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You May Survive Motor-Pacing, But Beware of Your Wife

By Tereza Antonova

To our understanding, as a cyclist, one needs to become aware of their inner adrenaline junkie and accept them. After all, the adrenaline rush is a welcome part of the cycling deal. However, there are those whose adrenaline addiction has taken over. Interestingly, these individuals had existed long before bungee-jumping and other adrenaline hobbies became a thing. This is a story of one of them.

Robert ‘Bobby’ Walthour’s cycling career started in the early 1890s, the era of the safety (oh, the irony) bicycle boom. The young American took up the position of a bike messenger and soon realised he possessed more than just a pinch of riding talent. In 1895, Bobby decided to make the best of his skills and started his amateur career as a sprinter. However, it turned out that more than just a pinch of talent could not beat the rivals. Sprinting proved not to be Bobby’s thing.

What ended up becoming young Walthour’s area of expertise (and a perfect way to satisfy his thrill-seeking self) was the then increasingly popular motor-pacing. The racers would ride in the slipstream of a motorbike, reaching the highest (un)imaginable speeds. Bobby mastered the extremely dangerous discipline and by 1904 became a double winner of American championships. Then the time came to conquer Europe.

Robert Walthour
Robert Walthour

Within two months of 1904, Bobby won 11 out of 12 races he attended, earning himself the media nickname of ‘The Unbeatable Walthour’. His victories, however, came with a price in the form of 115 stitches, 32 rib fractures, eight broken fingers and 46 collarbone fractures. Seems to be enough? Well, Bobby thought otherwise and topped his injury-related feats with being pronounced dead twice, only to bounce back and later appear at yet another race.

It’s safe to say that racing-wise Bobby turned out to be lucky. Many of his colleagues lost their lives as a result of encounters with the motorbikes whose slipstreams they surfed on. Walthour, on the other hand, managed to keep on riding until the 1920s. That was when he retired and, unfortunately, when luck turned against him.

Most of his fortune, deposited in European banks, was confiscated by the Germans during WWI. A quarrel with his son resulted in the two barely talking with each other for years. The alcohol addiction of Bobby’s wife heavily affected the marriage and later on, she attempted her husband’s murder with a butcher’s knife. Luckily, Walthour once again managed to survive and filed for divorce.

The incredible rider spent the rest of his life in Boston, with no more life-threatening events, and died in 1949, aged 71. But did he truly enjoy the peaceful rest of his life? Who knows.