How Teddy Hale Ate 162.5 Pounds Of Food & Rode 1,910 Miles In Six Days

Have you ever eaten an entire roasted chicken – or two – during a ride?

Well then, you’ve probably never competed in a six-day bicycle race … in 1896. In Madison Square Garden.

Teddy Hale (“the plucky and graceful Irishman”) won this epic 1896 race, covering 1,910 miles and eight laps … which equals a lot of calories. He crushed the previous six-day record of 1,600 miles with the help of 162.5 pounds of food, according to newspaper reports.

The cost for all this food? $65.

The great Major Taylor, just starting out his barrier- and record-breaking career, finished 8th (1,732 miles). More on the Major later. First: Teddy’s menu and amazing gastronomical feat (feast?) …

Day 1: Four quarts of beef tea, four quarts of chicken broth, two roast chickens and two boiled chickens (“but they were small,” according to reports), a dozen French chops, two gallons of oatmeal, three quarts of custard, a couple dozen bananas, six pounds of grapes and two pineapples. Total weight: 34.5 pounds.

Is this possible? I’m not sure. I have never been in a six-day race, but I did compete in a 24-hour race several years ago. I ate constantly, had some stomach issues … and am sure I didn’t come even remotely close to eating 34 pounds. Maybe that’s why I struggled.

Day 2: “On the second day Mr. Hale’s appetite began to improve somewhat,” and he consumed 59 pounds of food.

I’m sure many (most?) of you can’t wrap your heads (or stomachs) around eating 59 pounds of food and broth in a day. Is this an exaggeration? I think so. And so, let’s not take Teddy’s menu literally and, instead, think of it as glimpse into what cyclists ate for fuel back then more so than exactly how much they ate. Here’s Teddy’s day-two menu …

Four pounds of roast beef, four roast chickens and one boiled chicken, a big lot of chipped potatoes, pudding, four quarts of beef tea, six quarts of chicken broth, three dozen bananas, three pineapples, six chops, five pounds of grapes, a quart of stewed codfish, a pint of tea, two dozen eggs and “last, but not least, twenty stewed prunes.”

Twenty stewed prunes? I know what you’re thinking: “I hope they had a lot of bathrooms close to the track.”

Day 3: “On the third day, Teddy’s appetite began to fall and his friends were considerably alarmed, as he ate only 31 pounds.”

I blame the stewed prunes.

He ate: Three pounds of roast beef, half a roasted chicken and one boiled chicken, stewed potatoes, custards, pudding, two pounds of bluefish, two quarts of beef tea, five quarts chicken broth, six chops, two pineapples, and one quart of tea with raw eggs stirred into it.

As you may have also noticed, Teddy was all about the protein, and not so much about carbs. Maybe he was on the Paleo diet.

Beef tea? It’s made by steeping beef, usually rump meat, in water for a couple of hours, seasoned with some salt.

Day 4: Teddy’s appetite was really fading, and he could only manage 10 pounds of food.

Day 5: He ate a little more, a total of 11.5 pounds. New additions to his menu were: Two quarts of rice milk, two quarts of sago, two quarts of jellies.

What’s sago? It’s a starch that’s extracted from the pith of tropical palm stems. Jellies? I think this refers to a gelatin dessert. I checked, and Jell-O was invented a year later, in 1897, but there were gelatin-like foods before this. Then again, jellies could have been jelly, as in strawberry jam. Coincidentally, Smucker’s was founded in 1897. What a year to be alive and racing bicycles!

Day 6: Teddy’s appetite was a little better on the final day, and he ate a total of 16.5 pounds on this day …

A boiled codfish, half a roast chicken, prunes, two quarts of oatmeal, two quarts of tapioca pudding, a quart of jelly, seven quarts of beef tea, two quarts of chicken broth.

I don’t know about you … but this story is making me hungry.

More miles?

Here’s another interesting story from this race. It seems as though Hale rode on the outside of the track, a few lanes out from the edge of the track. This meant he actually rode further than 1,910 miles. How much further? His manager did some calculations and came up with: 35 miles.

The Major goes down

Maybe Hale was smart to ride on the outside, away from the other racers and danger. Here’s what happened to Major Taylor on Day 6, according to a story in The Brooklyn Citizen

Pierce tried to avoid a collision and in doing so fell. “Major” Taylor who was taking advantage of Pierce’s pace could not save himself and his wheel struck Pierce’s body. The machine careened, pitching Taylor into the air. He struck the track ten feet on the other side of Pierce, and was carried off the track a few minutes later. All attempts to get the South Brooklyn colored boy on his feet failed and it was feared that he was badly hurt. Inquiries were answered by the statement that he was only stunned.

More cycling history

Here’s the link to my previous post about my (somewhat) new book on the wild and fascinating days on the early days of cycling history (mostly the 1890s). It’s a fun read.


2 thoughts on “How Teddy Hale Ate 162.5 Pounds Of Food & Rode 1,910 Miles In Six Days

  1. I can tell you with authority that the jellies would have been jell-o (ish). Jelly is what the rest of the world calls similar sweet gelatine desserts, and the OED has a reference that makes it clear that commercial fruit jelly crystals were already available and well known at least a year before this race.

    “1895 Army & Navy Co-op. Soc. Price List 15 Sept. 76 Granulated jellies (Lemon, Orange..flavours).”

    Jell-o company swept in and obliterated all other brands, I guess.


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