Almost 70 years ago, the newspaper Sporting Record produced an annual for boys named SPORTS THRILLS. It included and item on the rise of the Cycle Speedways which we are delighted to reproduce here in full.

DURING the spring of 1946, a new term appeared in the sports dictionary – the term ‘Skid Kid’. It came with the birth of a new thrill-sport, which has become known as Cycle Speedway.

It all started in South London. Groups of lads, looking for excitement, commandeered partially cleared bomb sites and turned them into cycle speedway tracks. Riding their ordinary bikes, stripped of lamps, pump, mudguards and everything that could be dispensed with, these imaginative speed aces set out to copy the speedway stars whom they idolised.

The new craze soon spread, and before long every available bombed site and open space in London became a speedway track. ‘Craze’ it was, but the youngsters cared nothing for the cuts and bruises they received, for spills and crashes occurred very often as they scorched round those rough, dangerous tracks, broadsiding the corners, pivoting on the left foot, and sliding the rear wheel, in the orthodox manner of the Speedway stars.

PARENTAL PUNISHMENT!

Machines suffered severely. Frames were bent and broken, tyres burst under the strain, and smashed spokes were quite common. Boots and shoes were ripped

and torn, trousers, too – often bringing parental punishment! The arm of the

law sometimes intervened in the middle of a most thrilling battle – but nothing deterred those speed-crazy lads who revelled in their new-found recreation.

‘The five-day wonder’, as the new sport was called by its critics, had caught on, and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop its rapid progress.

More and more young cyclists thronged to the ranks of the cycle speedsters. Cinder-surfaced car parks became their speed tracks, for the available bombed sites were limited. Soon, too, the boys began to form themselves into organised teams, giving themselves high-sounding titles – Panthers, Tigers, Lions, Swifts, Hammers, Broadsiders, Eagles, Aces, Flyers – names that breathed romance and thrills.

LEAGUE FORMATION

Team matches were organised – leagues were formed – inter-district and inter-town fixtures were arranged. The new speed sport was making real progress and the ‘skid kids’ were forcing themselves into the public notice.

Next they began to look to their equipment. They bought up old army boots, leather leggings and stout breeches, anything that would stand up to the wear and tear of the sport. Many of them converted old bikes into speedway machines, completely devoid of all unnecessary parts – certainly without brakes, for these were barred for racing. Ordinary handlebars, too, were useless for broadsiding and quick cornering, so those lads who could not afford to alter or straighten their own roadster handlebars, built new ones from lengths of iron piping, tipped with rubber grips.

The inventive improvisation of those early cycle speedsters was something to marvel at and admire, for no matter how great the obstacles, or how difficult the problems they encountered, their boyish enthusiasm and courage carried them through.

COURAGE NEEDED

It’s certainly needed a very high degree of courage to race round those rough tracks, jockeying and jostling for the lead as the bikes hurtled into the corners and the sharp bends, with bikes and riders often ending in a jumbled heap.

Imagine trying to maintain balance on a very unstable bike, the wheels are bucking and sliding on the uneven, shifting surface of tracks of 100 to 200 yards’ circumference at speeds of anything from 18 to 20 miles an hour. It is not so easy as it may sound.

Anyway, cycle speedway continued to spread, and by 1947 the sport was flourishing in most of the big towns and cities in England – and in Scotland, too. Districts began to group their teams into leagues and local associations, with officials and committees comprised mainly of fathers and elder brothers of the young speedsters.

The London and Home Counties Cycle Speedway Association came into being, and London’s example was quickly followed in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow where the Scottish CSA was instituted.

BETTER TRACKS

The biggest obstacle the boys and their sponsors had to face was the need for more and better equipped tracks. But obstacles had been overcome before, and this one was tackled, and surmounted.

Waste pieces of land were taken over and cinder tracks laid. The members of the various teams and their supporters worked as hard to level and prepare their new tracks as they had toiled to put their new sport on the map.

It was their sport and they were willing to put all they had into developing and improving it.

For instance, the Sidley Cyclones of Bexhill secured the lease of what had been a public rubbish dump. Working every evening and all their weekends, the lads removed the rubbish, levelled the ground and laid a really first class track.

WHITE LINES AND STARTING GATES

All over the country, more and more cycle speedway tracks came into being and, copying their big brothers on the motorcycle speedways, the boys erected rough wire safety fences and laid concrete ‘white lines’; disused paving stones were utilised to lay ‘starting grids’, and elastically operated starting gates were rigged up. Nothing was too much trouble for these young cycle speedsters.

