Riding into a 26th Century – Margaret Gast

Nice dear frail old lady, must have had a quiet life.
I don’t think so….
Here’s her card:

The sport where gender difference seems to matter the least is endurance cycling. (Female physical stamina, mental toughness, efficient blood cell regeneration?) In 1901 Margaret Gast broke the female cycling record for 1,000 miles and then continued riding to break the male record for 2,000 miles (222 hrs, 5 ½ minutes). Then continued riding to establish a new record for 2,600 miles. She stopped because the police pulled her from the road after the completion of her 26th consecutive century. A record that stood for both male and female for more than 50 years. An interview in August 1949 is given in the Poughkeepsie Sunday New Yorker.

Its a remarkable story. Immigrated from Germany at age 16 with no English. Started riding bike age 17. Won 6 six day races in a row. She was known as the “Little Dutchy”. These were very different and brutal times. The audiences to six day races were huge, there to see the suffering and in the 1890s there were no limits. This was before they brought in rules of team riding the six day races to stop so many people from dying.

The record itself was made on a new road on Long Island built by the Vanderbilts for the new fangled “auto-mobile” .

“On Friday last, foggy weather and soaking rains once more overtook her. This time she was pretty well played out from the effects of the long-sustained effort, and it look as if she would collapse completely. Twice she fell, exhausted, from her wheel and the most heroic treatment was necessary to bring her to. Saturday night she rested eight hours, and nearly every sign of fatigue disappeared. The remarkable women pedalled for dear life, made up the lost time and was in high feather last evening as she dismounted at the end of her twentieth century.”

“With feet so swollen that they had to be almost pried from the pedals with fingers stiffen so that they had to be unclasped from the handlebars, pasty faces and with eyes shrunken almost out of sight, Miss Gast was far from a pleasant picture to look upon at the close of her 2,000 miles.”

For the record she gained a “floral horseshoe” and “the plaudits of forty or fifty wheelmen and wheelwomen who watched her during the race”.

There are many (poorly scanned) newpaper articles here. Each seem to have a different take on the same events. This sort of thing, running over many days, was made for newpapers who did daily updates.

The “…most heroic treatment was necessary to bring her to…”, and the “Plied with drugs..” headline deserves some comment. Did she use the Lance defence? (“I’ve never been caught. Onward.”) A New York Time article on 19 Oct 1900 suggests a motive for the allegations:
There we have it, the neighbours were complaining, and presumeably were the ones that had the race stopped. Such are the moral dangers of “fast riding”.

There are many other unanswered questions. (there was a fiancé, a prize collie raffled for the suffergettes…) But all this is from a time at the very edge of knowledge. The event horizon that is the internet extends back only so far, and there is little else to be found.

I guess Miss Gast could see the writing on the wall, because she left bike riding for something far safer: Stunt motorcycle riding inside barrels at sideshows. She was the “mile-a-minute gal” on the “wall of death”:

Famous for riding a Merkel:

Also fluent in English, German, Italian and Spanish; as well as an essayist and poet. After motorbike riding, she started up a Physical Culture business in NYC, and was a massage therapist until age 84.

How does someone do all this? The end of a newspaper interview in 1951 is revealing:

More info here.

This entry was posted in epicness, girls on bikes, history. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Riding into a 26th Century – Margaret Gast

  1. Sorry for the poorly scanned documents on my website. These are the original news papers and photos from her large suitcase she left me. Thank you for the wonderful write up. This was her expressed hope during the last days of her life. I think see is smiling right now.
    Thank you again, John Nagengast, (great nephew of M. Gast)

    • Mark says:

      Hi John,
      Thanks for the comment. What a wonderfully full life your great-aunt led. Inspirational. I’ll look out for the movie/book which must eventually come….

  2. #harrison22[DGDGKGDAGKGD] says:

    Hey – I am really delighted to discover this. great job!

  3. Jonathon Riley says:

    I’m thinking of building a wall of death in the backyard. Where can I get more information?

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