Cyclist versus Horse Duel

RACING BIKES AGAINST ANIMALS What drives man's desire to race against fast running animals. While some runners prefer to race the cheetah, others find a true test of their mettle racing lions. Bull runners flock to Pamploma to race with a chance of being gored by bulls. In colder climates reindeer become the target of man's enthusiasm for a quick adrenaline rush, pitted against or sometimes paired with these four legged hairy combatants. The animal of choice for cyclists to race against is the horse. Sami reindeer race Tromsø Norway.

In the sport of professional cycling during the 1880's and 90's, William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody and S.F Cody challenged cyclists to racing duels over various distances from three hours to six days.

Ever since Buffalo Bill challenged European professional cyclists to horse versus cyclist duels, pro cyclists have been lining up to have a crack at beating horses round a race track, in most contests the horse wins. Recent horse battlers include Tony Martin, Jimmy Casper, Rémi Di Gregorio, Thomas Voeckler, Blel Kadri and Johnny Hoogerland, then there was Mario Cipollini, Claudio Chiapucci and Francesco Moser. Earlier horse adversaries were Freddy Maertens, Gino Bartali, Rik Van Steenbergen, Costante Girardengo, and a couple of the original Buffalo Bill and S. F. Cody challengers, Romulus Buni and M. Meyer.


One of the earliest flesh against steel duels, was held at a run down stadium in northern Italy at the "Trotter di via Andrea Doria" located near Milano's Central Station, on March 9 1894.

Buffalo Bill had scoured Italy for a suitable adversary, his offer was declined by many elite cyclists of the era. Those who declined were Luigi Arialdi of Milan, the strong Germano " Eros" Ruggerone, the Florentine Carlo Dani, Eugenio Sauli and the Milanese Enrico Pasta. Buffalo Bill even challenged the retired Scott George " Geo" Davidson, who by then was living in Genoa.

Romulus Buni "The Little Black Devil" of Milan accepted Buffalo Bill's proposal of a three hour trial of man on steel against horse. Buni always wore a black sweater when he raced, as a result the French press dubbed Buni "le petit diable noir". The race was stacked in Buffalo Bill's favour, the American showman was allowed to use up to ten horses over three hours, while le petit diable noir had to go it alone. At the conclusion of the three hours in front of a packed stadium, Buni covered 99 kilometres while Buffalo Bill and his ten horses travelled a further 3.7 kilometres. The success of the man on steel vs horse battle saw the formula repeated over varying distances in successive days.

As early as 1887 Buffalo Bill was also organising Cowboy vs Cyclist six day races around the tracks of Europe and England. Billed as Cowboys on Mustang Ponies, Buffalo Bill's cowboys raced against Britain's best at the Agricultural Hall in Islington and Bingley Hall in Birmingham. This time the cyclists were racing in teams of two or three against the cowboy pair of Bronco Charley and Marve Beardsley.

Racetrack Trotting Club Levallois - SF Cody Jr., Wild West Cowboy against Meyer.
Racetrack Trotting Club Levallois - SF Cody Jr., Wild West Cowboy against Meyer.

The same format was popularised too at Madison Square Garden. From Buffalo Bill to S.F. Cody, the story of cyclists against horsemen becomes even more bizarre. S.F Cody another American cowboy styled entertainer copied the bike vs horse format, running his own events throughout Europe during the early 1890's. A poster depicting S.F Cody racing against M. Meyer was mentioned in a New York Times article titled "Cyclists against horsemen," Dec. 20, 1893. Cody beat Meyer in a twelve hour race at Levallois, but when the track was switched for a second match, from a trotting arena to the Velodrome de la Seine, the new venue favoured the cyclists. At the velodrome a new opponent for the horses came in the form of a tandem pair, M. Gaby and M. Fournier. A new format suited the tandem, a two hour race followed by a four hour race. Cody struggled with the tight turns in the centre of the veldrome, finishing five kilometres behind Gaby and Fournier who'd completed 178 kilometres at the end of the six hours.

