How bicycle daredevil Diavolo looped the loop back in the early 1900s

Diavolo performing his bicycle daredevil act 1905

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Bicycle daredevil Diavolo was really a man named Conn Baker (who also used the pseudonym John/J.C. Carter).

The Ohio-born man traveled the country performing gravity-defying stunts, like the still-famous loop-the-loop shown below.

In contrast to some other “magic” acts of the time — such as Houdini’s illusions — Baker’s stunt was real, with enough falls and broken bones to prove it.

Below, see what Baker did during his show, and how the upside-down bicycle ride trick worked.

Forepaugh and Sells Brothers – Diavolo looping the loop

Danger deriding – Death-defying – Desperate dare-devil

The veritable cap-sheaf of all hazardous exploits! The extreme and absolute limit of sensationalism reached at last. Beyond the tremendously terrible temerity and illimitable, inimitable intrepidity of Diavolo, no man may go.

Forepaugh and Sells Brothers - Diavolo looping the loop

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Diavolo performing his bicycle daredevil act (1905)

Here’s a crowd watching Allo “Dare Devil” Diavolo riding a bicycle upside down doing a loop and topsy-turvy somersault:

Diavolo performing his bicycle daredevil act 1905

Memories of a Diavolo performance in 1904

Excerpted from The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York) June 21, 1947

A memorable event in the lives of local oldtimers was the carnival given in April 1904… The show transfixed the audience from the outset.

…When the lights went on and the crowd became settled for a regulation performance, one Diavolo, who made thrilling loop-the-loops on a bicycle, took position at the top of a steep incline, as attendants built tension to a peak through repeated demands for absolute silence.

Diavolo got his signal from below and took off as he had done hundreds of times, but again it was an off night and as his loop took on unexpected “English” he was diverted directly downward and into the net.

The performer landed in the net as if “stunned or dead,” but the bicycle cut through and crashed to the ground.

A tense silence was followed by hysterical female cries, but then Diavolo arose suddenly, ran up the incline, and like the true trouper took a bow. The men cheered, but many of the women, some still hysterical, left the tent.

It was learned later that the performer cracked a rib, but was otherwise himself.

Daredevil Diavolo performing his bike act 1905

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Diavolo coming to “Loop the loop” (1902)

Excerpted from The Minneapolis Journal (Minneapolis, Minnesota) May 3, 1902

Diavolo! The name fits. Had this man’s extraordinary feat been witnessed by an audience of 1802, that audience would certainly have thought him the devil.

When the Elks’ carnival committee included Diavolo among its list of special attractions, the committee built better than it knew. Circus managers in all parts of the world were after him. Bidding was lively and nearly prohibitive… The price was very high.

Diavolo’s “looping of the loop” is without any question the most daring feat of bicycle riding ever seen. It is not a trick, but a triumph of daring and intricate calculation.

Arthur J. Prescott, who built the loop, spent months in the throes of mathematical study before becoming satisfied that the loop was a mechanical possibility. It seemed a wildly impossible thing to believe, that a man could be made to ride upside down, almost literally to climb a wall, cross a ceiling and come down the other wall, but that is what looping the loop amounts to.

But Prescott, after calculating propositions of technical intricacy for months, made up his mind that the thing was feasible. Then he built the loop.

The illustration shows what it looks like. The affair might be described as a bicycle track stood on edge.

To see Diavolo make his ride is to get a new sensation. People who are bothered with weak hearts had better not go. The spectacle is fascinating, awe-inspiring.

At first one is incredulous. Curiosity succeeds doubt, anxiety succeeds curiosity, for nobody wants to see a man deliberately dash himself to death.

Horror succeeds anxiety, because to the average spectator there seems nothing but certain disaster ahead of the performer as he dashes up the incline.

Conn Baker - How bicycle daredevil Diavolo looped the loops back in the early 1900s

There is a gasp from the audience, a chorus of shrieks from women, as Diavolo hangs head downward, but still pedaling hard; and an exclamation of surprised satisfaction as the rider descends with the speed of a bullet, but in perfect safety.

Diavolo made his first trial last December. That time he took his life in his hands. Prescott, the inventor, told him that to the best of his belief there was a mistake in his calculations.

But in the application of various abstruse mathematical laws, there was the chance of mistake… Diavolo made the trial. It came near being his last. On that occasion he rode a pneumatic ‘tired’ wheel. He will never do that again.

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Now he rides a solid tired machine. The tires exploded when he was halfway through his overhead journey. Friction was immediately increased, speed correspondingly diminished. The calculations of the inventor, did not hold good under these altered conditions.

The principle involved is that two forces acting oppositely resolve themselves into a third force, acting in a third direction.

The weight at any point in the circle is moving in a direction at right angles to the string connecting it with the center. If released, it will fly off at that angle. The resistance of the string throws the line of force off, but it is still away from the center, hence the pull.

When it is considered that there are arcs of various circles with varying centers in Diavolo’s strange bicycle track, one realizes the complicated nature of the calculations involved.

“It requires nerve,” says Diavolo himself, “nerve and a thorough mastery of the bicycle. One should also be able to think quickly.

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“Once I came near being wrecked because one of the balls in a bearing broke. That increased the friction. Any increase of friction disturbs the nice calculations of the ride.

“I can feel the nervousness of the audience when I am making my ride. It is a shuddery sort of gasp that permeates the crowd. I should like to see someone else do the ride, in order to have the spectator’s point of view.

“For my part, I am not in the least nervous. I was for years, as an electrician associated with Mr. Prescott, the inventor of the loop. My confidence in his infallibility would have led me to take an even greater risk than this. The loop is constructed on a mathematically correct, scientific principle.

“Barring unforeseen occurrences, there will be no accidents with it. So long as the rider keeps his head and is in control of his wheel, he is as safe as though riding along one of your boulevards.”

Diavolo coming to Loop the loop (1902)
A B: Short arc, to ease the downward momentum for the climb.

B C: Long, gradual rise, so designed to minimize the outward pressure greatest in this arc.

C D: Half-circle, made small so that the wheel may get past the apex with the least possible expenditure of force.

D E: Wide downward art giving the least possible momentum on leaving the loop.

E F: Gentle slope to the ground.

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