Bert Harris

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For other people named Bert Harris, see Bert Harris (disambiguation).
Bert Harris
Personal information
Full name Albert Walter Allen Harris
Nickname Bert
Born 1873
Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Died April 21, 1897(1897-04-21)
Team information
Discipline Track
Role Rider
Rider type Sprinter
Amateur team(s)
Professional team(s)
1894–1897 London Polytechnic Cycle Club
Major wins
Professional Champion
Infobox last updated on
7 December 2007

Albert Bert Walter Allen Harris (1873, Birmingham[1] - 21 April 1897,[2] Birmingham General Hospital) was a professional racing cyclist. He was raised in Leicester and attended Holy Trinity School. He started cycling competitively at the age of 14 and came second in the 'Infirmary Sports' at Aylestone Road Sports Ground (now the Grace Road Cricket Ground) two years later.[3]


Harris gained his first major win at Bristol in 1889, completing the Five Mile race in 18 minutes and 25 seconds. Harris lived with his father, Walter James Harris, at 4 Portsmouth Road, Leicester and there is documentary evidence of this still held by the family. This address is also on his death certificate and coroner's report. Harris broke the records for the mile and three-quarter mile events in 1893 before turning professional in 1894 and joined the London Polytechnic Cycle Club. Bert was coached by Sam Mussabini to his first professional cycling championship victory in 1894. During a race in Cardiff in April 1895, he came off his bicycle and was knocked unconscious for 48 hours. However, by September he was well enough to break the English professional record at Herne Hill Velodrome, completing the half-mile in 57.3 seconds and the mile in 118.3 seconds.[3]

Bert competed alongside the big names in cycling in the Antipodes in 1895 and 1896, receiving £400 for winning one race alone.[3] On average he earned £15 a week.[4] He was so successful that people began to refer to 1896 as Harris Year.[4]

Bert's last event was a ten mile race on Easter Monday in 1897, about four miles into the race he came off his bicycle and struck his head on the hard surface. He died two days later without recovering consciousness.[3]

Harris' remembrance[edit]

A memorial erected at Welford Road Cemetery, Leicester is evidence of popularity:[3]

"This memorial stone is erected by the cyclists of England
in token of the sincere respect
and esteem in
which he was held by wheelmen
the world over.
He was ever a fair and honourable rider
and sportsman and his lamented death cut
off in its prime one of the brightest and
most genial spirits of cycledom.
He fell on the racing path at Aston on
Easter Monday 1897 and succumbed to
his injuries at the General Hospital
Birmingham April 21, 1897 aged 24 years."[5]

Dick Swann wrote a book titled Bert Harris of the Poly: A Cycling Legend which was published by V Harvey in January 1974. ISBN 978-0-85544-010-7

Roger Lovell, a Leicester businessman is hoping to raise £30,000 in order to erect a public statue to commemorate Harris.[6] Lovell also approached the BBC to film a drama documentary, which was subsequently made by Victorian reconstructionists on location in Leicester. In a bizarre coincidence, the actor who played Bert turned out to be his descendant.[4]