Jimmy Michael 1875-1904

By Steven Paul Cooke

Picture of Jimmy Michael

Picture courtesy of RCTCBC

Also, racing was another Aberamananite, Jimmy Michael (born Woodland Terrace), a protégé of Arthur Linton and his early trainer Jack Jones. Jimmy had been reared by his grandmother, Anne Michael, who had a butcher’s shop on the corner of Station Street (197 and 198 Cardiff Road). His father died when Jimmy was young and his mother eventually moved to New Tredegar. As a boy, he was a familiar figure in Aberaman where he used to work as an errand boy in his grandmother’s shop. “He always rode a bicycle when he carried the meat, and never used to dismount until he reached the counter of the shop.” Later he worked at the Treaman Pit, Jimmy’s first cycling victory came in the Church Club Sports held at Aberdare, and his first victory outside the valley came at Swansea where “his characteristic love of his fellow man Arthur Linton lent Jimmy his Raleigh, which practically enabled the butcher boy to win.”

In 1894 had been a good season for Arthur Linton it was an even greater one for Jimmy Michael. In June, Jimmy won the 100-mile race at Herne Hill in record time. The press raved over his outstanding victory. The ‘South Wales Daily News’ reported: “How the townsfolk of Aberaman received the news I can’t imagine, but they are surely now beginning to realise that as a community they are somewhat distinct from ordinary everyday folk when it comes to sending forth the champions in the cycling arena. Cyclists are asking ‘Who will be next?’ What was there in Aberaman to account for such a trio of champions, Arthur Linton, Tom Linton and now Jimmy Michael! Is it something in the air peculiar to their native soil that inspires the lads of Aberaman with such dogged pluck, or is it the spirit of determination and resolution which grows and more resolute in proportion to the difficulties to be faced and the obstacles overcome. A week ago Jimmy Michael, although well-known locally, was only one in a thousand rank and file riders. Yet now his name is on everyone’s lips. No matter what the pace, no matter who thought they would like to sprint, Michael was always there riding as easily as if on a club run. He broke the 50 mile World Record by a minute 3 seconds and was 10 minutes inside the record for 100 miles.

Jimmy was described as unassuming and boyish and not a great talker. Having overcome his innate bashfulness commented. Well, sir, I do not think I ever had an easier ride. You see, sir, I only had a week’s training for it on the track and didn’t know for certain whether I could last out for 100 miles, so I had to keep something in hand all through.”

“Then you think you could beat Linton’s record for 100 miles?”

“I feel sure I could. I’m bound to ride better next time, for I shall feel more at home in a big race that I felt before.”

There was talk of putting his ‘Whitworth’ machine in a glass case. Jimmy was called “the little hero” and “Samson in miniature” for he was only five foot one. His size was often commented upon and led to numerous nicknames such as “The Boy Wonder,” “The Little Wonder.” “The smallest of the small,” “The Midget,” and once when racing against a Frenchman called Bonhours he was described as ‘looking a mere pigmy beside the big Gaul,’ (Jimmy beat him).

Picture of address

Jimmy was taken in hand by ‘Choppy’ Warburton and signed to ride the ‘Gladiator.’ He went to France with Arthur and Tom Linton, forming ‘The Terrible Trio.’

In 1895 was a poor year for Arthur, he parted company with ‘Choppy’ Warburton and he was constantly troubled by his knee and suffered repeated losses while seeing his records smashed. For Jimmy, it was a different story: he went from strength to strength. He defeated Lesna, the French Champion, who was regarded as unbeatable. No records were broken in the race, but Jimmy tied with Arthur’s record for 50 Km. Arthur and Tom Linton acted as pacemakers for Jimmy. Arthur did have one success over Jimmy: the Mabon’s Day at the Harlequin Track, Cardiff, in a 50-mile race. Arthur and Jimmy exchanged the lead until the 20-mile mark when Arthur gained an advantage of half a mile. Jimmy sprinted after 24 miles but could not catch Arthur. Jimmy retired with only 4 or 5 laps to go-knowing he had lost. However, the year ended on a high note for Jimmy Michael for he became The World Middle Distance Champion of Cologne. I have been unable to find any details of the actual race, but it is recorded in the records of the Federation Francaise de Cyclisme. The 1896 season began with some hostility between Jimmy and the Linton’s. An open challenge was published in the ‘Aberdare Times:’

“Seeing that Tom Linton has been boasting in the South Wales paper that he can beat me and that he would be willing to ride me anytime, and that also his brother Arthur was ‘champion of the world.’ I will ride either of them and will give them two laps in 100km., three in 100 miles, or four in 6 hours for £100-a-side and all gate receipts, the race to be ridden at Buffalo Winter Track in Paris. I have deposited £20 with the ‘Sporting Life,’ so all they have to do is to cover it and they can be accommodated at once, or give over talking.”

“Anyone else in the world can be taken on the same terms, as I was a middle-distance champion of the world and not Arthur Linton.”

