Tag Archives: bicycle history

Five (or nine) Quotes about Bicycles

“Get a bicycle.  You will certainly not regret it, if you live.”
~ Mark Twain


“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”
~ H.G. Wells 

“When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.” 
~ Elizabeth West 
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

“The journey of life is like a man riding a bicycle. We know he got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that at some point he will stop and get off. We know that if he stops moving and does not get off he will fall off.”
~ William G. Golding  

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”
~ Susan B. Anthony

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“I began to feel that myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world, upon whose spinning wheel we must all learn to ride, or fall into the sluiceways of oblivion and despair. That which made me succeed with the bicycle was precisely what had gained me a measure of success in life — it was the hardihood of spirit that led me to begin, the persistence of will that held me to my task, and the patience that was willing to begin again when the last stroke had failed. And so I found high moral uses in the bicycle and can commend it as a teacher without pulpit or creed. She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life”.

~ Frances E. Willard 

“The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.”

~ Iris Murdoch

Urban Simplicity
More in the Five Quotes series. 

No Tricks or Fancy Riding Without Permission…

 Image found at The Buffalo History Gazette.

What, you may wonder, do these two photos have in common? Well, they are both taken in the city in which I live and during the same time period (around 1890), when the main mode of transport was horse (and carriage), your own two feet, or a bicycle (which were somewhat new at the time). They were also being monitored by the “Blue Coats” (cops on horses) to make sure they weren’t going too fast or doing any “fancy tricks.” According to The Buffalo History Gazette, the cops held stop watches and made sure the cyclists didn’t go faster than 10mph/16kph. They were also not allowed to “coast” or ride without both hands on the handlebars. It’s interesting, as strict  as this is, I really wouldn’t mind it if there were more enforcement on cyclists these days…every time I see a bicyclist blow through a red light or ride on the wrong side of the street against traffic I wonder how we are supposed to be taken seriously if we don’t act the part. Many people don’t realize but the original traffic laws (rules of the road) that exist today were first intended for cyclists and predated the auto. I’m just sayin’…

Anyhow, to read this full story, visit The Buffalo History Gazette.

Cargo Bikes…what’s old is new again

If you’ve been to this blog before then you likely know that I have an interest in the history of the bicycle, particularly bicycles that are built to work and carry stuff (to read more about this click here). Anyhow, after reading this excellent article today in Momentum Magazine regarding the quiet rise of the cargo bike in America today, I couldn’t help but think of two things: (1) that cargo bikes really make the most sense, especially in an urban setting, and (2) that they have been around for quite a while. Anyhow, here’s a few vintage adverts..

Urban Simplicity.

A Few Old Bikes plus a Few Words

Pictures of old bikes. Or more specifically, old pictures of people on bikes. I love them. I haven’t posted them in a while, so here are a few. Oddly, I started thinking about bicycles as transportation tonight–and their role in the history of transportation in the last few centuries–when I saw a bumper sticker on my way to the gym. I was on my bike and an enormous SUV was in front of me with a sticker that read “Say Yes to Clean Energy.” Was this a joke, I wondered? Were they being sarcastic? Pretty bad if they were. Maybe they were sincere and were powering their house with wind power. Who knows. Anyhow, that’s what got me thinking about bikes and all of the positive things they bring to the person riding them and those around them. With this said, I thought I’d post a few pictures (and sorry I don’t have sources; most I downloaded quickly by doing a simple search for 1910 bicycle). Anyhow, the above photo is of Leo Tolstoy, who is said to have learned to ride a bike at the age of 67, which would make that around 1895. The photo directly below was taken in 1886 and it’s one to which I have a personal connection…it’s taken in front of the house in which I currently live. In fact, if you look at the window on the right hand side of the house, the one with one shutter closed, that’s where I am sitting as I type these very words…separated by 126 years. Pretty weird, huh?  To read more about the story behind that picture, click here. The picture directly below that was simply titled “1895 France,” but it looks more like an American neighborhood to me (but I may be wrong). And the one just below that was taken in 1894, the same year the place that I work was established. Anyhow, this is what I was contemplating as I pedaled and coasted home this evening thinking about how bicycles really are the most efficient form of transportation…and they have been used as such for quite a while. If you are interested in this sort of thing, or at least old photos of them, try Googling old bicycle photos, or 1895 bicycle photos…or other derivatives of those searches. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll stumble across…and there are definitely worse ways to waste time 🙂  Happy searching.

L’Arrotino (The Grinder Bike)

This, I think, is really interesting. A work bicycle of yesterday being built again for today. I originally came across this at Bike Hugger, and apparently it is being built for Nella Cutlery by Winter Bicycles. I’m old enough to remember–when I was a little boy–the vegetable hucksters coming around (by truck not bike) and shouting their arrival with their distinctive call, and the egg man and milkman, too. And later, when I spent a brief period in the French Quarter of New Orleans during the mid-1980’s there was still a guy who would come around (again, by truck) and shouting his arrival and cooks and housewives would come out to have their knives sharpened on the back of his truck. Anyhow, I think this is pretty cool. Many of you know that I work as a professional cook, that’s all I’ve ever done. And some days when it gets crazy hot and busy I fantasize about doing something else…working for myself out of doors in the summer instead of facing a blazing stove. Well…Ahh, it’s good to have fantasies I suppose. I don’t know how easy it would be to support one’s self financially grinding knives on a bicycle, nor am I sure how many people would actually use the service. But if you’re ever in your house and hear someone yelling in the street…the knife man is here to sharpen your knives, l’uomo coltello è qui, el hombre cuchillo está aquí, l’homme couteau est ici…bring your knives and scissors out to be sharpened…it may just be me.

