Racing in the Delaware Valley, Looping the Past into the Present

By Jessie Bird

“Racing: A Need for Speed”- an emotion that we’ve all felt and the title of a recent exhibit at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA. This exhibit followed the evolution of this need for speed from footraces to horse races to bicycle racing to motor racing, with a special insight into local Bucks County and Delaware Valley history. Artifacts, photographs, stories, and some interactive displays steered the visitor through the exhibit to see how each iteration of racing has built on previous generations. Have you ever raced the Philly Phlyer road race that happens every spring and thought about the shape and history of the course? Probably not when you’re facing heavy winds and just trying to hold on to someone’s wheel, but in this exhibit, you could see where this race borrows part of its course from 1920’s auto-racing in the same area. As I walked through this exhibit with Davey Dawson, a pro-cyclist for Delaware Valley’s own Team Skyline (a different and helpful perspective to add to my experience), we started to see how the races and rides that we know and love today evolved from a rich racing history in the area.

Belmontloop

It turns out that the Belmont Plateau is not only the urban mountain biker’s best friend but used to be known for its horse races. One placard in the exhibit quotes a local newspaper from 1881 about the excitement surrounding a particular horse at the Thursday night Belmont race. Mountain bikers resumed the Thursday night racing tradition with their new mechanical steeds in 1989 and continue to shred into the present day. Photos of the Tour of Somerville (New Jersey) from 1964 prompted Davey to share his experience coming in top 10 in that same race this year. The Tour of Somerville started in 1940 and is still considered one of the most prestigious races in the area today.

Tour Of Somerville race trophy, Center.

Tour Of Somerville race trophy, Center.

However, some artifacts of the exhibit remain in the past, for better or worse. The text panel introducing the “Bicycle Racing” section laments the quick rise and long decline of the American cycling craze. In the now industrial wasteland of South Philadelphia near I95, there existed the thriving Point Breeze Park Velodrome that disappeared along with the waning revenues generated by cycling.

point breeze velodrome

point breeze velodrome

However, I felt less disappointed to see other artifacts stay in the past. No matter how beautiful the welding is on an 1868 Velocipede, I’m glad that the industry has developed lighter alloys and designs that bring us beyond the “boneshakers” of yore.

Boneshaker

Boneshaker

For a fun mixing of past and present, the museum mounted a mini-high wheel in a gold sprint type set-up and challenges visitors to test their speed. I asked Davey to be the guinea pig and comedy ensued as his pro-cyclist legs almost torqued the museum display out of its platform.

davey high wheel

Overall the exhibit flows well and showcases the underlying human desire for speed and entertainment that gives runners, equestrians, cyclists, and drivers something in common. Each sport has built off of the other as technology advances and human limits push further and further. The exhibit ended with a bang on September 9th, the same day as the Bucks County Classic. If you’re in the area I highly recommend checking out the cycling events and making some time for the incredible Mercer Museum and all of its exhibits.

A board game.

A board game.

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Artist Spotlight: Julián Dorado

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We just got an email from an artist in Buenos Aires, Argentina with some fresh imagery we thought we’d share with you. Julián Dorado is his name and he’s really into the old-school road racing thing. Specifically the Gino Bartali vs. Fausto Coppi rivalry. Enjoy the art and a couple of questions and answers! Pretty cool how this…

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…becomes this!

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So I ask Julián…
How do you get from the photos to the art? Are they scanned in? Traced? Freehand?
The process begins by browsing the web. I start looking for pictures of a specific cyclist or brand that I want to represent. Once I find an image that’s interesting, I freehand the first sketch (which is almost final). After I have the freehand version of the illustration I scan it and adjust/change some minor details. Painting occurs in Adobe Photoshop, I am particularly interested in turning B&W pictures into colorful artwork!
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Do you have a particular era of cycling you are interested in?
Yes of course! I am mad about the Gino Bartali vs. Fausto Coppi era, it’s great. In Argentina, we have very strong Italian roots so we can relate to the passion and rivalry this two had.
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What inspires you about these old-time cyclists?
All of it, I love the technology of the bikes, the components they had (shifting systems, wooden rims) and of course the challenges they had to endure to get to the finish line. Professional Cycling has always been extremely rough, but back then they were almost superheroes.
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What bike do you ride daily?  What kind of riding do you do?
Actually, I own like 10 different vintage bikes, not all rideable but still, I like to ride some of them from time to time. For daily bases and to get around town I use a Brompton HL6, it’s incredible how useful and agile that bike is. I ride Mostly around the city, I use the bike as my main transportation method.
How’s the cycling scene in Buenos Aires?
Cycling here is getting crowded and the city it’s growing in terms of bike lanes. We have a great weather and a extremely flat land, so the city is perfect for a ride. People are starting to realize that they can use bikes as their main transportation media, which is great. But on the other hand, we are still lacking the infrastructure to make it friendly for riders that come from the suburbs.
julian_dorado

Travel much? Been anywhere interesting?

I did a trip to Europe in 2016 and biked around some capitals such as London, Paris, and Brussels. It was an amazing experience, the trip combined work and pleasure so in my free time I unfolded my Brompton and rode all day long. Europe is great for biking, on the first couple of miles you understand that the state takes city biking pretty serious. Everything is prepared and ready to make the ride smooth and comfortable. My next dream trip will be connecting Paris and London by bike, I know they do this on Bromptons every now and then.

bicycle-times

OK! Thanks for sharing! Check out Julián’s Instagram for more: https://www.instagram.com/goldenbikes/
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