An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Know your bike history: When bikes topped out at 9 MPH

Our friend Sveden pointed out a delightful little article in the Twin Cities newspaper today, which details the social unrest caused by the two-wheeled menace.

It was June of 1899, and the St. Paul police department was moving to make the city a little safer from the growing "scorcher" menace.

A "scorcher" was a bicyclist burning up the road or sidewalk at top speed, and the department had issued bicycles to a squad of 12 cops for pursuit...

Around the country, there were reports of fist fights between the "wheelmen" and teamsters whose horses had been frightened by speeding bikes. Some people were scandalized by women exposing their ankles in the shorter skirts they wore to ride -- or worse, when they wore bloomers.

Riding on Sundays was denounced from pulpits. One Connecticut preacher even declared that the path of the rider led "to a place where there is no mud on the streets because of its high temperature."

Well, you know... we'd rather ride with the sinners than cry with the saints. But one other item caught our eye: "The bicycle had been around in the United States, in various forms, going back to at least 1819." That's pretty much wrong, unless you call a boneshaker with iron wheels a bike. Forthwith, a handy thumbnail history of the bike:
  • The safety bike--that is the chain-driven bike--was not introduced until 1885.
  • The pneumatic tire was invented in 1888.
  • The Drais velocepede was born around 1819. This was called a "hobby horse" and a "boneshaker"-- perhaps the most descriptive name ever given to a human-powered vehicle.
  • The tallbike or penny farthing-- also known as the "ordinary"-- was built during the 1850s and 60s.
  • Even at the earliest stages of development, it became clear that a bicycle could be ridden naked. Corollary: If it CAN be done naked, it WILL be done naked, eventually.