Bob & Tom’s Excellent Adventures: Peoria’s cycling history

Local News

It might come as a surprise to some people, but over 100 years ago, Peoria was a national venue for fast travel.

At the foot of Grant Street 130 years ago, thousands of people gathered to watch one of the greatest sporting events of the year. It was the site of Lake View Stadium, where people gathered to watch some of the fastest humans on earth: bicycle racers.

There are just a few pictures and drawings of those races, but there are the words of one of the great bike racers of the 1890’s, Marshall “Major” Taylor. Major was perhaps the first great African-American sports hero. He was an American cycle sprint champion in 1898, 1899, and 1900. He was a World Champion at the age of 19.

About Peoria, Major Taylor wrote: “Peoria was the Mecca of bicycle racing in those days. On its historical track all the fastest riders in the world struggled for fame and glory.”

The Peoria Bicycle Club sponsored those races. There were 400 members in the club, and this area was home of several bike manufacturers. Bicycles were a very big deal, but it wouldn’t last. Automobiles arrived, and bicycle riding faded.

Now they’re back. At the Peoria Bicycle Club’s training facility in a loft in the Warehouse District, these riders are preparing themselves for races that are months away.

“They are training for races this spring and summer,” said Kevin Lantz of the Peoria Bicycle Club. “I start training for my races months in advance.”

The bicycles at this facility aren’t cheap. Neither is the training equipment. This is dedication of mind, body, and money. Some even race through Donovan Park in Peoria in December.

There are several bicycle clubs in the area now, catering to different kinds of cycling. But, nearly 140 years after its founding, the Peoria Bicycle Club continues to roll. 

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