A photograph of this work, in an earlier state, is conserved in the Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Archives, Wichtrach/Bern, under no. 876.
'In 1926, Kirchner once again gathered his powers for a new achievement, distilling all he had hitherto accomplished into a technique, the simplicity of which approached that of his early works... Only an eye as trained and sensitive as Kirchner's could bring to this visionary imagination a degree of intensity never yet seen in German art. To find an apt comparison one would have to go back to Dürer, whose achievement in his own time was similar in leading German art out of its Gothic confines into the life that was the Renaissance. In the same way, Kirchner, using means that are original to him and still his alone, is giving German art today its proper connection with the international sense of style in his latest works. In the process he has lost none of his originality or power. Quite the contrary, the work he is producing today is the logical culmination of his work of the past thirty years. Nietzsche's words well describe his art: "do not aim to reproduce but achieve higher things".'
So wrote the fictitious critic Louis de Marsalle in a catalogue essay on Kirchner's work for the 1933 retrospective of his work held at the Kunsthalle Berne. 'Louis de Marsalle' was the pseudonym that Kirchner used when writing about his own work. And, while the lofty claims he makes for himself here in fact betray the artist's innate insecurity and strong sense of isolation from the international art community since he had been living in the Swiss mountains, this passage also reveals the importance Kirchner laid on the change that his art underwent in the late 1920s.
Radrennen mit Motorvorspann (Bicycle Race with Motor Relay) is one of a small series of paintings made at the height of this change that reveal the artist re-engaging with modern urban subject matter for the first time since his mental breakdown in 1917. Depicting what is probably a six-day cycle race of the kind held annually in Berlin and Zurich, Radrennen mit Motorvorspann is painted in the bold and flat coloured tones that distinguish some of the series of street scenes Kirchner had made in 1926 immediately after his first visit to his native Germany in over ten years. These works reflected a far more harmonious and innately ordered sense of composition in contrast to the nervous hypertension of his earlier city paintings and, as in this work, reflect not only Kirchner's increasingly joyful use of colour but also the first signs of an abstracting tendency that would culminate in his work of the mid-1930s.
Abandoning outline and using only flat planes of colour to convey form and depth, Kirchner creates in such paintings as Radrennen mit Motorvorspann, a strange and rich sense of busy urban life being itself a kind of abstraction. It was the 'clear mountain air' that released such vibrant colouring into his work, Kirchner said, a 'colouring' that is 'not like nature but born out of the creative intention of the painter.' (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner writing under the pseudonym 'Louis de Marsalle', quoted in W.Grohmann, E.L. Kirchner, New York, 1961, p. 70). In Radrennen mit Motorvorspann colour, form and subject matter are all integrated with such cohesion and harmony, that the painting, almost Léger-like, speaks not only of this new abstracting of reality but also of a new idealism emerging in Kirchner's work.