Thursday, November 28, 2013

George R Broadbent - Father of Cycling

Who was George R Broadbent? 
Considered to be the father of Australian Cycling, Broadbent had a cycling career spanning from 1895 to 1903 but he didn't take up the sport competitively until he was 32 and retired at 40. George was born of English parents at Ashby near Geelong in 1863 and later moved to North Melbourne with his father George Adam Broadbent and mother Elizabeth. He went to school at nearby Errol Street.

George followed his father into cycling when the sport was in its infancy. In those early years George raced penny farthings and a little later the safety cycle with much success. He held Victorian and Australian long distance records in the late 1890s. Two records that are documented in Wikipedia include 203 miles on a penny farthing and 100 miles in 6 hours and 20 minutes on the new safety cycle.
These records would confirm that Broadbent was a rider of some endurance yet he also won the Australasian 5 mile championship in the 1893/1895 season and followed that up in the 1895/1896 season by winning the State 5 mile title.  These were track titles and one might assume that they were possibly have been conducted at the Royal Exhibition Buildings flat oval track.
He did however establish records on that track in May 1894 for all distances between 130 to 220 miles and times for between 8 and 12 hours.
This venue drew huge crowds as can be seen from the post card below.

1890 100 mile record

Americans Arthur Zimmerman (1895) and the Black Flash, Marshall "Major" Taylor (1902) both raced in Melbourne during the time of George Broadbent's career and if he didn't race against them, he would at least have seen them race at the Exhibition.

After establishing those records it would be assumed that George Broadbent would be in fine form for the very first Warrnambool Road Race that was conducted in 1895. Unfortunately not! It was won by A. Calder in 11h/44m/30s. Only seven riders completed the distance from twenty four starters. George Broadbent was third.

Hard to believe but this week I picked up a bundle of old Australian Cyclist magazines from Jae Omara of Omara Cycles/Corsair Cafe. Amongst these magazines was a tribute to George Broadbent by Stan Mullany - a contributor to the magazine for as long as I can remember.

He introduced his tribute with the following words;
After 60 years continuous association George Broadbent and his life long friend, his bicycle must part on medical advice. This grand old man of Australian cycling leaves in his wake a priceless legacy of service that richly entitles him to have his name kept evergreen in Australian cycling annals with the fitting title "Father of Australian Cycling".
Mullany continued;
My phone rings and then - hello is that you Stan? - what do you think they won't let me ride my bicycle any more.
Hope you can read the rest of this. click on the image for a larger view
Click on image for larger view

Broadbent was also a foundation Councillor of the League of Victorian Wheelmen which was established in October 1887. I remember walking into the LVW when the office was in North Melbourne, Victoria St, just around the corner from Errol St from where the Father of Australian Cycling grew up.

Initially with his love of cycling he became a member of the Eureka Bicycle Club which was formed in Hotham (later Nth Melbourne) in 1882 and became its Chairman in 1884. If this was not enough of his efforts to Cycling he was also a major motivator behind the Victorian Touring cycling boom which no doubt inspired his map publishing interests. Another role he filled was as handicapper for Melbourne Amateur Wheelers when they ran the early Australs and later as a handicapper for the LVW.
No wonder they called him the Father of Australian Cycling - he left a great legacy behind that many of our current cyclists would unfortunately have no knowledge.

George's competitive cycling career came to an end in 1903 to concentrate on his map publishing business when his interests were drawn more towards motoring. In 1898 he had purchased a steam driven vehicle and travelled much of Victoria writing articles for the Argus newspaper for both cycling and touring. Around the time of his retirement he attended a meeting that established the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. His contributions as a Founding Member rewarded him his RACV Life Membership.

George and Elizabeth Broadbent had three sons and seven daughters. Their second son Robert Arthur followed his father's passion for the bike and represented Australia at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games but that's another story for the future.

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