September 11, 2005

biking in the past

Category: Bikes — @ 7:35 pm

While at what the hack I had the good fortune of meeting a geek of unusual stripes: Douglass Carnall a medical doctor, free software enthusiast and avid cyclist, all in one. To attend the con, he actually biked to the Netherlands from England, which in itself is pretty darn neat-o. So of course, at some point, we started talking bikes and he mentioned some really interesting social histories about the venerable bike. Since then, he wrote some comments on this blog summarizing what is nothing short of a fascinating history.

Here is a short excerpt but it is worth reading the summary (and it looks like the social history too):

By 1896 250 major cycle factories had produced well over a million bicycles, and the League of American Wheelmen was a formidable force in civic politics. Its leader, a cycle manufacturer called Colonel Pope, fought for smooth roads and pavements in America’s developing cities. Cycling was an urban movement, but of the privileged and affluent: a typical bicycle would cost the average factory worker six months salary.

Cyclists’ silent, speedy approach was popular neither with pedestrians or horsemen. Women cyclists wore bloomers and you could see their ankles! Shocking! Cyclists could go anywhere, faster than anyone else. Speed without rails? Now there’s an idea. Out in the country, the bumpkins sneered at the city dandies and let their tyres down if they left the machines unattended. Sears sold collapsible “Bicycle Rifles” (for retaliation?)

Cycle racing on high wooden tracks was instantly popular for its speed and danger, and very soon, the selfsame cycle manufacturers were experimenting with adding engines to their machines, buoyed by the profits of their human-powered businesses. A list of former bicycle manufacturers: Opel, Peugeot, Morris, Rover, the Wright brothers. William S. Knudsen, production head at Ford, later president of General Motors, started out as a bicycle mechanic.

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