Curtis always in top gear

July 27, 2017

Betty Curtis has a box full of newspaper cuttings and sashes from her success as a cyclist, proudly displaying two photos of her riding during her prime.

Betty Curtis upset Iris Bent to win the Australian two mile title at Deakin Reserve in 1952.

Greater Shepparton Sports Hall of Fame inductee

There is little more fitting than a champion cyclist riding to a job selling Malvern Star bicycles.

That was Betty Curtis’s life during the six years she became one of the most dangerous women’s cyclists riding off scratch in Australia.

Curtis (nee Knight) would ride from her parents’ dairy farm in Congupna to Shepparton for work, using it as a practice.

‘‘I used to ride six miles (9.6km) to work six days a week and I called that my training,’’ Curtis said.

‘‘In the track season, I would ride my racing bike in and do laps of the (Deakin Reserve) track after work.’’

As Curtis became more prominent in cycling circles across Shepparton, she was poached from selling Malvern Stars to promoting Hartley Cycles.

‘‘I got a job at Malvern Star when (my cycling career) started off and I started racing and doing all right ... they made me a frame because it was made to my measurements,’’ Curtis said.

‘‘I rode that for quite a while and then I got a (another) job, the chap that owned Hartley Cycles must have got in contact with me and I said, ‘I’ll come and work for you if you get me a frame and if you give me more money’ — so that’s what happened.’’

Riding with a custom Hartley frame, Curtis secured the coveted two mile Australian title on New Year’s Day in 1952 on her home track, at the national championships in Shepparton.

Curtis, 88, went into the race with no expectations of winning and was surprised she crossed the line first in front of 16-time national champion Iris Bent.

‘‘I didn’t think I had any chance of winning because the girl that used to win everything (Bent) was racing and I thought ‘well, she’s going to win anyway’,’’ Curtis said.

‘‘(Bent) wasn’t even in the placings; I don’t know who got the bigger shock, her or me.

‘‘It was on my home ground and I won it ... the kids would come up and want your autograph and there were bits in the paper about it.’’

Help from a local mechanic gave Curtis the power on her Hartley bike to propel her across the line.

‘‘I was sitting with my bike and one of the boys that used to work at the mechanics (Bobby Johnson) said, ‘is your bike okay?’,’’ Curtis said.

‘‘He said, ‘Well, I’m going to take it away and check it out’.

‘‘Well, he must have done something, he put me on a higher gear that I wasn’t used to, but once you wound up, you go.

‘‘It’s like a car, like anything when you’re in top gear.

‘‘At bell lap he said, ‘Give it all you’ve got’ — and well, I felt as if I was flying, I just went around the bunch.’’

Curtis was unbeatable in a scratch race, having every Shepparton Cycling Club title from 1952 to 1957 for races where all riders began at the same point.

She was even named the club’s cyclist of the century during this illustrious period.

But in handicap races, Curtis was often set too far back, making it difficult for her to surge ahead and win.

She was part of the foundation of Shepparton Ladies Amateur Cycling Club in 1948 and was a standout from the beginning.

‘‘The first race I came second, but I was put on scratch from then on and I was the backmarker, always the backmarker,’’ Curtis said.

Often on a Sunday the men and women would join together and ride up to Echuca to meet with their counterparts in the town Curtis has lived in for the past 63 years since getting married.

Curtis’ racing career was fleeting, achieving much in a six-year timeframe including a Victorian 10-mile road championship as well as representing the state in Queensland twice.

‘‘It was a good six years, a real good six years,’’ Curtis said.

‘‘You lived for the bike racing and you wouldn’t miss any of the carnivals.’’

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