The Bicycle Craze

22 Jun

Today it’s Bike to Work Day in Colorado and people all over the state are dusting off their two-wheelers and heading out to work.

An 1887 newspaper ad.

An 1887 newspaper ad.

Bicycles have been around since the mid-1800s, when they were something of a novelty. They were expensive to buy and maintain, and they were sold almost exclusively to men.

Figure 2 from "The Modern Bicycle" by Charles Spencer, 1876.

Figure 2 from “The Modern Bicycle” by Charles Spencer, 1876.

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Figure 4 from "The Modern Bicycle" by Charles Spencer, 1876.

Figure 4 from “The Modern Bicycle” by Charles Spencer, 1876.

It took exceptional balance and strength to operate an early bicycle and there were inherent dangers in their design.

An 1879 bicycle ad.

An 1879 bicycle ad.

When Isabella published Monteagle in 1886, bicycle riding was an acceptable pastime only for men of means. Her character, Hart Hammond, was a young man caught up in the bicycle craze.

Notice of a bicycle race. From The Advocate (Topeka, Kansas), June 21, 1893.

Notice of a bicycle race. From The Advocate (Topeka, Kansas), June 21, 1893.

He belonged to a bicycle club, attended races, and may even have ridden in some races himself.

The starting line for a men's bicycle race.

The starting line for a men’s bicycle race.

Of all the many things which gave Hart’s mother anxiety, Hart’s involvement with a bicycle club “troubled her the most.”

An undated trade card depicting an early bicycle club on the move.

An undated trade card depicting an early bicycle club on the move.

As bicycle design matured, bicycling became safer. By the mid-1890s the early high-perch models had evolved into bicycles very similar in design to our modern bikes.

An 1897 magazine ad for boys' bicycles.

An 1897 magazine ad for boys’ bicycles.

 

An 1893 ad for a cycle.

An 1893 ad for Victor cycles.

With those design changes, it was feasible for women to take up the sport. But there was an inherent danger of ladies’ skirts getting caught in the wheels.

An early trade card targeting women bicycle riders.

An early trade card targeting women bicycle riders.

And corsets made breathing difficult for women even when they were relaxing; when it came to bicycle riding, women could do little but coast downhill without fainting.

A 1904 ad depicting a corseted female cyclist.

A 1904 ad depicting a corseted female cyclist.

But that soon changed. As cycling became all the rage in America, a host of supporting industries sprang up. Clothing manufacturers produced ladies’ riding costumes.

An 1895 magazine illustration of bicycling outfits for men and women.

An 1895 magazine illustration of bicycling outfits for men and women.

And they marketed corsets designed specifically for the active woman.

A 1902 ad for athletic corsets.

A 1902 ad for athletic corsets.

Bicycle manufacturers also began to cater to women riders. They designed new models exclusively for ladies; and they held classes on how to correctly mount and ride bicycles.

An 1897 ad for a ladies' bike.

An 1897 ad for a ladies’ bike.

Ladies joined previously men-only bicycle clubs or formed their own.

Newspaper coverage of a bicyclist's parade, watched by more than 100,000 San Franciscans.From the San Francisco Call, July 26, 1896.

Newspaper coverage of a bicyclist’s parade, watched by more than 100,000 San Franciscans.From the San Francisco Call, July 26, 1896.

They published member magazines and sold guide books about the best routes for bicycle excursions through cities or into the countryside.

Photograph of a lady cyclist. 1912.

Photograph of a lady cyclist. 1912.

The bicycle opened up a world of new transportation and freedom for women back in the early 1900s; and today we celebrate the important place the humble bicycle still holds in our lives.

Sports_Bicycles ed

Here are some fun videos you can watch about early bicycling:

Restored footage of an 1899 display of bicycle riding by the Catford Ladies’ Cycling Club in London:

The history of bicycling in early Denver, Colorado:

A clip of “The 1900 House” featuring bicycle riding at the turn of the century:

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2 Responses to “The Bicycle Craze”

  1. PrayThroughHistory February 15, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Sweet research! So fun to see how the bike has morphed over the years. I just wrote a post about how my home city started its first bike squad to bust “scorchers”. (Rogue bikers going 8mph.) Cheers!

    • Isabella Alden February 16, 2017 at 6:04 am #

      8 mph was a hair-raising speed back then! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. —Jenny

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The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Author Jenny Berlin

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