Retro Roads



GKBREverybody knows that the idea of cross-state bicycle tours began in the 1970s. Well-known events like BAK, RAGBRAI, BRAN and Freewheel all originated during the "bike boom" era. But what if this kind of ride had started much earlier? How would it have been in the years before good roads and lightweight equipment? The "Dustbowl" jersey provides a glimpse of what cycling through Kansas might have been like in the "Dirty Thirties."

This jersey commemorates Kansas in the 1930s through the fictional Great Kansas Bicycle Rally™ a ten-day stage race in June of 1936. The WPA-style artwork depicts an approaching dust storm as it closes in on a group of racers near Rolla, Kansas.


DuststormThe 1930s were tough years for Kansans due to a devestated economy and harsh weather. Extreme heat, drought, and frequent dust storms plagued western Kansas for years. The far southwest counties and the Oklahoma Panhandle saw the worst of the dust storms and soil erosion.

If the Great Kansas Bicycle Rally of 1936 had actually taken place, it would have been a difficult trek. Temperatures that summer stayed above 100° for weeks. Most of the roads in the state were not yet paved and racers would have pedaled along dusty unimproved dirt or gravel roads for miles on end. The route would have taken cyclists past a string of foreclosed and abandoned farms—victims of the failed ecomony and unforgiving drought. And then there were the rabbits. Organizers nicknamed it "the Jackrabbit Route" due to an overabundance of the hungry varmints that ran rampant across the fields and roads of 1930s western Kansas.

RacersThe rally started on Tuesday, June 9 near Richfield in Morton County and ended on Friday, June 19 just east of Frontenac. Racers began the first day on Kansas Highway 51 at the Colorado border making their way through ten daily stages of about 50 miles each, pausing for a rest day on Sunday, June 14 in Attica. They crossed the finish line on US 160 at the Missouri line and returned to Frontenac for the awards ceremony and an evening of revelry in the streets and local taverns. The first-place winner of the 1936 rally was Emmett Daffron of Yates Center.

Although the rally is fictional, the sport of bicycle racing was actually very popular in the early decades of the twentieth century. Endurance cycling events called "six-day races" drew large crowds for years until the start of WWII. Many young racers would have been up for the challenge of cycling Kansas border to border. The major draw was the $200 cash prize awarded to the racer with the best overall time, a hefty prize for those days.


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