Ritchie Betts: Founder of LCC and Father of American Motorcycling

Ritchie Betts

Louisiana Cycling Club Spokes Scrapbook, accession 98-62-L,Williams Research Center, The Historic New Orleans Collection

R.G. “Ritchie” Betts, the first president of the Federation of American Motorcyclists, got his start as a bicycle activist in New Orleans. In 1887, the 17-year-old founded the Louisiana Cycling Club. The LCC was the second major cycling club formed in New Orleans, the first being the New Orleans Bicycle Club, formed in 1881. Under the aegis of Betts, the LCC grew quickly into a lively organization that soon overshadowed the NOBC.

For the first years of the 1880s, bicycles were  unpopular with the public as a strange new machine that many found intrusive and even dangerous on the streets, which were otherwise dominated by pedestrians and merchant carts. Betts and the LCC worked to convince the public of the utility of the bicycle as legitimate private transportation (as well as exercise and enjoyment), to advocate for the rights of cyclists to public roads, and to encourage the city to improve the conditions of city streets. In the spring of 1887, with Betts as Captain, the LCC joined forces with the NOBC to hold the first cycling track races in New Orleans at the Audubon Park Driving Track and the annual racing meet of the League of American Wheelmen’s Louisiana Division (the racing league to which most members of both clubs belonged) beginning that fall. The annual cycling league races at Audubon became one of the most popular spectator events in New Orleans.

Although Betts rode in the Audubon Park track races and the road races held throughout the year, he made his name and his career not as racer but a sports journalist, cycling and motorcycling advocate, and organizer..

Betts was the New Orleans born son post-Civil War transplants from New York. In his youth, Betts wrote articles about cycling in New Orleans for various cycling magazines, including Bicycle South, The Wheel, and The New York Wheel, often signing his missives with the whimsical nom de plume “Bettsy B.” He also submitted editorials to the local newspaper, The Daily Picayune, arguing for among other things public acceptance of the bicycle on city streets.

In 1891, Betts moved to New York (after a brief stint at Gormully and Jeffery in Chicago) and became the assistant editor of The New York Wheel. With the invention of the motorcycle at the turn of the century, Betts quickly took up the new machine. In 1903 he helped organize the first meeting of the Federation of American Motorcyclists at Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, which included track races. Having by that time become editor of Bicycling World, he later changed the name of that magazine to Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review. Betts was instrumental in advocating for legal rights for motorcyclists and helping cities around the US organize their own FAM affiliated motorcycle clubs. Such was the importance of his influence that the newspaper San Francisco Call referred to him in 1908 as “The Father of American Motorcycling.” Betts had written at the time that, “Los Angeles [motorcycle] clubs are the finest of any in the world. For these reasons that it may be considered at present California is the home of the motorcyclists.”

In addition to his activities in the world of bicycling and motorcycling, Betts was a civic leader who headed several social and political organizations in White Plains, New York. He died there in 1951.

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