The Jan. 16, 1934, edition of the Washington Times carried stories about the great sports figures of the time. Babe Ruth had decided to take a $17,000 pay cut and signed with the Yankees for $35,000. Lou Gehrig, after a so-so (.334, 139 RBI) season, was settling for $23,000. Primo Carnera's successful title defense against Paulino Uzcudun was criticized as a Rome-town decision.
But the dominant picture on that sports page was a shot of Edgar W. (Wheels) Bieber in a race at West Potomac Park.
Bieber may be the most remarkable athlete Washington has produced. In 1934, he won his sixth straight D.C. bicycle championship. He accomplished this by compiling the fastest total time in a series of four races -- ranging from a half-mile to 10 miles -- held on the same day by the Amateur Bicycle League of America (ABLA). He won the D.C. championship 13 times.
One of his major achievements was setting a record at age 18 and breaking it at age 48. Bieber will be 70 on Sunday, and his record will be 51 years, five months and 16 days old. On June 13, 1930, he wheeled away from the steps of the U.S. Capitol and reached Baltimore City Hall in one hour, 40 minutes and 14 seconds. Nobody had done that before and nobody has done it since, except Eddie Bieber.
Bieber -- tan, muscled and flat-bellied as a Sun Belt athlete -- won't do too much on his birthday. If the weather is good, he might travel from his Foggy Bottom town house down the parkway to Mount Vernon and back with the "bunch of kids" he rides with these days. Since he does only about 200 miles of roadwork a week, he's not in competitive shape. "I did 45 miles today, and my face burns like hell," he said last week. "It was probably too much. I go by how I feel; I'm not a kid."
But when there is serious competition next spring, it will be against "kids," as it was in an invitational event in Mexico City in September.
"Some 'Gran Premio de something,' " Bieber said. "Fifty kilometers, which is about 31 1/4 miles. I finished 19th out of about 94."
Bieber eschews the senior (50-and-over) competition that could enhance his collection of 37 watches and hundreds of medals because "it wouldn't be any fun." He beat all the younger competitors in a 25-mile road race at Revere, Mass., last year, and the prize was a microwave oven. "I appreciated that," Bieber said. "I don't know what the hell I'd do with another watch."
Bieber says he won that event by "breaking away."
"The young guys sat back," he said, "figuring we senior citizens would come back to them. When they came after us, it was too late."
Bieber -- also known as Bicycle Eddie -- was born at 4 1/2 and G streets SW and still refers to his prominent next-door neighbor as Asa Yoelson. "His father was a kosher caterer. I don't know why they made him a cantor when they made the (movie of) the Al Jolson story. A better story, I suppose," he says.
Eddie was nearly 16 and had won his first D.C. championship when "The Jazz Singer" opened in New York in October 1927. Some of his medals bore the insignia of the Pierce Cycle Co. of Angola, N.Y. -- an arrow through the capital P with the motto, "Tried and True." Bieber didn't know the company made cars until Yoelson, in his chauffeur-driven Pierce Arrow, returned to the neighborhood in opulent triumph.
Bieber has read in a magazine that two more "kids" have applied to the ABLA for sanction to try to break his Washington-Baltimore record next summer. They would be the 27th and 28th challengers since 1930. Only 1 1/2 attempts have been successful, both by Bieber.
The last challenge began at dawn on Aug. 31, 1980. Henri Galion set out on his 10-speed Mercier as swift a bicycle as the mind of man has conceived. Three ABLA timers, stopwatches synchronized, followed in cars. Galion missed the mark by one minute and one second.
Presumably Galion downshifted a time or two on the "Dead Man's Curve" on Rte. 1 above Laurel. So if he had broken the record, the ABLA should have put an asterisk by it.
Eddie Bieber never shifted gears. He didn't have any.
When he was 18 and set his 1:40:14 record, Bieber had to stop at a railroad crossing and spend four minutes watching a freight train go by. So he tried again in 1936 and got there in 1:34:31. But ABLA officials somehow measured a 37 1/2 mile-course instead of a 41-mile course. The record didn't count.
In 1960, when he was 48, Bieber tried again using a bicycle with a 1-to-1 gear ratio. They called it 42 miles this time, but Bieber was riding his "Stradivarius," made to order in 1956 on the Italian-Swiss border, and his time was 1:34:16.
"The lugs are silver-brazed," says Bieber, a retired welder with a craftsman's appreciation for fine materials and workmanship. "It has. . . spokes like piano wire." The bicycle weighs 14 ounces less than an unloaded M-1 rifle.
It has been taken apart, greased and put away. "It's in its jewel box," Eddie says. "It's a sprint bike, and it shouldn't be used on the road."
On the edge of 70, Bieber lives with his mementoes and no regrets. Well, maybe one slight regret. "Sometimes I wish I had the age back," he says, "to see how fast that Baltimore run could be made with a 10-speed."
One of the mementoes is a sampler stitched by a friend during one of the more recent of his 37 summers at Cape May, N.J. "Don't regret growing old," it advises. "It's a privilege denied so many."