The quarter-mile oval track at Strathcona Park can barely be considered a paved surface anymore with grass pushing its way up through gaping cracks and thick tree roots flexing underneath to form nature’s speedbumps.
The track, known in its heyday as the False Creek Speedway, was built by the British Columbia Midget Auto Racing Association. It opened in 1957 as a dirt track and was paved two years later only to be closed at the end of the 1962 season, presumably because the combined din from the excited announcer calling through a sputtering P.A. system and the teeth-chattering racket of 400 horsepower down short straightaways and around tight corners was too much for the neighbourhood.
The history of the overgrown concrete oval is a mystery for most locals who shrug it off as an odd relic of a running track, a crumbling reminder people used to get into shape by doing exercises involving medicine balls and touching their toes.
Appropriate, then, that this old track for old cars is still used for one race a year for old bikes. Vintage fat-tire Schwinns and an assortment of other cruisers rolled into the East Vancouver park for the 13th annual Little 100 race Sunday afternoon.
The concept of the race is simple — each team of four riders has one single speed clunker with 26-inch tires, riders trade off with teammates whenever they need a break, and the first team that completes 100 laps wins. Costumes, optional. Performance-enhancing Pilsner, mandatory.
It’s a simple concept for a simple bike and the race is one of many cruiser events held around Greater Vancouver where one shows up, rides, chats, and stops for beer. As with any group, people come and go but there is a core of long-time cruiser enthusiasts led by Rod “Pappy” Kirkham who — if his nickname didn’t already give it away — is responsible for starting it all and keeping it going.
Kirkham, often seen at the Little 100 in his trademark white T printed with the word “Cutters” in homage to Little 500-based flick Breaking Away, is a rangy fellow that was part of “Team Tall” that won a Little 100 race in Seattle about 15 years ago. Aside from winning by half-a-lap and greatly annoying the Americans, which was loads of fun in itself, Kirkham and fellow organizer “Cruiser” Jack McKay brought the concept to Vancouver. It was just one of the many things he started; the list includes his bike shop Mountain & Beach Bicycles (he designed the “Off Road Toad” mountain bike) which opened in 1986, partially inspired by PD’s Hot Shop — another mainstay in the early Vancouver scene — and group bike rides long before Critical Mass and its ilk hit the streets.
He’s been around long enough to see the ebb and flow of the popularity of cruisers and for him, and all of the 100 or so people who show up for his invitational birthday rides, it’s no fad.
“The cruiser scene has kinda died out to a point, it was quite popular 10 to 12 years ago,” he said before dashing off to inspect a possible suspect entry for the Little 100. “Nowadays, kids are more into riding shitty old Apollo bikes but the appeal with the cruisers is that it’s fun and anybody can do it. It’s slow and easy, just roll along, chit chat, have a beer.”
While the Little 100 may have been slow, it definitely wasn’t easy. Grimaces appeared 50 laps in. There were spills on bike transitions. A broken fender put the all-female team “Ramming Speed” behind 20 laps. In the end it was “Eight Ball” that crossed the line for first to take home the trophy, and the quarter-mile times 100 glory.