The format of pitting horse against bike was often repeated in the United States and Australia, one race held at Madison Square Garden in 1893 ended in disaster. The bicycle-horse race in Madison Square Garden, New York, Saturday evening, ended in a fiasco. The proposed race was to have been for a distance of twenty-five miles between Charles Ashinger, the champion long-distance bicyclist, and Jack Alexandre of Florida. Alexandre was to have the use of two horses, which he could change at the end of each mile. At the end of the fifth lap Alexandre's stirrup strap broke and he was thrown heavily on to the track. The next mile was hotly contested, but when Alexandre again changed horse another stirrup strap broke and the rider was thrown again. He claimed that the horse had injured him so as to render him incapable of continuing the race.¹


A Gladiator bicycle depicted racing against horses on a racetrack.
A Gladiator bicycle depicted racing against horses on a racetrack.

Australia never missed a craze, we had our very own cowboy entertainer named Texas Jack. Here in Brisbane Texas Jack, the "Wild West Showman", raced horses against our best "crack" cyclist Mick Healey in January 1900. If Australia's bicycle riding shearers set the precedent for inventing novel ways to entertain themselves, then their city cousins dreamt up colourful events of their own. The match between Texas Jack and Mick Healy had a comical side to it, best expressed in it's original form


The Brisbane, Cricket Ground was the scene of a novel programme , on Saturday afternoon, the main features of which were a series of races, horses . v. cycle, the Wild West showman, Texas Jack, riding the animals, and Mick Healy, one of our crack cash cyclists, on the wheel. There could not have been anything less than 4000 persons on the ground. The arrangements for the competitions were that Healy should have the assistance of pacemakers, and Texas Jack was permitted the use of four horses. The horses were raced on the inside of the track, and in order to make up for the smaller circle a start of l8 yards in each mile was conceded to tho wheelman.

Horse and Cycle, 1 Mile. The contestants got away to a flying start, and before the first lap was over Texas Jack had a lead of about twenty yards. Changing horses on the second lap with a lead of about sixty yards he lost a little distance, but he soon pulled this up, and won by about a quarter lap, Healy pulling up. There was an inclination on the part of some people to view Mick's performance with disfavour, probably because he did not finish.

Horse v. Cycle, 2 Miles. Changing horses on the second lap Jack's assistant missed the bridle of the animal, and, fearing to lose more ground, the rider sent it round for another lap. Mick was leading by fifty yards, when the animals were changed on the next lap, but extending his lean-looking animal in splendid style, the Texan got to the front, and secured a good lead for the last change. A young colt was mounted in a most exciting and masterful way, and he carried his rider home a lump in front of Healy. The Texan's time was 4min. 45sec; Healy, 4min. 49 l/5sec.

Horse v. Cycle, 5 Miles.-The competitors availed themselves of all pacers and horses in this, which proved an eventful race. On the end of the first lap the horse the Texan rode into a bench on the side of the track, and, breaking it, the timbers tore its stifle in a dreadful manner. It struggled around again. A portion of the form appeared to strike his leg, and for a moment it appeared as if the rider must come to the ground, but he recovered himself quickly, and waved his big hat as a sign that he was all right. This caused the horseman to lose ground, however, and his troubles were increased when another of the horses ran off the track, and he had to retrace a good piece of ground. After an exciting match Healy won, the times being-cyclist, 12min. 41sec; and the Texan, 12min. 52sec."²

During World War Two a series of novelty races organised in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales came with a list of never ending variations. The races are presented as if the organisers had sat down with pencil and paper with the intent of dreaming up as many absurd combinations as possible, including "local lads bicycle race and local lads cyclists race etc etc etc". The programme included cyclists racing against greyhounds and trotting horses.

