Bicycle racing became popular in the 1880s. There were races with the high-wheeled bicycles, but they were fairly dangerous. One small rock and you were face-first over the handle bars. The new bicycles with two equal-sized wheels were called safety bikes. When they came along, racing really took off. Bicycle like the ones shown here were developed in 1898.
In the 1880s, the 6-day races were very popular in England. Participants would race for six days or until they gave in to fatigue. That's how crazy people were about bicycles. In the U.S., the event was modified slightly to include two-man teams, so they could trade off and race for the entire six days. It's still total insanity if you ask me.
The first Tour de France took place in 1903. There were also road races in the U.S., but Velodrome or track racing was immensely popular as a spectator sport. It was exciting because of the speed that riders could achieve, racing in close quarters on a banked track. These fellows were probably both velodrome racers, though their pictures were taken in a studio. Note the medals on the cyclists shirt below:
To find out more about the history of the racing bicycle, visit The Racing Bicycle. To see more wonderful old photos and rich family histories, check in with the Sepia Saturday blog.