With much fanfare, the first bicycle arrived in San Francisco from Paris in 1876. By the late 1890s, bicycles were inexpensive due to replaceable rubber tires and inner tubes, and mass-produced parts, including high-quality chains. Bicycles were popular and fashionable; they became instant symbols of mobility, freedom, and imbued riders with a sense of independence. Large numbers of cyclists flocked to Golden Gate Park to ride leisurely, and eventually, to race competitively. In the early twentieth century, bicycle racing was a premiere spectator sport before motorcycle and automobile racing supplanted it in popularity. A velodrome was built in 1906 in the Golden Gate Park Stadium, also known as the Polo Field, in the western section of the park.

Before and after World War II, bicycle racing in Golden Gate Park represented the best cyclists in the area and was the epicenter for bike racing on the West Coast. Racing bikes from the 1900s to the 1950s had only one gear, no freewheel and no brakes. Acceleration and deceleration depended solely on the strength of the cyclist.

Heading the list of competitors during the 1940s and 1950s were the well-known Gatto Brothers—Gus, Richard, and Vince Gatto from San Jose, California. Gus Gatto raced in national and international tournaments in Argentina and Japan, winning medals in many events. He was the 1949 Northern California Champion, the 1951 National Champion, and a member of the U.S. team in the 1951 Pan-American Games. Bud Thorpe, Lou Rondoni, and Pete Piazza were top, national champion racers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Trainers, bicycle-store owners, and fans zealously supported cyclists in their efforts to make bicycle-racing history. License to Race presents images from a period of great popularity in bicycle racing in San Francisco, when many local and regional racers tested their abilities, pursued their dreams, and traveled the world.

This display is available at Terminal 3 of the SFO International terminal.

Archive provided by Brad at American Cyclery