This year the Northbrook Cycling Committee dedicates these weekly bicycle races to the memory of Mr. W. J. “Torchy” Peden. This outstanding gentleman was certainly one of the genuine boosters of Northbrook bicycle racing. But further, this many-faceted individual contributed in so many ways to the success of these weekly cycling contests.
Ever since Torchy Peden moved to Northbrook in 1963 he has assisted in the promotion of racing here at Rudolph/Meadowhill. The climax of his years of enthusiastic contribution was probably his assuming the presidency of the Northbrook Committee during the successful staging of the National Bicycle Championships last year. He was most proud of the United States Cycling Federation’s acceptance of his invitation to program the spectacular Nationals at his Northbrook track. He looked forward to the arrival of the exciting contests for weeks prior to the events, and he loved to critique the challenging series after the competitors had departed. The 1979 Nationals were indeed the outstanding culminations of Torchy’s almost 20 years of contributing of his time, his talent and his energy to help provide a meaningful athletic program to so many young racing enthusiasts at this beautiful facility.
Torchy’s unusual capacity to provide substance and experience to the bicycle scene at Northbrook was fortified by an outstanding career in the sport of speed cycling. Bell Beden was without a doubt the most celebrated personality of the glorious days of “Six-Day Bicycle Racing” during the exciting era of professional speed cycling during the 1920’s and 1930’s here in the United States. Torchy raced with the finest and fastest bicycle racing champions developed in the ultimate speed environment throughout Europe during this period. Throughout this heyday of the fabulous “Six-Days” the big Canadian was paired with many partners from the United States and Europe during his fantastic career, and he carried the roses on the victory lap after these races more than anyone else in the sport. Torchy was victorious on 38 different occasions. . . a record that stood for many years after the veteran had retired from the sport.
Torchy’s association with speed cycling began as he was growing up in Victoria, B.C. Canada. He developed an intense interest in cycling, and before long was participating in local contests. Although these events were not well organized, or even very competitive, Torchy was delighted with his modest success. He continued riding and the thought of competing in both the Canadian Championships or maybe even the 1928 Olympic Trials entered his mind. He elected not to ride the Canadian Championships, but after additional thought Bill Peden decided that he would represent his country in Stockholm, Sweden in 1928.
Indeed Torchy became part of the Olympic team, and although he might not have won an Olympic medal he was totally thrilled to be part of the competition. He remained in Europe and soon experienced the thrill of victory in races held in France, Poland, England and Scotland. Competitive cycling was now of utmost importance to this young red-haired Canadian, and shortly after his return from Europe he was offered a contract to turn “pro” and ride in the popular six-day races that had been so successful here in America.
Torchy was an immediate success. He became probably the most popular racer on the circuit, and both European cyclists as well as the American pros asked the promoters to be teamed with Torchy. The big man spun those pedals with such velocity that he generated excitement from even those unaccustomed to the techniques and challenge of those tremendous sprints and jams that highlighted these races. . . races that were held on tracks that sometimes measured only one-twelfth of a mile compared to our one quarter mile layout here in Northbrook. Fantastic speeds on these tracks provided sensational drama and motivated tremendous spectator excitement.
Torchy competed in every race until the last before the war. . . the race that was held at the Chicago Coliseum in January of 1942. World War II halted the six-day competition, but in April of 1946 when the post-war revival was held at the International Amphitheater here in Chicago, Torchy was back on his beautiful CCM to renew the popularity of professional speed cycling. Many old six-day fans who hadn’t seen their favorites for almost five years jammed the old south side hall, and Torchy Peden was again welcomed by his thousands of fans from all over the Midwest. Torchy didn’t win at the Amphitheater, but he gave youngsters a run for their money and everyone was proud of Chicago’s own Erv Pesek as he carried the roses on the victory lap with his second partner of the race, Tino Reboli.
Torchy Peden will be missed this summer, and future summers here at Northbrook. But the enthusiasm that he generated and the contribution to the weekly races here at Northbrook will be remembered for a long time. All of us that have been a part of the Northbrook Cycling Committee extend our sincere appreciation for the many hours he gave to the sport and the weekly racing at Meadowhill. Torchy’s passing on this past January will leave a void that will be difficult to fill. But once again we thank Torchy Peden for being a part of our cycling activities, and his unusual contribution in so many ways. Northbrook will always remember Mr. William J. “Torchy” Peden.