John S. Johnson took up bicycle racing to condition his legs for speed skating.
Johnson, who was born in Red Wing, Minn., and grew up in Minneapolis, became a world champion in both sports simultaneously.
In September of 1892, at the age of 19, Johnson burst on the emerging bicycle racing scene with record-setting performances in Independence, Iowa. He set records in the quarter-mile (26 3/5 seconds), half-mile (55 1/2 seconds) and the mile (1 minute, 56.6 seconds). The mile record broke the previous record by 8.25 seconds. It was the first time that a half-mile had been ridden in less than one minute and the first time that a mile had been ridden in under two minutes.
In the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, he defeated racers throughout the United States. He then travelled to Canada, England, France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries where he became the first American to defeat Canadian and European stars in both sports.
Late in his bicycling career, Johnson rode for racing teams sponsored by the bicycle manufacturers E.C. Stearns Bicycle Agency and Schwinn Bicycle Co. He retired from competitive bicycle racing in 1900, at the age of 27.
The Minneapolis Star wrote in January 1934, "(Johnson is) probably the greatest skater ever developed in the United States. Johnson had no equal for a long period of years just before the turn of the century. Even as a professional, he took on all comers and quickly put them in the also ran class. Today, 40 years after he set them, his records in the 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 mile events still stand."
"There were many long, lean years in which skating was at a low ebb in the Twin Cities. Throughout that time Johnson (as president of the Northwestern Skating Association) continually worked to bring the sport back into favor, and developed many of the best skaters in the Twin Cities today."
JOHN S. JOHNSON
Sports: Bicycle racing, speed skating.