“Bikes” All The Go: From 1904 to 2014

Two weeks ago, I attended “Pedaling Through History: A Look at Cycling Collections Across the Library of Congress,” a one-day exhibit at the Library of Congress. I learned about it via Rambling Rider so hat tip to her and all those fancy things people say.

Lady Cyclers

“Pedaling Through History” was a compact display full of ye olde treasure. Photos, illustrations, books, letters, sheet music, newspaper articles, trade publications, maps featuring bicycle-friendly routes, and movie clips  were some of the items shown.

As I walked by each area, I thought about how things in bicycling have changed over time. The debate between the safety bicycle and the high wheeler are over. Bicycle-specific maps and routes now exist for many parts of the United States and continue to evolve.

No longer is there a proper way for a lady to ride and gone are many of the articles about how important it is for a woman to dress and dismount a certain way on her bike.

Pedaling through history 1

Of course, now we have articles that still offer fashion tips for the fashion-conscious, but these are less about “what a proper lady should do” and more about functional fashion on the bike, or practical clothing choices that aren’t lycra or kit.

Other parts of the cycling world have not changed much over time– or maybe they’ve come full circle. I skimmed a book from 1885, titled Amateur Bicycle Repairing, Or, Every Rider His Own Repairer, about (you guessed it) bike repair and maintenance.

Any book where repair techniques include the use of spirit lamps and fire is one I want to read.

When I initially posted this photo from Amateur Bicycle Repairing, some wondered if the man was holding a flask or a horn. Both are handy when doing your own repairing, certainly, but I believe it is a horn.

Pedaling through History

The exhibit featured a letter from one of the Wright brothers to his sister (I think) that was essentially a ride report. He even included some basic drawings to illustrate the ride’s hills. Perhaps the Wrights would have maintained a blog of their adventures if they had lived in 2014.

Wright Brothers letter

The item that most struck me by its similarity to today was a article in The Minneapolis Journal from April, 1904. Below is an excerpt from it:

That a bicycle is a convenience none can deny.

For instance, you can take a man who lives forty or fifty blocks from his work, if he is fortunate enough to catch a car right away, it will take at least thirty minutes to get home on a car, and the cances are that he will be obliged to stand up and hang on to a strap, or if he is lucky enough to get a seat, he is walked over and crowded to death, and has to pay for these privileges besides.

For instance, you can take a man who lives forty or fifty blocks from his work, if he is fortunate enough to catch a car right away, it will take at least thirty minutes to get home on a car, and the cances are that he will be obliged to stand up and hang on to a strap, or if he is lucky enough to get a seat, he is walked over and crowded to death, and has to pay for these privileges besides.

With a wheel it is no trouble at all to cover forty of fifty blocks in twenty minutes and have plenty of fresh air and the outdoor exercise which is very essential, especially if he works in an office bent over a desk all day. These are the very things that have set the people to thinking.

–“Bicycles Are to Be in Popular Favor This Year.” The Minneapolis Journal. April 9, 1904

If this article ran today, no doubt there would be comparisons to cars in addition to, or perhaps instead of, commuting by train. It even includes a paragraph about the importance of bike infrastructure and the number of bicycle paths in the city. In many ways, it is quite similar to a piece that would be written today.

Bikes are practical and pleasant to ride.

Bicycles are here to stay.

Bike-friendly infrastructure is still important.

Bike commuting combines transportation with exercise.

Bicycling is good for you.

Bicycles help create healthier cities.

Bicycles make for good stories.

I’m grateful to the Library of Congress for hosting this event. It opened my eyes to our rich bicycling history and reminded me of the ways cars changed our country’s perceptions and use of bicycles, as well as our infrastructure.

Bicycle Built for Two

“Pedaling Through History” also surprised me in the ways that our conversations have come back around about bicycling. It only took a century.

Not a historic photo. Yet
Not a historic photo. Yet

Like the Col. Horace Park of Amateur Bicycle Repairing wrote in 1885:

Bicycle riding as a pastime, as well as a physical exercise, combining business with pleasure, is here to stay.

Well said, sir.

2 thoughts on ““Bikes” All The Go: From 1904 to 2014

  1. it’s a pleasure to read about the history of bicycles [and how to dress!] through the years. thanks for providing this entertaining read.

    [do you ever sing to felkerino – “bicycle built for two” – ??]

    Like

  2. Sorry– I’m still catching up on blog posts while I was away! I’m so glad you came to the event. I learned a lot from the other displays as well! I continue to be fascinated by bicycle history.Who knows what the future will bring for bicycling??

    Like

Comments welcome - moderated for spam - but please write if you like!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s