McMurray, A.J. Fouchre, M.V. Heerden, G.P. Welge, G. Hartley, P.J. Zeemau, C. Haarhoff, W.J. Dismore, M. Williams and H.C. Comrie.”

“The first stages of road were undergoing repairs and were far too rough for single tube racing outfits, but most of the riders had decided to run the risk of punctures and go for speed. The only rider of note who had wisely determined to take the slower “roadster” outfit was V.D. Walt, and he was rewarded accordingly.”

“In the first couple of miles, before Vogelfontein had been left in the distance, Comrie and Dismore had been put hors de combat through a collision with Williams, the former with a damaged leg and the latter with a cut tube. McMurray and Quinlan met, almost simultaneously, with punctures, and the former proceeded to the nearest station to await the assistance of a train, while the latter (Quinlan) secured a vacant seat in a taxi from which he was able to watch the progress of the race.”

“This was for a time most disappointing, two more of the strong riders – Fouchre and Hartley – coming down in a spill which put them out of the count, and the two Van Heerdens being also compelled to dismount and get new machines. Near the Angelo the leaders were in the following order: 1. Gascoyne, 2. V.D. Walt, 3. F. Murphy and 4. Welge – all riding strongly. Before the long stretch of good road was reached however, Murphy and Welge were both punctured and the race became a championship tussle between Gascoyne and the Dutchman.”

“Gascoyne Does the Work”

GravelGrinding1909-2016-3“With the terrific head wind and the clouds of dust, there was a deal of heart required by the man who must take the lead in a race of this description, and the fact that Gascoyne unhesitatingly, took the lead at a scorching pace won for him the admiration of every sportsman on the Rand. Van der Walt had the much less exacting  task of hanging on, and this he did with apparent ease. The young Dutchman had proved himself a stayer in many a Stadium test of endurance, notably the six hours’ race, and this tailing of Gascoyne was child’s play to him.”

“The order was maintained through Germiston and past the Simmer and Jack, but up the hill past the Geldenhuis he (Van der Walt) forged ahead with a sprint intended to find out whether the Lancashire lad was being killed by the wind, the dust and the heat. Gascoyne dropped in about 50 yards, but made them up again with a replying, sprint of wonderful power. Up past the Wolhuter mine the Dutchman threw out another “feeler”, but could not shake off his man, and it was not till the Marshall Street entrance to the Stadium came in sight that he was permitted to get a lead.”

“Arriving at the Stadium full tilt with a lead of about 50 yards, Van der Walt jumped on a racing machine held in readiness, threw aside his roadster, and set off round the track in a further attempt to outdistance his rival. In this attempt he had the advantage of gear and of the fact that the visitor had been doing all of the bullocking of the road, but Gascoyne proved himself a man of iron, and in three laps had again assumed the lead. The two raced together for a few laps, when Van der Walt again sprinted, but could not get away from Gascoyne. The result was that the pace became a scorcher, and the two settled down with Gascoyne in front – having quite made up his mind to give the Dutchman further opportunities for a deadly sprint. In fact the visitor commanded the final dash three laps from home with Van der Walt hanging to his wheel lap after lap.”

GravelGrinding1909-2016-4“In the sprint down the straight, however, one of the “groggy” cyclists who had got on the track for a late finish pulled the visitor for a trifle, with the result that Van der Walt succeeded  in getting level and bringing off a dead heat as one of the great finishes which cycle racing produces.”

“The result was therefore as follows: Gascoyne and Van der Walt, dead heat – 1 hr, 3 min, 22 seconds; 3. Williams (23 laps behind); 4. Haarhoff, 5. M. van Heerden. Andried van Heerden, the old Transvaal crack, also got on the Stadium track, but did not finish. It must be remembered that all except Gascoyne and Van der Walt had been in difficulties.”

And, this gem…

Calling out the Smack Talkers in South Africa, if you’re an Aussie in 1909

“Frank Murphy, champion pace follower of Australia, writes: Hearing that a champion pace follower known as “Snowy” of Pretoria, has been challenging any rider of a motor-paced race of 10, 15 or 20 miles, I am prepared to race him or anyone else in South Africa any of these distances behind pace for 25 or 50 a ride. Race to take place either at Pretoria or the Stadium, any time four weeks from signing articles.”

GravelGrinding1909-2016-5Thanks to Big Head Todd for sharing these fabulous news articles from South Africa, 1909!


  1. K-Dogg K-Dogg

    Amazing stuff Todd!
    I love the vocabulary. “Roadster Outfit” = “Monster Gravel Bike.”
    “Compelled to dismount” = crashed.
    “the man who must take the lead in a race of this description” = “dummy.”
    “the much less exacting task of hanging on” = wheel sucker.”
    ” the visitor (wheel sucker) had been doing all of the bullocking” = ” outrageous wheel sucking?”
    Such great passive language!

  2. Avatar GC Wanabee

    You were engaged in the “much less exacting task of hanging on” and were “bullocking” quite a bit on Tuesday.

    GC Wanabee

    • K-Dogg K-Dogg

      As Sean Kelly once said “In Ireland they do it all the time!”
      Guilty as charged especially when it was down to Dr. Pain and me for the long

    • JOM JOM

      In my experience with K-Dogg, he bullocks and talks a lot of bollocks.

  3. K-Dogg K-Dogg

    “There is no bullocks, only bollocks.”

  4. Avatar steve f lagg

    I once fell backwards off my bike and onto the rear tyre, and had a dirty great big burn right up the centre of my BUTTOCKS!……and a fractured coccyx

      • Avatar steve f lagg

        My darling children thought it was funny to sing “Breaka breaka tail feather” as I gingerly tried to find a comfy position for my aching butt. Had a job interview a few days after the accident……didn’t get the job, lol

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