Picture of Aberaman Trio

In March, Jimmy was honoured in the way Arthur Linton had been by his fellow Aberamanites: a complimentary banquet was held at the Lamb and Flag and Jimmy was presented with an illuminated address. It was also intended to present him with his portrait in oil and a later date.

The rivalry between Jimmy and Tom continued: Tom set a new record for four miles, only for it to be beaten by Jimmy the following night. In May, Tom won an eight-day race in Paris by 34 laps, winning £150. Jimmy meanwhile, was at Wood Green trying to cover 30 miles in one hour, but the pacers were not fast enough. The news arrived from Paris that Tom had broken all records from the fifth mile and had covered 30 miles in an hour. The news was also received that Sam Linton was on his way to France to pace his brother, Arthur, in the Bordeaux to Paris Road Race.

Although it is was not, clear, it seems that Arthur Linton had rejoined ‘Choppy’ Warburton. ‘Choppy’ had been involved in the Bordeaux – Paris Race and when Jimmy Michael was challenged by J.W. Stocks he stated he had three riders who could beat (Jimmy, Tom and Arthur) although he only named Jimmy Michael. At the Great Chain Races, to discover the best cycle chain. Tom best Stocks, but Jimmy failed to finish in the 5-mile race: he was beaten by the second mile and retired: Arthur rode into exhibitions It was noted that ‘Choppy’ Warburton was not so much in evidence as usual.

These tracks that knew him once will know him no more, and the people who once delighted in his fine riding have seen him for the last time this side of the grave. To Wales, a breach has been made which was probable. We may have a Tom Linton or a Jimmy Michael, but with all their smart performances they will never fill the place of poor Arthur in his genial way and excellent riding. At home and abroad he was the favourite, the Pel of the Frenchmen and Englishman alike, an adored here in Wales. We have in common with all cyclists to mourn the loss of a pure unbiased general whose motto was invariably “Do all the good you can.”

Within weeks of Arthur’s death is was reported that “Michael is not likely to injure himself as did his fellow club man, poor Arthur Linton, by keeping in practically constant training.” In the same report is says that Jimmy had split with ‘Choppy’ Warburton. From the evidence, we must draw our own conclusions.

Life went on for Tom and Jimmy. Tom went back to France and won a 50-mile race for the Brassard and the income attached to it. He defeated Huret by several laps. After the races Huret, amidst general cheers, fastened the brassard or badge on Linton’s arm. Jimmy on the other hand travelled to America. There he won new admirers. The ‘Pittsburgh Despatch’ said “There is no doubt whatever regarding the wonderful speed and stamina of little Michael. We must admit that Michael was one of the best riders the world had known.” The Magnet said; “It is doubtful whether there is a greater cyclist in the world that Jimmy Michael, the little Welshman.” A Welsh exile was move-to-verse:

Michael was a Welshman’
Michael was no thief,
But Michael is a rider
Whom no one here can beat

Jimmy lowered very record from 2 to 10 miles in New Orleans. It was reported that he was gaining weight. “The ozone of America agrees with him, whereas he weighed 98 pounds when he landed in New York, he now turns the pointer slot machine in 100 pounds. In his dry way, he says he will soon become a ‘whopper.’ His advent in the record-breaking line has simulated young Americans to such a degree that an army of small boys and riders of a smaller frame was pushing pedals in larger numbers than before.”

Tom Linton followed Jimmy to America but could not match him. Jimmy amassed a fortune by his riding. It was said that he was paid more than a Cabinet Minister for one race at Olympia. It was also said that Arthur Linton had earned over £4,000 in his brief professional career. Jimmy gained a reputation as a bit of a ladies man and used the laxity of American marriage laws to obtain a divorce. (I found no other references to his marriage). Eventually, Jimmy was challenged by ‘Major Taylor,’ Negro rider, and was beaten in a big race in New York. Jimmy gave up cycling and for a time became a jockey and bought his, own racing stable which swallowed up much of his fortune. He returned to cycling in 1902, “but it was only too evident that his days as a champion cyclist were over, and he never recovered his old pace.” A serious fall in Berlin did not help his comeback. Glory and fortune had ruined him and he died on the 21st of November 1904, aged 29, aboard the Atlantic liner ‘Savoie,’ on the back to New York. His mother tried to bring the body back to Aberaman but Jimmy was buried in New York. The cause of death was an attack of delirium tremens. In other words, he drank himself to death.

There is a memorial to Arthur Linton in St Margaret’s Church, Aberaman, but there is nothing to remind us of Jimmy Michael except Mike’s Field, where his grandfather kept cattle and sheep before they were slaughtered, and where there was once a cinder track where Jimmy used to practice. In France however, Jimmy as a Memorial; on a wall in the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec (Toulouse-Lautrec Museum) in Albi there hangs a drawing of Jimmy by the famous artist.

Illustration of Jimmy by his favorite artisr

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