Babylon Wants Its Bike Back: Mile-a-Minute-Murphy

Draft? Draft.

The town of Babylon, Long Island, is willing to pay top dollar for the return of Mile-a-Minute Murphy’s famous bike.  Though it’s not from Hipster Ikea, it is a fixed gear. The bike belonged to Charles Minthorn Murphy, who became a national celebrity as the first cyclist to ride a mile in less than a minute.  He also claimed to have invented the concept of drafting, which seems not unlike Al Gore claiming to have invented the internet (when everyone knows it was Mark Zuckerburg).


Here’s the bike, for which Babylon is offering $20,000.  The Springfield Museums Association (Massachusetts) owns the bike, but it has been kept in storage for the past 3 years.  Babylon wants it back, and who can blame them?  In 1899, Murphy (who was a seasoned cyclist and had covered a mile in 37 seconds on rollers) boasted that there was not a train in the world that could drop him.  He theorized that he could ride in the slipstream of any vehicle and keep pace with it.

In a fit of old-timey insanity, a length of track was covered with boards so that both a train and cyclist could ride on it.  Dozens of journalists piled into the last car of an empty train (which had been modified somewhat to create a slipstream), and Murphy instructed the engineer to go as fast as he could.  On the first run, Murphy finished the mile in 1 minute 8 seconds, but that was because the conductor couldn’t get his train over 60 miles/hour.  A second attempt was necessary, and this time the engine’s regulator was removed.  This has Back to the Future III written all over it.

Covered tracks. Totally safe.

The second attempt proved challenging in other ways.  According to Murphy,

“Within five seconds the rate of speed was terrific; I was riding in a maelstrom of swirling dust, hot cinders, paper and other particles of matter. The whipsaw feeling through a veritable storm of fire became harder every second. I could feel myself getting weaker every second I saw ridicule, contempt, disgrace and a lifetime dream gone up in smoke. I saw the agonised faces, yelling, holding out stretched hands as if they would like to get hold of or assist me somehow.”

Near the 45 second mark, the train was starting to drop Murphy.  He dug in, closed the gap, and then crashed into the back of the train as it crossed the one mile marker (he was able to grab the guard rail and was pulled aboard by journalists). He had covered a mile in 57.8 seconds.  Like the winner in a track-stand competition, Murphy was overwhelmed by his success and the ensuing celebrations.

“I lay motionless, face down, on the platform. I was all in. I was half-carried to a cot at the end of the car; the roar of the train was challenged by hysterical yells. Grown men hugged and kissed each other. One man fainted and another went into hysterics, while I remained speechless on my back, ashen in colour and sore all over.”

Come on, Springfield Museums Association.  Do the right thing and send this piece of history home.


7 Responses to “Babylon Wants Its Bike Back: Mile-a-Minute-Murphy”

  1. 1 dioporko 10/02/2010 at 1:18 pm

    Great story! Thanks for bringing it up and publishing those photos.

  2. 3 bikinginla 10/02/2010 at 8:45 pm

    Gotta love the way the Internet leads from on site to another. Someone clicked on the Bike Count link above to get to my blog, which lead me back here.

    Dioporko is right, this is a great story and one I had never heard before. Thanks for telling it, and telling it well.

    I’ve seen a rider draft on a city bus at 30+ mph before, but never a train. Especially not on a fixie.

  3. 4 youaretheengine 11/02/2010 at 12:51 am

    Thanks folks. I especially appreciate the link to a blog I can’t read. North Americans are notoriously unilingual, so you’ve got us beat there (and elsewhere).

    I’m going to keep an eye on this story. Babylon deserves this bike, no? I feel a Long Island-inspired charity ride coming on.

  4. 5 Lucky 11/02/2010 at 6:58 am

    Great story! Thanks much for the telling.

  1. 1 ROOTS: NO BRAKES, 1899 | Fixed Gear Athens Trackback on 10/02/2010 at 6:23 pm
  2. 2 Anatomy of a bikeway — L.A.’s abandoned Class 1 bike path « BikingInLA Trackback on 11/02/2010 at 2:58 pm

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