Bicycling’s Golden Age

“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.”
Arthur Conan Doyle

Bike Poster 1890s

Victor, Victoria bicycles Overman Wheel Co., 1896. Artist: Will Bradley

During the turn of the century, the modern bicycle sparked a nation-wide bicycle craze. Zeal for this new two-wheeled vehicle became especially popular in Southern California. With California’s ideal year-round weather conditions, this new healthy outdoor activity attracted both young and old as well as men and women.

Enthusiasts organized group rides across the Southland, formed local bicycle clubs, and lobbied for the construction of bicycle roads.

bicycles-come-to-california

LA Times Bicycle Club members ride north on Western Avenue toward Hollywood. Circa 1894

The most famous bicycle route was the California Cycleway, an elevated bikeway extending from the historic Los Angeles Plaza to Pasadena’s Hotel Green. Made of Oregon pine, the cycleway had easy grades, sparing cyclists from the hilly terrain between the two cities.

california-cyclewayA one-and-a-quarter-mile stretch of the privately financed cycleway, pictured here, opened in 1897 between the Hotel Green and South Pasadena’s Raymond Hotel.

Unfortunately, by 1910 the cycleway had fallen into disuse. Its full route to Los Angeles was never completed. Today, the Arroyo Seco Parkway uses much of the California Cycleway’s original right-of-way.

Another popular cycling corridor lay between Los Angeles and the town of Hollywood. The Los Angeles Times Bicycle Club organized runs along the route, whose unpaved roads eventually became our modern-day, traffic-choked boulevards.

With cycling becoming more and more popular, the beach community of Santa Monica with the help of The Southern Pacific Railroad, built the “Santa Monica Cycle Path”. The 1896 photograph below, shows the beginning of the bike path which later extended to Downtown Los Angeles.

sm-bike-path

Santa Monica to Los Angeles cycle path @ 1896

Meanwhile in the Northern California town of Davis, the high-wheel bicycle was making a surge. Because the agricultural land around the City of Davis is flat and the climate is relatively mild year-round, riding a bicycle became the mode of transportation and an easy way to get around town.

University of California students have been coming to Davis since 1908 and bicycling has always been an important part of their campus experience. After the city incorporated in 1917, the increasing number of paved roads encouraged local citizens to take up cycling.

Due to rapid growth of the university and the city, traffic conflicts between bikes and vehicles were increasing throughout the 20th century. After acknowledging that the well-educated and well-traveled citizenry would be receptive to European-style bikeways, the Davis City Council decided in 1967 to create a few short blocks of bicycle lanes. As a result, Davis became the first city in the United States to install official city bicycle lanes.

1900 bike pathThe combined system of bicycle lanes and dedicated bike paths today reaches well over 100 miles in a small town that is only about 11 square miles. Davis has become a model for hundreds of U.S. cities because of its safe, integrated bicycle transportation network. The UC Davis campus has developed its own extensive bicycle path system and support programs.

Many remaining high-wheelers were collected during scrap metal drives during the Great War of 1914–18, making the few remaining machines valuable and highly desired collectibles today, as well as nostalgic reminders of bicycling’s Golden Age.

Shine On


To learn more about the history of bicycles, visit the Bicycle Hall of Fame in Davis, California. Follow the link below:

US Bicycling Hall of Fame

 

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