From the archives: Hundreds of riders took part in San Diego’s first major bike race for socializing in 1921

On this day in 1921, Fred St. Onge, author of The Art of Bicycle Riding, led hundreds of riders in a bicycle parade from the San Diego Public Library to Balboa Park. In the 1920s, St. Onge, a self-proclaimed bicycle missionary, traveled the country promoting cycling as healthy and enjoyable.

From The San Diego Union and Daily Bee, Sunday, March 20, 1921:


The procession takes 15 minutes to pass the street corner; Bikes of all ages and descriptions seen; Lectures and trick riding at Balboa Park Feature; Parker School wins

Once upon a time, the newfangled automobile quietly crept into the field of transportation, wiping Old Dobbin and the celebrated one-horse Shay off the map. Aided and abetted by the motorcycle, it also made a vicious and determined attempt to banish the old-fashioned bicycle from the universe, but could not get rid of it.

That the bicycle, like the automobile, is destined to survive perhaps for centuries to come was made clear yesterday in San Diego. It was an example when the first social bike race in this city was held with great success, lots of noise and enthusiasm.

A photo of participants in the Union's first annual Social Bike Run takes up two pages

A photo of the participants in the 1921 Geselligkeitsradlauf takes up two pages in the Union.

(The San Diego Union)

Little did many San Diegoers know there were so many bicycles in the world as they saw yesterday cruising the streets of downtown, up the hill from the public library to Big Balboa Park. Bikes were fatter than ants on a hill yesterday in this town. Bicycles have never been more popular. It was the bike’s exclusive, individual triumph day. Besides, it was a beautiful sight.


Asked one day to define a bicycle, the famous dictionary author Mr. Noah Webster said:

“A light vehicle with two wheels in a row. It has handlebars and a saddle.”

All of this may have been very explicit in Mr. Webster’s time, but things have evolved somewhat since then. The more than 500 motorcycles that made up the big social run in San Diego yesterday with enthusiastic riders were more than worth the descriptive effort of a 1921 car salesman. The rationale as described by Brother Webster was correct. Otherwise Noah would not have known what he was seeing. Today’s “bicycle” is a work of art – a thing of beauty. In addition, it is a thing of great benefit.


san diego jr had the time of his young life yesterday afternoon.

They mounted their bikes and took part en masse in the great “Bike Fun Run” from the library to Balboa Park, led by Fred St. Onge and sponsored by the San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune. Saturday, March 19 will long be considered “real sports days” for this army of youth, and Fred S. Onge has been inducted into their “Hall of Fame” forever.

“The San Diego audience was a record breaker,” St. Onge declared as his busy afternoon drew to a close.

“There was more turnout here this afternoon than any other city in California.”

Bicycles of all kinds, large and small, in a number that defies estimate, took part in the great festival. The line of wheels ran almost the entire length of the route from the library down E Street to Sixth Street and up Sixth Street to the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park. It took the procession 15 minutes to pass the corner of Sixth Street and E Street, with four or five bikes parked side by side most of the time. Many other teenage drivers joined the crowd at the park.


Alongside Fred St Onge, Daryl Collins was the hero of the afternoon. Daryl, a 16-year-old Boy Scout who lives at 824 A Avenue, Coronado, had the lucky number to win the $60 bike donated by that city’s bike dealerships.

A full-page bicycle advertisement from The San Diego Union, March 17, 1921.

A full-page advertisement for the great Fred St. Onge bike ride was published in The San Diego Union on March 17, 1921.

(San Diego Union)

Punctually at 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, St. Onge, known as ‘the bicycle missionary’, threw his leg over his old-fashioned, high-fronted bicycle and the parade was on. Boys and girls, some so small that many would have doubted their ability to even ride a bike, and some who likely elected more than one president, joined the ordered line. A grin was on every face; the youngsters had as much fun as in the best circus.

When the cyclists reached Balboa Park, they were lined up at the north end and either side while St. Onge, a former vaudeville cyclist, performed some amusing stunts on his old penny-farthing and on a modern trick bike. He showed the assembled bike fans – and several hundred adults who had gathered to watch the fun – the right way and wrong way to ride with the utmost ease and efficiency. On his little wheel, St. Onge gave an imitation of a beginner. The stunt involved a somersault over the bike’s handlebars which, if not executed skillfully, could prove disastrous for both the head and the bike.


JJ O’Connor, editor of Los Angeles magazine Western Motorcyclist and Bicyclist, pulled seven numbers from his hat, the last of which indicated who in the crowd would receive the prize bike donated by local dealers. St. Onge read the numbers one by one as they were taken off the hat. The young mob became quieter and quieter. “The last lucky number is…” The whole crowd didn’t move. “-353.”

Daryl Collins stepped into the open space and got the bike, a $60 bike. The dealers who contributed the prize were Robinson Bicycle Shop, Cycle & Arms, Hale & Fultz, RH Moore, Julius Weisser, San Diego Bicycle Shop, Smith & Walker.

A little boy asked Mr St Onge personally why the hell he hadn’t drawn number 208.

The Union and Evening Tribune silver love cup was awarded to the Florence school for having the most representatives in the social run. Three rousing cheers were given to The Union and The Evening Tribune, as well as to the dealers who presented the award-winning bike.

After the awards ceremonies, the youngsters were paraded in single file around the square to receive brochures on proper cycling and St Onge’s lapel pins, as well as individual ice cream bricks donated by the Sanitary Ice Cream company.


Show More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button