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decades before xtreme sports, six-day bicycle racing—the original multi-day physical contest—enjoyed phenomenal popularity in cities around the united states and across europe. fifteen teams of two riders each took turns pedaling around steeply banked board tracks for six days and nights straight. teams went more than 2,500 miles—farther than the tour de france, which lasts three weeks and began in 1903 as a six-day road race.

sixes were riding high when the 1920s ushered in a new emphasis on youth. modern women called flappers cut their hair short, wore make-up, and exposed their legs from the knees down. flappers and their boyfriends—sheiks—defied conventional behavior. novelist f. scott fitzgerald christened the decade the jazz age.

new york city’s madison square garden held the super bowl of sixes. cyclists in vibrant-colored silk jerseys hunched over steel frames and wooden-rimmed wheels. each autumn and winter, they thrilled flappers, sheiks, and everyone else. riders in the garden—and similar buildings in chicago, los angeles, and other cities—tore around the pine saucers at breakneck speed. audiences responded by leaping to their feet in a riot of noise and excitement.

bicycle racers were america’s superstars of the jazz age. newspapers covered six-days and made riders heroes. sixes were a mix of competition, spectacle, and—above all—an american sports tradition.


   
six-day bicycle race : the jazz age sport
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