Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Bob Spears Articles

Bob Spears memories of the 1913 Sydney and Melbourne sixes
From a series of articles that Bob Spears wrote for the Adelaide News during the 1920s. 

How Bob Spears Won Big Six-Day Race With Don Kirkham
How Don Kirkham, one of the greatest long distance cyclists Australia has known, helped him to win his first big six-day bike race in Melbourne, is told by Bob Spears, former world's champion track rider ,in the second of his stories written exclusively for "The News."He says that this great win only made him more eager to go overseas in search of fame and fortune.

A visit to the United States was planned for 1913. I had bowed to the wishes of my mother the previous year not to accept the invitation of John M. Chapman, the American promoter, who had offered me a contract and two return tickets. And now I set out with the determination to earn enough to provide my passage and a few pounds to keep me going. 

In 1912 J. D. Williams, the American picture magnate, promoted six-day races in Sydney and Melbourne, which were won by All Goullet (now promoting in U.S.A.) and Paddy Hehir (who is associated with Fred Keefe another international, in the bicycle-building business at Footscray). 
The bike shop did move but was was actually in Commercial Rd, Prahran.
Goullet and Hehir won the first traditional 2 man team six day bike races in Australia - prior to their wins, sixes in Australia and overseas were run as one person "teams" and the rider that rode the longest distance was the winner.  Paddy seems to have become a forgotten Australian six day star with six wins to his credit, two in Australia and four in the USA. (author note)

More on Paddy Hehir -

The success of these races had induced a promoter in Sydney and another in Melbourne to stage similar events. I had improved a lot as a sprinter, but as I was an unknown quantity in six-day races, most of the aspirants for the "sixer" shied off me when my name was mentioned as a likely partner. I was depressed because I had visions of being teamed up with some mediocre rider, but eventually was overjoyed when the late Don Kirkham came to the rescue."I have been impressed with your riding on the track," said Don. "I do not know whether you have sufficient staying power to last out a week's hard riding on account of your youth, but I know that you have courage and ability and so I am prepared to take the risk."

The Sydney Sports Ground - the scene of Bob Spears first Six Day with Don Kirkham in 1913.
They finished second to Reggie McNamara and Frank Corry.
I shall never forget that great and gruelling experience. In many respects it was a nightmare to a newcomer, but Don Kirkham was an inspiration from start to finish. His words of encouragement acted like magic, for my limbs were very tired. The going was terrific-wind, rain, and then heat-but I was determined not to quit. Suddenly Don would appear on the track to relieve me. saying, "Go on Bob, go and have a good rest. I will keep the field busy for a while."Believe me, the big crowds would be delighted when they saw me changing over from Kirkham, whom they cheered because they realised his great work in nursing me over a trying period and allowing me to conserve my energy. I won the 500th. 1,000th. 1,500th, and 2,000th mile sprints, so I had a great following for the final sprint. Don't think that I am boasting, but, though Reggie McNamara was a great pal of mine, and I was only a kid, as far as cycling was concerned, I believe that if I had had put more heart into the final spurt. I would have won it from "Mac." 
Reg McNamara did later partner Bob Spears in the USA where they won the 1916 Chicago 6 Day together 
Don Kirkham was a happy old warrior, and he was delighted at finishing second with the assistance of a youngster like me. After the race I promised Don that I would win the Melbourne six-day race for him and thus atone for what I considered was my failure at Sydney. "You did wonderfully well." he replied. "You must remember that it is not good for any young rider to strike success at the outset. It sometimes has a disturbing effect and perhaps sweeps a young chap off his feet." 

The scene of Bob Spears and Don Kirkham's 1913 Melbourne Six Day win - The Exhibition Oval
Don Kirkham with partner Bob Spears competed in Australia's first two (2 man teams) Six Day Bikes races in 1913.

Was Robbed of 100 Sovereigns
They were words of wisdom and I never forgot them throughout my career. I rewarded Kirkham by winning the Melbourne six-day race before an immense crowd which went crazy with excitement. I think that it was the greatest thrill Don ever got out of the bike game. But victory came our way only because of the courageous riding of Kirkham. I had taken ill one night and had to rest for hours, but Kirkham came to the rescue by staying on the track and keeping his rivals in check until I had recovered. When I dismounted after winning the final sprint I was dizzy with excitement. The cheers almost deafened me. I was sore and weary-ready to fall asleep . . . Then words of encouragement from Kirkham who predicted great things for me. My American trip was now certain, and I had visions of sailing from Sydney to win fame and fortune. The thrill I got when I was handed100 sovereigns for my win was somewhat diminished a few days later. I had put the 100 sovereigns in my suitcase, which I locked and placed under my bed at the boarding house. A few days later I went to get some of my hard-earned money but to my astonishment I found that the bag had been burst open and that the money was gone. I almost fainted as I reeled on to my bed in anguish.

Fancy riding a whole week for nothing. This incident nearly stopped my trip to U.S.A. But I had saved a few pounds, and with a lot of scratching and scraping and assistance of my mother I was able to make the trip. On my return to Dubbo (N.S.W.) after winning the Melbourne race I was hailed as a hero. But, believe me, I was not too happy at my big loss, though I cracked hardy. No one ever knew of the incident, which I am now relating for the first time in print.

More on Paddy Hehir -

1 comment:

President Dubbo Cycle Club said...

A great Champion who is remembered fondly at our club in which was established long ago in 1885. In 2020 it will be the centenary of his World title win but sadly his home track will fall short from being in the same place by a single year. While a new track in this tracks image will be built, it will be sad to see it replaced for a predominantly cricket oval due to a ruling from the state member. Wonderful to read about the Dubbo boy who was the first to take on and beat the world at it's own game. Thank you for the blog well done!