Monday, March 8, 2010

Bike Series #1 - The Wall of Death

Bicycles and motorbikes are so intertwined with the beret that I might as well start a series of Bikes & Berets. The first reference to bikes comes from fellow beret-enthusiast Ron Greer:
"I wear my beret year round. It's great in the rain, shades my head in the summer and I used to wear it as my bike hat; until the city mandated helmets. Darn!"
I couldn't agree more! Luckily, there are still many countries where one can wear a beret while cycling around without having to keep an eye out for the cops. Not New Zealand, but my native Holland , for example (but that's for a later post). 
A beret on a motorbike may be pushing it a bit far, but still, it wasn't that unusual (and these days, is there any headgear easier to take along in your pocket than a beret while wearing a helmet?).
One group of bikers who adopted the beret were the riders on the Wall of Death. The Wall of Death or motordrome is a carnival sideshow featuring a drum- or barrel-shaped wooden cylinder, ranging from 20 to 36-feet in diameter, in which stunt motorcyclists ride and carry out tricks. Derived directly from US motorcycle boardtrack (motordrome) racing in the early 1900s, the very first carnival motordrome appeared at Coney Island amusement park (New York) in 1911. The following year portable tracks began to appear on traveling carnivals and in 1915, the first "silodromes" with perpendicular walls were seen. These motordromes with perfectly straight walls were soon dubbed the "Wall of Death". This carnival attraction became a staple in the US outdoor entertainment industry with the phenomenon reaching its zenith in the 1930s with more than 100 motordromes on traveling shows and in amusement parks. In 2004, six or seven of these motorcycle shows were still touring the US. The first known Wall of Death in the UK appeared in 1929 at Southend, "Tornado Smith" (and his lion) being one of the star attractions..

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