It is doubtful that many of the people who were regular patrons of Pierce’s Bowling Alley and Pool Hall on Mill Street in Berwick during the 1920’s and 30’s knew what an illustrious athlete the owner had been before moving to their town. Burns Wesley Pierce, of East Sable River, at the turn of the century had been one of the most famous and gifted competitors in the demanding sport of endurance cycling.
During the 1890’s and early part of the 1900’s endurance bicycle racing was one of the most popular spectator sports. Thousands would crowd stadiums with steeply banked wooden tracks to watch and cheer as individuals and team cyclists pedaled furiously to set both distance and time records.
While living in Boston, one day when cycling to work on an old second-hand cushion-tiered bicycle, he got into a race with some members of the local bicycle racing club. When he easily out-distanced these riders, his great natural ability and talent was quickly recognized and he was immediately invited to become part of the club. Soon he was entered in and winning many local and amateur races in the New England area.
Pierce quickly became a fan favorite because of his highly competitive nature and great athletic ability. At one time, Pierce held the records for the 100 mile race (both in 1896 and 1899), American records at ½ mile, two, three, four, and five mile distances and the record for greatest distance covered in one hour. Pierce’s greatest athletic feats took place in the endurance categories which held a special fascination for him and his fans. He once won the San Francisco 24 hour race without ever dismounting from the bicycle covering an astounding 467 miles, a record that stood long after his retirement.
Pierce’s great strength and stamina were legendary which made him a much sought-after racer in the three-day and six-day races so popular during the 1890’s and early years of the 1900’s. These amazing contests of human endurance featured individuals or two to five man teams riding continuously around the stadium tracks for three or six days. In one individual six-day race, Pierce fell on the first day and injured a hand but strapped the hand to the handlebars and despite the obvious handicap, completed the race (another five days!) covering 1732 miles and finishing sixth. Pierce's many fans generally agree that his greatest race was the world middle distance championship in 1898. In this race, watched by over 20,000 spectators, Pierce dethroned the reigning world champion by completing the 20 miles in 37 minutes, a time that would still be very respectable today.