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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Grenda, Albert Francis (1889–1977)

by Alexander Trapeznik

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Albert Francis Grenda (1889-1977), cyclist, was born on 15 September 1889 at Portland, Tasmania, one of eight children of German-born parents Carl Grenda, farmer, and his wife Adeline, née Totenhofer. In 1895 the family moved to Mathinna. 'Alf' left the local school at an early age to help on his father's farm. His four brothers excelled at conventional sports such as football, running, woodchopping and cricket, but Alf took to cycling; when he won his first race, at Scottsdale in 1907, he commented that it was much easier than chopping wood. He raced successfully in Melbourne in 1909 and in Sydney in 1910. Next season he won the Australian one-mile (1.6 km) championship and then showed enough brilliance in the Sydney six-day race to impress American promoters. In 1911 he visited the United States of America and returned there under contract for the following season.

In 1912 he defeated the cycling wizard Frank Kramer in a match race. Although Grenda came second in the world professional sprint championship that year, he teamed with Walter De Mara of Cleveland, Ohio, to take the world tandem crown, thus becoming, arguably, 'the first Australian to win a world's championship' in cycling. Big, strong and well proportioned, Grenda was over six feet (183 cm) in height and was dubbed 'The Tall Tasmanian'. A legend in an era when most cyclists earned only a few pounds a week, he drew large crowds and his versatility brought him a handsome living. In search of even better money, he resumed six-day racing; he and his compatriot Alfred Goullet were considered to be the greatest team on the American six-day circuit. At Newark Velodrome, with three different partners, in 1914 Grenda set world records for the one and two mile (3.2 km) tandem (1 minute 40 seconds and 3 minutes 35 seconds respectively) in 1914, and for the three-mile (4.8 km) event (5 minutes 19 seconds) in 1915. In her parents' home at Harrison, New Jersey, on 21 December that year he married Isabel Crawford. They settled in Tasmania in 1919, but returned to America in 1921.

Grenda subsequently made several brief visits to Australia, including one in 1925 when 55,000 spectators flocked to see him ride in the six-day contest in Sydney. In 'Curly' Grivell's opinion, he was a remarkable all-rounder who 'could win any event on the programme'—or, more appropriately—'all events on the programme'. Grenda ceased competitive cycling in 1926, bought an orange grove at Hollywood, California, in 1930 and took American citizenship. He retired from his business in 1955 and moved to Costa Mesa, Long Beach. Survived by his son and two daughters, he died on 30 May 1977 at Paradise, California, and was cremated.

His nephew Ron Grenda, who was also a versatile competitor with a style uncannily similar to his uncle's, won the Latrobe Wheel race (1971), gruelling six-day events (including one at Launceston) and national sprint titles. Ron's son, Michael, combined sprint power and endurance to win numerous Tasmanian and national titles, as well as gold medals in the 4000-metre team pursuit at the Commonwealth (1982) and Olympic (1984) games.

Select Bibliography

  • H. ('Curly') Grivell, Australian Cycling in the Golden Days (Adel, 1954)
  • R. and M. Howell, Aussie Gold (Brisb, 1988)
  • Sunday Examiner Express, 24 Dec 1966, 4 Feb 1984
  • Advocate Weekender, 19 Aug 1972
  • Northern Scene, 20 Feb 1979
  • Examiner (Launceston), 8, 10 Oct 1982, 2 May 1983, 19 May, 6 Aug 1984, 22 Mar 1986
  • Advocate (Hobart), 27 Dec 1984
  • Sunday Examiner, 26 Mar, 31 Dec 1989
  • private information.

Citation details

Alexander Trapeznik, 'Grenda, Albert Francis (1889–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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