"A tree will be planted in the Prime Ministers' Avenue by the Prime Minister, Mr Menzies. A number of very good prizes have been offered. The programme includes children's races, babies' crawling, toddlers trot, nursery stakes, juvenile jaunt, Blue Mountains Derby, kindergarten cup, scooter races, billy cart and dog derby's, cyclist v runner v greyhound, fat men's race, wheel barrow, sack, and bicycle races, aldermen's foot running handicap, inter Council tug-o'-war, fighting services ladies' race, glamour girls championship, local lads' bicycle race, nurses' bicycle race, trotting horse v cyclist, boys' races, 8 to 10 years, local lads' cyclists race, wheelbarrow race, ladies' bicycle race, etc..."³

The following excerpt from a poem written by "Captain Jack Crawford" titled "Broncho vs. Bicycle" gives some insight into the Cowboy V Bike mindset, in this instance the bike wins.

Closer and closer come tenderfoot,

Man vs Horse S F Cody in a match race against Fournier and Gaby
Man vs Horse S F Cody in a match race against Fournier and Gaby

An' harder the whip to the hoss I put; But the Eastern cuss, with a smile on his face, Ran up to my side with his easy pace— Rode up to my side, an', durn his hide, Remarked 'twar' a pleasant day fur a ride; Then axed, unconsarned, if I had a match, An' on his breeches give it a scratch, Lit a cigarette, said he wished me good day, An', as fresh as a daisy, scooted away. Ahead he went — that infernal gong A-ringin' " good-bye " as he flew along; An' the smoke from his cigarette came back Like a vapory snicker along his track. On an' on he sped, gittin' further ahead, His feet keepin' up that onceaseable tread, Till he faded away in the distance; an' when I seed the condemned Eastern rooster again, He war' thar' with the boys at the end of the race, That same keerless, unconsarned smile on his face.


One of the more interesting recent horse vs man on bicycle races was between Freddy Maertens and the trotter Fakir du Vivier, which took place on July the 13th 1977 in Amiens. Maertens and his Flandria team should have been racing at the tour de France, that changed when Maertens crashed at the Giro, on the run into the stage finish at Mugello. Maertens crashed with Rik van Linden, and broke a wrist. One of the finest season's of Maertens' career, in 1977 he won thirteen stages at the Vuelta a España, then went on to the Giro d'Italia adding a further seven stage wins. Maertens' lieutenant Michel Pollentier went on to win the Giro, then the Flandria team elected not to compete at the Tour de France. This left Maertens' right arm in plaster and sidelined for the Tour de France. What do you do to keep the money and team publicity rolling in, organise a duel with a horse.

Freddy Maertens raced Fakir du Vivier over one kilometre on a dirt track.

Years after the race Maertens said, "My sport director Lomme Driessens organised the race. I received 120,000 francs (3,000 euros) to start plus 50,000 francs (1250 euro) by the bookmakers if I was to lose. I lost with three tenths of a second. To express it in horse racing terms I lost by a nose. There was talk of a rematch at the Sterrebeek Racecourse in Kuurne, but the Belgian cycling Federation forbade me to do so. The Belgian Federation also demanded to see my contract from the race at Amiens. I then had to side step their irrelevant questions. We then put up a false contract with a fictitious amount. We then had to pay a fine of 7000 francs (175 euros) to hold off, keeping to the honor and glory of the Belgian cycling Federation."

The final say should go to an early Colorado horse of 1888 described as "an ugly but tough horse". This bike beating horse won against a Colorado cyclist on a forty nine mile run, to claim supremacy of the animals over man on steel. (From William Fotheringham's Cyclopedia)

1. Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 11 Dec. 1893. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

2. 1900 'A NOVEL SPORTS PROGRAMME.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 5 February, p. 6, viewed 10 March, 2014,

3. 1941 'RED CROSS.', Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 - 1962), 10 July, p. 6, viewed 8 March, 2014, RED CROSS

IMAGE CREDITS Image of S.F. Cody V Meyer Library of Congress

Freddy Maertens racing against Fakir du Vivier in a Bike Vs Horse duel at Amiens in July 1977, he should have been at the Tour de France, instead his arm is in plaster after breaking wrist in a fall at the Giro d' Italia.
Freddy Maertens racing against Fakir du Vivier in a Bike Vs Horse duel at Amiens in July 1977, he should have been at the Tour de France, instead his arm is in plaster after breaking wrist in a fall at the Giro d' Italia.