What is a Six-Day Race ?
In the 1920s and 30s, Six-Day bicycle racing was a fascinating and curious phenomena. These were men’s races, on circular wooden banked tracks (velodromes), where teams of riders would literally race 24 hours a day for six days. The wooden tracks were often constructed just for the race, whether it was held outdoors or in an arena, and then taken down again once the race was finished. The races were six days long because in those days you couldn’t race on a Sunday – so they usually started at just past midnight on Sunday, and ended at midnight the following Saturday.
Want to know what a 1930s Six-Day Race was like? Here's an example.
In the 1930s, the format of a Six-Day Race usually saw teams of two riders competing against each other. While one rider on a team was racing, his teammate could be eating or catching a few hours’ sleep in a shack by the side of the course. The races were dangerous, extreme endurance sports, and wildly popular. Injuries were common, and big money was often in the air – many races offered hefty paycheques to the most popular riders. Film stars, politicians, gamblers, and ordinary people would all show up for the nightly sprints and jams, and audiences were massive – much larger than for any other live event in those days.
Women didn’t usually ride in six-day races in the 1930s. So it was a really big historic deal in 1936 when Nora Young and five other women were chosen to put on a demonstration race before the start of a men’s Six-Day Race at Maple Leaf Gardens, to show they could compete on the banked track just as men did. While the women who raced were all accomplished (and highly competitive) amateur cyclists, none of them had any experience riding on a steeply banked track before, so their involvement was phenomenally daring and made headlines across Canada for weeks. You’ll learn much more in our film, of course!