Anyone new to Australian cycling history will quickly learn that the cycling world was divided into amateur and professional cyclists.
While a professional cyclist was simply one who raced for prize money the division was arguably less to do with the cyclists themselves and more to do with the competitiveness of their clubs and controlling bodies for influence, financing and credibility. Clubs classed themselves either pro or amateur and riders in choosing a club through circumstance or friendship would be classed the same.
This is not to say that the amateurs did not mix or train with the pro’s - they often did – but egos and allegiances coloured these interactions and saw the two groups keep their distance. Sponsors like Swansea were relatively blind these prejudices, supporting amateurs and pros alike, mostly with tyres and the occasional free bike.
Whilst a top tier cyclist’s winnings could be a substantial proportion of his annual income, the reality was that the prize money and endorsements would for all but the very best merely supplement income from full-time work. Training and racing time had to be found outside the “9 to 5” and family life.
“I wanted to get married, never had enough money to, so that’s when I turned around, got stuck into racing, won a whole heap of races that year and got enough money to get married on. Cycling was good to me; otherwise I was battling. ”
Bill Gilbride, WA Track Champion of Champions, 1951
Many young cyclists would have gravitated towards the local cycling club for reasons such as convenience, existing friendships or to perhaps train under a notable coach. Some prestigious races such as the Northam-to-Perth were open only to amateurs. Similarly there were many track events and races such as the Beverley-to-Perth and the Warrnambool that were open only to the pro’s.
Club goals aside the ambition of many amateur cyclists would have been to represent the state at national titles. The opportunity to beat the best in Australia held the potential of Olympic selection. Selection did not guarantee the chance to go for gold; with little assistance, riders had to raise their own funds to attend, which they were often unable to do.
The metamorphosis to professional life was difficult to reverse. Jimmy Taylor became a pro aged 13 after winning just £1. It was with great effort that he was reclassified as an amateur and permitted to compete in amateur events.
A “lillywhite” amateur who had turned professional would need to have their response prepared for an invitation into “the chop”, “take” or “joke”. This was an agreement between a number of riders, sometimes made whilst already racing, to share the prize money of place-getters with other riders prepared to block, lead out and bait other competitors.
"I woke up to what’s going on; he’s on the take! I’ve gone on his wheel and through the inside but I laid off, I couldn’t come past him, I was stuffed. He won it, I came second, but I think I pocketed more money because he had to pay six other guys!" Clarrie Minciullo