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Bombay Bicycle Club History

Few people know the Bombay Bicycle Club has historical links with two foreign countries, a fictional British soldier with the rank of major, and two cities that no longer exist.

The countries are Canada and India. The British soldier is Major Higgenbotham-Brackett. The cities are Bombay, which was re-named Mumbai in 1995, and Madison’s own “lost city” in the UW Arboretum. These threads came together in 1974, when BBC was formed by a small band of about a half-dozen local cyclists.

“Al Schmitt moved to Madison from Rochester NY,” said Rob Mecum II, McFarland, one of the club’s founders, and guest speaker at the Spring Meeting. “His big thing in life was sailing. He used to sail across the lake (Ontario) to Toronto. There was a place over there at a marina that he liked to get a drink and it was called the Bombay Bicycle Club. That’s where the name came from.”

Rob’s father, also Robert, offered some additional information as to what prompted the Bombay name.

“Al enjoyed drinking Bombay gin,” the elder Mecum observed. “We wanted a name that people would say ‘what was that?” the younger Mecum said. “And that’s how it became the Bombay Bicycle Club. We had a meeting and Al put the name out and we all wanted a name that was more attention-getting than something like Madison Wheelmen.”

Schmitt and his wife lived in what came to be known as Madison’s “lost city” – a development proposed in the early 1900s as a residential subdivision. The main street was to give a spectacular view of the Capitol. However, only a few houses were ever built and those were later torn down. The developer went bankrupt as the swampy soil swallowed up the concrete streets and buildings. Only concrete ribbons that once were streets and a few foundations remain today.

“It was at Al’s house that the club was formed,” Mecum said. “He lived in the lost city in a duplex with his wife and he was building custom frames in the garage. We used to sit around in the garage, drink beer and BS and that’s where we decided what to call the club.”

The Mecums operated Monona Bicycle Shop as a family business on Monona Drive from1961 until 1998. They were known as expert mechanics, able to repair the complex internal hubs that were on some bikes at that time and are now making a comeback.

Over the years, the club and its ride schedule got larger and larger. The original logo, created about 1975, was a male rider on an ordinary, a high-wheeler. By 1984 Major Higgenbotham-Brackett was appearing astride the ordinary. He decorated club literature and apparel, strengthening the supposed India connection. The club’s newsletter was called “Ordinary Reflections.”

What prompted the formation of a touring club? Mecum said Madison already had a racing club, the Two-Tyred Wheelmen, which was sponsored by the Yellow Jersey bicycle shop.

“We wanted a club that was less racer oriented,” Mecum said. ”The Two-Tyred Wheelmen were into racing and we were more into taking a Sunday ride and stopping at a bar and eating a burger. We’d head out to Paoli and stop at the bar. We would get a beer, have our burger and ride home. It just kind of grew from there.”

Yes, it grew. Today, Bombay boasts more than 400 members, making it one of the largest, if not the largest, touring club in the state.

Article written by Bill Hauda.