Reading Radsport Festival continues the tradition of professional bike racing in Berk County
This September, Reading Radsport Festival will see hundreds of cyclists from the region, and all over the world race up Mount Penn on Friday evening, September 8th. The very next day, they will race in a high-speed criterium in West Reading. Is this event new for Reading? The answer is yes. While this is the first year of the Reading Radsport Festival, which includes the Mount Penn Hillclimb and the West Reading Twilight Criterium, the event actually represents the latest, greatest iteration in a long history of professional bike races and cycling events in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region.
The region's cycling history dates back to the late 1800s when Reading, Berks County was the epicenter of bike racing in the United States. The region first came to prominence in the international racing community when a cycling and events group known as the Penn Wheelmen held the National Circuit Meet on September 20, 1890, and awarded an Eagle Cup to the winner. The race was covered by the Reading Eagle newspaper, now a sponsor of the Reading Radsport Festival. Twenty riders participated while thousands of spectators cheered them on. A cyclist named Van Wagoner won the feature twenty-mile race with a time of one hour and seven minutes. W. Irving Wilhelm finished fourth and went on to establish Reading’s first bicycle manufacturing plant.
Around the turn of the century, cyclists came from as far away as Europe, traveling by steamship, to line up for the National Circuit Meet, which finished on a half-mile track with a grandstand and bandstand built by the Wheelmen.
Long before the Tour de France was created by a French newspaper looking to expand its circulation, Reading was hosting world-class bicycle races and attracting hundreds of riders to that same half-mile dirt track. Thousands of spectators came to enjoy live music, racing, riding, food, and the chance to spend time with neighbors and friends.
More recently, the tradition continued with the WEEU Cycles Series, which became the largest citizen bike race series in the United States between 1989 and 1999, regularly drawing hundreds of cyclists from twenty-one different states and seven foreign nations. Other racing events included the Reading Classic leg of the Commerce Bank Triple Crown of Pro Cycling, the Latin Criterium, the Reading 120, and the Duryea Downhill, which is still held each year.
This year, the Reading Radsport Festival will continue the tradition of bringing top-level competition – and a first-class community event – to Pennsylvania’s Americana Region. Just as with past events, the Reading Radsport Festival will include live music and friendly cycling competition for citizen racers and kids, plus food trucks and entertainment for every kind of cycling and community event fan.
The Reading Radsport Festival includes the Mount Penn Hill Climb on Friday, September 8th, and the West Reading Twilight Criterium on September 9th.
For more information, visit www.readingradsport.com and visit the event’s Facebook page.