The Wall of Death… on a bicycle!
My friend Rob recently alerted me to this short film by Benedict Campbell about the Ken Fox Troupe who are one of the few remaining Wall of Death acts. This film is a thing of beauty, every frame being exquisitely shot. It really conveys the atmosphere of this extraordinary performance, but also captures the personalities of the people involved. Of course, that is the motorcycle version of this act…. It reminded me that there were also bicycle versions of this dangerous entertainment. These included Barnum and Bailey’s Kinetic Demon of 1903, where the small diameter wooden track was at a full ninety degrees to the ground. The track was made of quite widely spaced vertical slats so that it could be viewed from ground level through the slats, rather than from above as in the motorcycle versions. Sometimes, for even greater dramatic effect and danger, the banked track was even suspended in mid air. Pictured here is the fantastic poster, surely one of the finest images ever of a cycling subject, for The 7 Wild Wheel Whirl Wonders. Between two and seven of these male and female cyclists raced around a 70 degree banked track 5 feet in height and just 20 feet in diameter! They were part of Forepaugh and Sells Brothers American circus of around 1905. Their acts also included the Diavolo, where cyclists, for some inexplicable reason dressed as devils, would charge down a steep ramp and then loop the loop around a wooden construction, whilst Barnum and Bailey featured a similar act where there was a large gap in the top of the loop – thus Looping the Gap! Unsurprisingly, injuries and even deaths were not uncommon. What a sight these performances must have been….
I was unable to find the source of the great image above. It was found in this excellent article about Looping the Loop