Sobriquet used by Johanna Schalkwyk
Frankie Nelson was a professional racing cyclist in the 1880s and 1890s (known in her early racing days as Lulu Gordon). At the time, women’s races were held over 6 days, with the women on the track for 3 hours per night, in some cases 4 hours per night. In one race on the high-wheel bicycle in Washington in 1891, an 18-hour race over 6 days, Frankie and Louise Armaindo averaged 15 miles/hour (24 km/hour) – quite a feat on the high wheel! Frankie won, setting a record of 264 miles (424 km) – that is, a bit more than 70 km per day.
Women’s racing on the high wheel seems to have been a very competitive (and dangerous) sport, and was considered by some to be a more engaging spectator sport than men’s racing. This was in part because men’s races were also over 6 days but with 8 or even 12 hours per day, an endurance contest for racers and watchers alike. By contrast, women had a nightly sprint, with the excitement enhanced by spills and crashes as the racers maneuvered for advantage.
Frankie continued her racing career with the shift to safety bikes and there are accounts of races she was in through the 1990s. The photo shows her in 1995 with a safety bike. The poster below heralds her as “the New York cyclone” who will be in “the big six night’s ladies’ race” in the Athletic Park in Minnesota in July 1996, showing that the pattern of nightly races continued. And the prize money for such races was significant! In April 1996 the prize for winning race over 4 hours per night over 6 nights was £250 – about £42,000 today.