Six Day Races

1800 W Madison St Chicago

Design Museum of Chicago
Written By Design Museum of Chicago

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In the 1920s, cycling returned to popularity. One of the most popular spectator sports was bicycle racing, particularly six day races. "Sixers" were exactly what they sounded like – riders would see how many laps they could make around an indoor track in 6 days. The first US six day race occurred at Madison Square Garden in New York City and quickly became popular in other cities, including Chicago.

Chicago Stadium, built here in 1929 at a cost of $9.5 million, was the largest indoor arena at the time. Its decorative architecture celebrated the sports the Stadium was intended for with faux-Greek sculptures of boxing, track, hockey, and cycling in each of the building's four corners.

Chicago Stadium hosted 2 sixers per year, one in the winter and one in spring, for many years. These events would draw between 60,000 and 75,000 spectators over the course of the week. A racer once described the attendees as either: true cycling enthusiasts, the post-theater crowd, or the nightclub society. Al Capone was a fan of sixers, often anonymously offering premes, or special prizes, for the winners of shorter sprints within the race.

Sixers were fast and dangerous, with groups of 40+ riders speeding around a 1/10 of a mile track at about 35mph. Falls were spectacular and crowd pleasers, but racers earned around $100/day, equivalent to about $1,200 today. Both men and women raced, as individuals and in teams. This video shows a six day race at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Chicago Stadium hosted its last bicycle race in 1948.

Keep Moving: Designing Chicago's Cycling History

Six Day Races

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