Professional cycling history is long and storied with memorable races and unforgettable heroes. Long before Lance Armstrong and the yellow jersey, cyclists were beginning to explore the possibility of competitive cycling and new types of races.
The first recorded bicycle races began in the early 1800s, with bikes called "ordinaries" that featured a very large front wheel and a very small back wheel. Ultimately, racing these unbalanced machines at high speeds became too dangerous, and the mid 1800s saw a switch to racing with evenly-sized tires, as well as the first air-filled tires. The new bikes propelled professional cycle racing to new levels of popularity and proved to be a defining moment in the sport's history.
By the turn of the twentieth century, professional cycling had become a leading spectator sport in America, with velodromes across the country getting packed to see top racers like Arthur Zimmerman and Marshall Taylor. While short track racing blossomed in America, the sport started to explore the possibilities of long distance road races in Europe. Road races across Europe began to reach into the hundreds of miles. But in 1903, the ultimate race, the Tour de France, was first held. The race was actually first devised to create publicity for a fledgling cycling newspaper, but it quickly became an international sensation. Then consisting of sixty races competing over a 1,400 mile route, the race now spans about 2200 miles with 20 teams of nine riders each.
Over time, professional cycling technology has enabled racing bikes to become sleeker, safer, and faster. Most professional cycling bikes now weigh around fifteen pounds and can average speeds on long races of around 30 miles per hour. The Tour de France continues to be the most prominent symbol of professional cycling and its storied history. American cycling sensation Lance Armstrong currently holds the record for most wins of the tour at seven. Velodromes and road races continue to draw the attention of fans across the world. Without a doubt, professional cycling will continue to be one of the most unique and compelling sports in the world.