Biography

Pennsylvania Bicycle Racer

Otto Maya was an American cyclist from Erie, Pennsylvania who during his life time witnessed the development of the bicycle as both a business and recreational means of transportation. He as well experienced the immense popularity of bicycle racing in the 1890s where spectators by the thousands would flock to the wooden cycling track to witness the speed, thrills and spills of cycle racing. Otto was born in 1876 and started racing professionally when he was eighteen years old in 1894.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the League of American Wheelmen changed into the National Cycling Association and the development of a National Circuit of Cycling Racing. From early June to early October there were weekly racing events in the major cities of the Northeast USA. Otto as a professional bicycle racer was able to make a living racing 2-3 times a week.

The races that Otto excelled in were the one or two mile handicapped races, where because of his skill and speed as a rider he was given a significant handicap, sometimes as much as 250 yards. The crowd would roar as the faster and more skilled Otto would come from behind to either win or come close to winning.

Otto raced frequently at the Vailsburg Bicycle Track in Newark, N.J. and other famous cycling tracks, from Boston to Philadelphia, Buffalo and Indianapolis Otto was a regular competitor. He raced against all the major cyclists of that era, Major Taylor, Frank Kramer, Iver Lawson, Jimmy Moran and Floyd McFarland. He also raced against and with the Canadian cycling stars of that era, Burns Pierce, Nat and Tom Butler from Nova Scotia and Archie McEachern, Harley Davidson and Alf Boake from Toronto.

At 23 years old Otto started his career as a six-day racer. There are no records available that identify Otto as riding in one of the numerous in North American individual rider 6 day races that were taking place in the 1890s ( between 1890 and 1899 there were eleven individual six-day races in the USA). But as a professional cycle racer that raced 2-3 times per week Otto was well suited to the bump and grind of the six-day bicycle race circus.

Between 1899 and 1902 Otto Maya raced in 6 six-day races, always capturing a podium placing. He won three six-day races: in Boston at the Revere Beach Cycle Track in 1901 partnered with James B. Bowler and as well in Boston at the Park Street Garden in 1902 with Floyd McFarland. He also was victorious in Philadelphia in 1902 partnered with Howard Freeman. Otto placed second in the first team six-day bicycle race in 1899 at Madison Square Garden New York, partnered with the Canadian cycling star Archie McEachern. In December 1901 at the Madison Square Garden six-day race in New York Otto was partnered with fellow Pennsylvanian Lester Wilson and they worked well together coming in second place. The last six-day race that we have information of Otto participating in was the 4th New York Madison Square Garden six-day race, partnered again with Floyd McFarland this duo came in second place. Otto was 26 years old.

In 1903 Otto joined the National Circuit for Motor-Paced Cycle Racing and was a regular fixture at the Pittsburgh Coliseum.

When Otto was finished his racing career he returned to his hometown, Erie, Pennsylvania and worked and managed his family's restaurant business.

In 2002 the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a historical marker to the career of this famous American bicycle racer. The plaque is located at 1103 State Street in the City of Erie and reads:

"A champion racer during the bicycle craze that swept the United States in the 1890s. After racing locally for several years, he competed against bicyclists from other states and nations in major contests between 1896 and 1906; foremost among these were the six-day team races at the old Madison Square Garden in New York. Maya lived here as a boy above his family's business, which he later managed on his return to Erie in 1907."

Otto Maya was deceased in 1930.

Arnold Devlin