6-day bicycling racing is an important part of Canadian cycling history. During the 1920's and 1930's Canada had several cyclists that were the best in the world. 6-day bicycle racing started in England in the 1880's and quickly spread through the European continent and to North America. Up until 1898, 6-day racing was performed by a group of individual cyclists who would ride around a track for 144 hours straight, most often indoors but sometimes outdoors. The track could be as small as 125 meters and as long as 250 meters. Fighting sleep deprivation and exhaustion the individual cyclist rode round and round to the cheers of the sporting public. Certain humanitarians became concerned at this display of suffering and complained to local authorities to stop the races. The city of New York in particular banned single rider 6-day races. But not to be stopped, the 6-day races were transformed into two man teams who would ride wooden tracks.
At the turn of the century and into the 1900's several European and North American cities were holding 6-day races. In particular Madison Square Garden in New York City became the mecca for 6-day races. Between 1899 and 1961 there were seventy 6-day races held in New York City. From this famous racing arena came the backbone event of 6-day racing, the Madison. This is the event where the team of two riders take turns racing along the bottom of the track while their partner rests riding at the top of the track. Every few laps the rider comes off the top and meets his partner who hand slings him into the fray at the bottom. The action is fast and furious as the riders attack off the front hoping to gain a lap on the field. In Europe the Madison is called l'American.
In the 106 years of 6-day history Canada has held fifty-nine 6-day races in seven different cities: Montreal (37), Toronto (13), Quebec City (3), Vancouver (3), Delhi, Ontario (1), Ottawa (1) and Winnipeg (1) race. Crowds of 6,000 to 10,000 spectators would crowd into the indoor arenas and forums to watch. A sports reporter with the Toronto Globe & Mail in 1937 described the event: "The squirrelly whirl, which goes under the more common moniker of 6-day bike race, is with us next Sunday night at midnight. At that time and for twenty-four turns of the clock per day till come a week Saturday, the daring young men on wheels will be ridin', ridin', ridin' till the cows come home."
The rough-and-tumble nature of the 6-day racing was what brought crowds to the arenas of North America and Europe. During the depression people had a lot of free time on their hands and little money to spend. You could go to an arena and see a 6-day event for 25 cents.
The racing was very real and not just entertainment. Even though the races lasted for 144 hours the riders would do many things to liven up the riding and to entertain the spectators.
We hope to keep 6-Day cycling history alive by sharing stories, interviews, photos and links of the racers who rode the wooden tracks in Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver and Delhi. There were a total of fifty-nine 6-day races in Canada. The first 6-day race was held in Toronto in 1912 and the last 6-day race was held in Montreal in 1980. We hope that this exciting sport will some day return to these North American shores. In Europe there are at least fourteen 6-day races held each year.