The crowds flocked to the tracks, curious to see the sport that was sweeping the country, and it was nothing unusual for more than 1,000 spectators to attend the important league and cup contests.

More and more riders entered the arena – more and more clubs were formed – more and more inter-district and individual competitions were instituted – and bigger and bigger grew the crowds. Cycle speedway was still forging ahead, gaining more popularity every week.

LOCAL COUNCILS BECOME INVOLVED

City and town councils all over the country began to recognise the new sport. Corners in recreation grounds and parks were converted into cycle speedways, with the blessing of the local councils. The London County Council – the Ruislip-Northwood Council – several in Manchester and Scotland – all gave their support to municipal tracks.

Early this year, at Croydon, the Thornton Heath Tigers celebrated the official opening of their new track, which was attended by members of the local council, who presented the Tigers with a cinder roller.

Around the same time, at Peckham, close to where the first ‘skid kids’ enjoyed their rough-and-tumble races, the Mayor of Camberwell presented a magnificent cup to Roy Brannan, winner of the Southeast London Championship. Roy, a member of the Peckham Stars team, lifted the trophy after some terrific struggles with 100 of London’s leading cycle speedsters, before a very large crowd.

Now the ‘skid kids’ have always regarded themselves as ‘junior’ speedway stars, and many of these plucky youngsters took up the sport in the hope that it would be the stepping stone to a place in one of England’s famous speedway teams.

THE SPEEDWAYS WAKE UP

On the other hand, it did not take the big speedways long to realise that the cycle speedways could provide ‘nurseries’ for their stars of the future, for the two sports are closely allied. English and Australian speed aces began to show an active interest in the boys.

Promoters and officials of the speedways offered their advice and encouragement.

No one did more in this connection than Johnnie Hoskins the bighearted Australian ‘father’ of the speedway sport, who brought the first party of riders from ‘Down Under’ to operate on our tracks, way back in 1928.

Johnnie invited Glasgow’s ‘skid kids’ to use the Glasgow Giants’ fine track for some of their matches. He also presented a cup to the Glasgow Cycle Speedway League champions.

At the Rayleigh Speedway in Essex, a special track was laid in the centre of the main circuit for the use of the two dozen cycle speedway teams in that district.

FROM CYCLE TO MOTORBIKE

One of the daring youngsters who pedalled furiously around that cycle track in 1948 and became the local champion, was Pat Clarke. A year later he was given a trial on the larger circuit, astride a motorbike this time – and before the end of the season he had become the skipper of the Rayleigh Rockets Speedway team. Today this brilliant young speed ace is winning new laurels with Oxford and he owes his start to the cycle speedways.

So did Billy Bales, the daring, dashing young speedway star who last season gained the individual championship of Second Division riders while wearing the colours of Yarmouth. Billy learned to slide a bike round the treacherous bends of the cycle speedway track which was part of the cinder-surfaced car park of the Norwich Speedway. He was then skipper of the Hellesdon Harriers.

Cycle Speedway continues to make progress and soon British lads may be taking part in international matches on the Continent – and even in South Africa and Australia, for the sport has captured the imagination of boys overseas, too.

Already English teams have appeared on Dutch tracks. Early this year, Cray Tigers, a well-known Kent club, enjoyed a 1,000 miles tour in Holland, riding on many tracks in that country.

Cycle speedway is now an international sport. Gone are the days when ‘skid kids’ rode on old bikes, often tied up with string and wearing ripped and torn clothing. Today one well-known manufacturer has placed on the market as specially built cycle speedway bike, while the riders wear their own team slips, bearing their badges and colours, and crash helmets.

Much has happened since those days in 1946 when passers-by stopped to watch the noisy, rough and tumble scrambles that took place on bombed sites, shook their heads and murmured: ‘Those boys are crazy – but they’ll soon get tired of knocking themselves about!’

Crazy, maybe – but cycle speedway has come to stay and the riders are ‘skid kids’ no longer. They are cycle speedsters!

SpeedwayFiction Speedway like it used to be! Home Bombsite Skid Kids SpeedwayFiction

The pace is furious, dust flies as the rear wheels skid round, one rider is down but the race goes on as these members of the Clapham Panthers compete for a place in a league race.

Perfect poise and skill in cornering by a member of London’s Arsenal Aces

Reg Harris, world professional sprint champion, talks to riders who raced in the Festival of Sport at Earl’s Court

The leader crashes - with no brakes to apply and no time to avoid him, all the riders come to grief