Saturday, January 18, 2014

When Capitol Hill Staffers Were "Bicycle Crazy"

1896 was the height of the 1890s "bicycle craze" - when cycling was highly fashionable and popular. So much so that this short article appeared in the [Washington DC] Morning Times on May 24, 1896.
EVERYBODY around the Capitol has gone bicycle crazy. As a consequence more people are limping around the corridors than one would suppose. They are all learners. So it is no strange thing to hear every person laughing when some one comes limping along. Most of them have been there before and have gone through the same experience. The case of the clerk of a prominent Presidential candidate illustrates the heartlessness of the initiated, of those who can dodge a cable car, coal carts and street sweepers all at once. He was limping along the corridor when he was greeted by a friend with:
"Halloo, Billy; sick?"
"No; bicycle."
That was all except the laughter.
Since most cyclists were riding fixed gear bicycles at this time, either with no brakes at all or primitive spoon brakes, it was not just that many cyclists were learners but also that cycling was generally more risky since stopping (in particular) was more problematic.

This photograph illustrates the suggested approach for coasting with an 1890s fixed gear bike, with the rider putting her feet on pegs on the fork while the pedals spin below - she does have a brake on this bicycle, at least

A photograph of fashionable young then-Washingtonians, some with their "wheels," near the U.S. Capitol

1 comment:

  1. It's a great memoir in D.C. and reminder for present also.