Urban Simplicity.

Bicycle Ambulance

By now you, the reader or visitor to this blog, know that I am a proponent of bicycles as a utility machine, not just a weekend toy but a serious piece of equipment that can carry you and all your stuff where it needs to go. I believe that bikes are utilitarian, and in the past have posted not just them carrying your everyday stuff, but also about fire fighters, soldiers, mail carriers, police, all sorts of delivery vehicles, and even a pedal-powered camper (caravan to my EU friends). Well this may be the most important…the bicycle as an ambulance. The above photo is from WWI and looks to be two tandems carrying a gurney in the middle. The below three are more modern. Just below is a London ambulance bike, which enables care-givers to get to those in need in traffic-clogged areas. And the two below are images from Africa, using a trailer as a human powered ambulance.
A few years ago I was on holiday in NYC and was walking through Times Square at night. Traffic was at gridlock and there was an ambulance in the middle of it with its sirens blaring and lights swirling. Drivers seemed to be doing their best at letting it through but there was nowhere for them to pull over. I can remember peering, from the sidewalk (pavements), into the ambulance and seeing a lot of movement…all I could do was say a silent prayer for the people inside, for both the patient and the workers.
I’m an optimist (finally) but also a realist. If I were in a life threatening situation and a traditional ambulance could reach me would I choose a bicycle version instead…of course not. But if a team of health care workers could pull me ten blocks to a hospital by bicycle instead of being stuck in traffic, or a person on a bike could bring me the proper medical care…hell yes, I’d welcome a bike. The bike ambulances in Africa (bottom two photos) really seem the most practical. If I had to make a choice between being carried or struggling to walk to a clinic or ambulance in a rural setting I would without doubt choose a bike trailer. And the most moving part (moving as in emotional, not motion), I think, is the thought of the bicyclist pulling a person on one of those bike ambulances…talk about precious cargo.
To read more about the London Bicycle Ambulances, click here.
To read more about the African Bicycle Ambulances, click here or here.

Barcelona 1908

I’ve posted this video in the past but not in a while. I thought I’d re-post in the event you haven’t seen it. When I first came across it I was mesmerized…I still am. I think it’s beautiful. Maybe it’s the music, I’m not sure. It captures the street scene more than a hundred years ago from the view of the front of a street car. The people look so happy…they were likely trying to be on film, something that was new at the time. One thing (one of the many things) I like about this film is the amount of bicycles that people are riding, which would also have been brand new at the time (at least the type they are riding, which are similar to those we still ride today). Anyhow, it’s a little over seven minutes long. Watch a little or sit back, sip some wine or a coffee…and be mesmerized.

Urban Simplicity.

Buffalo Soldiers

Well first off, the title of this post has nothing to do with soldiers in the city where I was born and live, Buffalo, NY.  It’s referring to the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry Regiment, also known as Buffalo Soldiers, which was at the time a racially segregated regiment.

I’ve posted the above picture before and enjoy it so much that I use it as the background image on my computer at work (click it for a larger view). Sometimes while I’m eating lunch I sit and look at it, and that’s just what I was doing today (I love how proud they look). It’s an image captured in 1896 by Frank Jay Haynes in Yellowstone Park. That summer they rode those heavy bikes nearly 2000 miles/3218 kilometers, while carrying all their gear and wearing heavy wool clothing…impressive by any means. And I can’t imagine the hardships they likely endured…not just physical but also emotional and racial (this was 1896 after all). I was thinking this as I looked at the photo today, and found it so inspiring (and also remembered that it is Black History Month) so I thought I’d re-post the photo with a couple additional photos and a few new words.

Here’s some stats (borrowed from The Historical Museum of Fort Missoula.

Duration of trip: June 14 – July 24, 1897, 41 days.
Distance traveled: 1900.2 miles in 34 days of actual travel. An average of 55.9 miles per day and 6.3 miles per hour.
Delays: the command was delayed a total of seven days for the following reasons:
13 hours repairing bicycles
4 7/60 hours fixing tires
117 hours for lunch
71 1/3 hours for other causes.
The heaviest soldier, stripped, weighed 177 pounds; and the lightest 125 ½ pounds; the average weight being 148 ½ pounds.
The oldest man was 39 years old, the youngest 24 years; the average age was 27.

What I find fascinating about these guys–besides their heavy clothing and gear–is that the bikes themselves were likely heavy and they were fixed gear. And most incredible, I think, is that the roads were not paved.

The last time I posted the top picture, a follower of this blog, alerted me to a book he had written about these soldiers titled, Rescue at Pine Ridge. To read more about their fascinating history click here or here.

Lastly, I leave you with the song bearing the same name as these soldiers, by Bob Marley.

Urban Simplicity.

And Now For Something Really Interesting…

I have long been interested in the history of the bicycle. I’ve also been to California numerous times, though never to Los Angeles. And quite frankly, I would never think of bicycle history and Los Angeles in the same thought. More likely, and this is stereotyping (please, Los Angelers, don’t send me hate mail), I think of cars and wide highways. But 100 years ago this wasn’t the case…they were on the cutting edge. You can imagine my surprise and intrigue when I came upon an article about the California Cycleway. Built in 1900 and dismantled about 10 years later, it’s original intention was to link Pasadena with L.A….via an elevated bike path. To read more about it on Wikipedia, click here. For a well-written story about it–with more photos, I recommend this site. Am I the only cyclist who thinks that path looks like a ton of fun?

Urban Simplicity.