In this era, when automotive races were conducted at 2-6 mph, Charles Murphy claimed there was no limit to how fast you could travel on a bicycle, provided something just ahead of you was moving at the same speed. Basically put, a cyclists’ speed on the bicycle was determined by the gear, surface, and a pacesetter, but not limited. Charles Murphy was an amateur cyclist and his bold claim in 1887 was somewhat substantiated when he pedaled a bike in a 64″ gear almost 46 miles per hour – on a stationary trainer. He reasoned that if the air was still; sheltered by a moving vehicle, reaching that same speed in motion would be just as easy as it was when stationary. He became the laughingstock of the world, but continued riding and became an accomplished competitive cyclist. In 1895 he held seven world records; seventeen American records; and twenty-nine state records. Finally in 1899 he had his chance to prove his claims behind a specially crafted shelter on a Long Island Railroad passenger train and some covered railroad ties. The goal was to be the first to clock 1 mile in under 60 seconds. Cars hadn’t yet attained this mile-a-minute speed. Airplanes hadn’t yet left the ground. A frist attempt proved even the locomotive could not reach the needed speed and Charles rolled comfortably covering 1 mile in 1:04.8. A new machine and a new attempt finally netted the result: 57.8 seconds elapsed to cover a measured mile. It would be three years later, when another daredevil cyclist climbed in a automobile, one of Henry Ford’s early machines and was able to reach a similar speed over the same distance. Berna Eli “Barney” Oldfield and Charles “Mile-a-minute” Murphy became two famous cases of thrill seekers accomplishing the impossible and claiming their moments in history. It would be about 40 years before anyone was able to eclipse Murphy’s record bicycling speed, while the automobile raced faster and faster with each passing year. The torch had passed.
As our rising gas costs and environmental concern build interest in alternative means of transportation, we rekindle the rivalry between car and bike; encouraged that everyone will rediscover the joy, efficiency and responsibility in two wheeled transportation and the original speed demon and thrill seeker machine.