Sunday, March 13, 2011

When bikes were called wheels

I ordinarily only post content that I have generated myself; a simple formula of bike-y photos with accompanying text. However, I will bend this self-imposed pattern for the moment, foregoing the former and creating a commentary on content generated by others through the latter. I've been swayed to this action because in the course of research I came across some old editions of a bike magazine at that were just too amazing not to share. The magazine is so old that it's not from the 21st century or even the 20th century. These archived issues of Cycling Life date from the Victorian Era bike heyday of the late 19th century, when bikes were called 'wheels' and a broad segment of people became acquainted with personal mobility to a degree unprecedented in history.

In terms of raw innovation, influence on infrastructural advancement and, in particular, social impact, there was exponentially more going on in the U.S. regarding bikes in the late 1890s than even the most impressive whiz-bang gizmos or Portland-esque policies of the present bike-related swell of interest. Enormous, lasting changes were ignited at the time, such as the development of light-weight alloys, pneumatic tires and high quality steel in pursuit of building ever better bikes, as well as improved roads demanded of public officials by crowds of bicyclists. It is too often forgotten that nascent motorized vehicles benefited disproportionately from, and later almost entirely usurped these advancements originally championed by bicyclists.

The story of the revolutionary impact of bicycles on U.S. culture and infrastructure begins to emerge with each successive page of the archived editions. There are gems at every turn, such as the fact that in 1896 the U.S. exported a substantial amount of bikes to a number of countries including Holland, Denmark, France and Belgium, that railroads were developing improved ways to carry bikes on train cars, and that the benefits of physical activity for women were being discussed in an open forum, perhaps for the first time. There is even photographic evidence that a multiple rider three-wheeled ancestor of the Surly Pugsley once existed with astonishingly large dimensions. All of these items and more can be found in just the first few pages.

I enjoy just about any bicycle related material. I look forward to the latest Rivendell Reader or Bicycle Quarterly as much as any self-acknowledged bike nerd, but the breadth, depth and scope of Cycling Life, not to mention its deliciously borderline pedantic writing style make anything produced today pale in comparison. A favorite recurring line in each issue:
Cycling Life does not relate unimportant events at great length. Quality outranks quantity in Its preparation. Its contributors are men of sound judgment.
Anyway, enough from me. If you've read this far, consider yourself in the target demographic. Do yourself a favor and check out this treasure of the ages. However, be forewarned; the archive has 1,326 juicy pages just waiting to whisk you away from your responsibilities. You're welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment