What are these (American) chaps being distracted by? Bicycle belles?
Seventy-five percent of my book is now written. A pesky 25 percent is still brewing. The book’s first chapter goes through the copy-editing mill next week, via a copy-editor with an interesting history of his own (more on that later). The 65,000-word cycles-begat-automobiles chapter went out for peer review last week. So far, two professors have got back to me: both said “Wow!”
In that book-length “chapter” I list 64 motor car brands with bicycle beginnings, including Chevrolet, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, and GMC. Perhaps just as little known is the fact that Bianchi, one of the world’s top bicycle brands, used to make cars and trucks. Below, there’s an extract from the book, complete with notes. The book is a breezy read but, under the surface, it’s robustly academic. The cycles-begat-automobiles chapter has more than 600 notes, including references to all the sources referred to.
Kickstarter backers will get the book first and it’ll then go on general sale, in all the usual formats. All of the text will also be published on this website, via an ad-supported PDF. Sign-up for publication notification updates in the box on the right.
Autobianchi, an Italian motor car manufacturer, was created in 1955 by Fiat, Pirelli and Bianchi. F.I.V. Edoardo Bianchi S.p.A was founded in Milan, in 1885, as a bicycle manufacturer. Company founder Edoardo Bianchi died in a car smash in 1964. From the early 1900s to 1939, Bianchi built motor cars and trucks. A 1917 advert for “The Italian Bianchi” placed by the company’s London agent said Bianchi was “The Car of the Connoisseur.” In 1927, Bianchi was Italy’s second biggest car manufacturer (Fiat was first). Pope Pius XI was driven in a Bianchi.
Bianchi cars (and motorbikes) were raced by Grand Prix legend Tazio Nuvolari. Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari the “greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future.” Il Mantovano Volante, The Flying Mantuan, won his first automobile race in a Bianchi, later driving for Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo, which also has a bicycling back-story. Nuvolari was inspired to become a racing driver thanks to his uncle, Giuseppe Nuvolari, a bicycle racer, several times winner of the Italian national track championships. Nuvolari’s father was also a top cycle racer but it was his uncle who taught him to ride a motorcycle. Bianchi’s involvement with motor-sport had followed the company’s earlier successes in cycle racing. Bianchi’s first sponsored racer was Giovanni Tommaselli, winner, in 1899, of the prestigious Paris Grand Prix, considered, at the time, the European road cycling championships.
Famously, Bianchi sponsored Fausto Coppi, the Campionissimo, Champion of Champions, the first rider to win the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia double, achieving this in 1949, repeating the feat in 1952.
Bianchi is still one of the world’s top cycling brands, famous for its “celeste” turquoise. Picasso had a Bianchi bicycle in his studio in Vallauris, France. He described his bicycle as “one of the most beautiful and purest sculptures in the history of art.”
 The Bianchi family had a 33 percent share in the business.
 And maker of surgical instruments and other products.
 Bianchi’s first shop was at No 7 Via Nirona. Five years later, success required a move to bigger premises on Via Borghetto. In 1895, via royal decree 969, King Umberto I made Bianchi an Official Supplier by Appointment to the Royal Court. In 1897, Bianchi attached De Dion engine to a tricycle. The company’s first motorbike was made commercially available in 1901. In 1989, the Autobianchi brand was rolled into Lancia but was marketed in Italy as Autobianchi until 1996.
 Pope Pius XI got his Bianchi in 1926. Pope Pius XI was the good pope, the pope before Pius XII, the Nazi-apologist.
 Nuvolari won his first motor car race at the Circuito Golfo del Tigullio in 1924, driving a two-litre Bianchi. In 1926, he raced only on motorcycles, riding a Bianchi 350, the legendary “Freccia Celeste” (turquoise arrow). Alfa Romeo was formed with the help of bicycle maker Alexandre Darracq of France. In 1909, Società Anonima Italiana Darracq became Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, or ALFA.
 *Edoardo Bianchi: 1885–1964*, Antonio Gentile, Giorgio Nada Editore, 1993.
I’ve finished the cycles-begat-automobiles chapter of the book. It’s 65,000 words long. This “chapter” is really a book and I’ll probably flesh it out even further and bring it out as a standalone e-book: pedalling petrolheads will love it. However, all the original Kickstarter backers will get the long chapter within the “roads” book. The book is rather longer than I originally anticipated. (The length and factual depth of the motor cars chapter is the reason for my tome’s tardiness). Anyway, the chapter shows how motorists owe far more to cyclists than many could possibly imagine. As well as the very important transfer of technologies (the Carl Benz Patentmotorwagen used cycle parts from Frankfurt’s House of the Bicycle) there was a transfer of personnel, capital and more. In my chapter I feature 64 motor brands which had bicycling beginnings, including GMC, Chevrolet, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and sixty more. I relate the cycle history of each brand. Here’s the text for Houpt-Rockwell, a brand of motor car which had bicycling beginnings, and which gave the colour yellow to New York City’s taxi cabs and which is also connected, rather beautifully, with the Californian beginnings of mountain biking…[I've left the text as is, and include the notes, too].
New York’s famous yellow cabs are connected to cycling twice over, first in the few years before the First World War, and then in the 1970s. The original yellow taxi cab appeared in 1909. It was made by Rockwell, a car company with bicycle roots. The Houpt-Rockwell company developed from the New Departure Manufacturing Company of Bristol, Connecticut. New Departure became one of the largest accessory makers within General Motors but had started, in 1888, as a maker of bicycle bells. The company was started by Edward Rockwell and his brother, Albert. The New Departure Bell Company also made ball bearings and an innovative freewheeling hub brake, the “coaster” brake that, in the early 1970s, was used on the first “klunkers” in Marin County, California, the downhillers which morphed into world-conquering mountain bikes.
The first company to use Rockwell-made cabs was Wyckoff, Church and Partridge, a company which was absorbed, in 1910, by the Connecticut Cab Company, which was operated by Rockwell and other directors from the New Departure Manufacturing Company. In 1912, Rockwell incorporated the Yellow Taxicab Company, and the colour of New York’s cabs was set.
 Famously, these coaster brakes had to be repacked with grease on every racing descent of Mt. Tamalpais and the impromptu race series became known as the “Repack”. This race series is the key founding event in the creation of the mountain bike. The coaster brake was “antiquated” by the 1970s and was soon replaced but in the early 1900s, the New Departure brake was lauded as “the brake that brought the bike back.”
Joe Breeze, one of the original Repackers, told me by email:
“On Repack we used the kind of brake developed by New Departure. In fact, New Departure brakes are most responsible for the Repack name. Those old brakes were not up to test. By the bottom of the two-mile, 1300-foot-vertical downhill the grease in the hub would be vaporized into a contrail of smoke. After repacking new grease into those old New Departure Model D hubs so many times, we deemed them “parade level.”
“The Morrow coaster brake was the best. It was made by the Eclipse Machine Division (of Bendix) in Elmira, New York. The Morrow had a larger diameter body, which gave it more runs between repacking. Most all the brake hubs used in the early Repack races were of the coaster type. They were all designed, if not made, in the 1930s, and based on the first New Departure hubs of 1898. Other common brands were Muscleman and Bendix.”
 *The turning wheel; the story of General Motors through twenty-five years, 1908-1933*, Arthur Pound, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., New York, 1934.
How dare she! The scamp. This graphic is from the Illustrated Police News, as are the other two below. There will be more in the book. All three are from the 1890s.
Battersea park in London was a favourite haunt of the High Society types attracted to cycling in the ‘bicycling boom’ of the mid-1890s. The newspaper gives no details of how this cyclist died. Can’t have been the tight corset as plenty of women cyclists wore them (one still does). However, I do like the level of detail on the illustration, especially the tiny little toe-clips.
Attempted garrotting of cyclists is still something seen today and this illustration shows it’s nothing new. And as it was an “almost fatal outrage” perhaps the chap was saved by his starched collar?
The first elevated highway between Pasadena and Los Angeles was an ambitious toll-road built by one of Pasadena’s richest residents. In the first year of the 20th Century this grade-separated highway towered over train tracks, road junctions and slow-poke users of the rutted roads beneath. The wooden trestle was billed as a “speedway” and was to provide a flat, fast, scenic route for Pasadena’s thousands of cyclists, who could fly fifty feet high over the deepest section of the oak-studded Arroyo Seco river valley. The “ingenious scheme” was to be an uninterrupted “paradise for wheelmen.”
The reality for the California Cycle Way turned out to be far different. Only the first mile-and-a-bit was erected, which wasn’t long enough to attract paying customers. Within just months of opening, the cycleway had become a loss-making stub of a route rather than a profitable commuter cycling road for Pasadena’s wealthy cyclists. Had it been built to length the year after it was first proposed, the cycleway could have been profitable and could have become the “splendid nine-mile track” that, in 1901, Pearson’s Magazine, mistakenly, claimed it was.
Built with pine imported from Oregon, and painted green to be pleasing to the eye, the would-be superhighway had a lot going for it. For a start, it had high society support: it was constructed for a company controlled by Horace Murrell Dobbins, Pasadena’s millionaire mayor, and the investors included a recent former governor of California, as well as Pasadena’s leading bicycle shop owner.
The California Cycle Way was first mooted in 1896. “The idea was originated by Horace Dobbins…who is himself a wheelman,” said the Los Angeles Herald which reported, in November 1896, that “A Wheelman’s Dream May Materialize.”
The cycleway was meant to run for nine miles from the upscale Hotel Green in Pasadena down to the centre of Los Angeles. The first one-mile-and-a-quarter opened to great fanfare on New Year’s Day, 1900, as part of the route of that year’s Tournament of the Roses parade. 350 bicycles, decorated with floral displays, took part in the parade and no doubt many of them were ridden down the wooden track by the 600 cyclists who took part in the cycleway’s inaugural ride.
In 1899, Scientific American called Dobbins’ route an “elaborate wheel way”:
Pasadena and Los Angeles…are now connected by three railroads and one electric road. There was, however, no foot road for cyclists. The common wagon roads, with their dust and mud and ruts, had to be followed, which made cycling anything but pleasant. In spite of these drawbacks there was certain amount of bicycle riding between the two cities…there were at least 30,000 wheelmen in Los Angeles County alone. In view of these facts, Mr Horace M Dobbins of Pasadena organized what is known as the ‘California Cycleway Company’. The capital was quickly forthcoming, and plans were drawn for an elevated speedway between the sister cities, which is to be exclusively devoted to cyclists…Cyclists will now be permitted to view the beautiful scenery without having to look out for ruts in the road.
Wide enough for four cyclists to ride side by side, with another nine feet available alongside to, one day, surface another lane, the great wooden cycleway made news around the world. In Britain, it featured on the front covers of a number of British national and regional newspapers, including the Dundee Post in July 1900. The newspaper’s headline called it a “Curious cycleway” but remarked that similar cycleways ought to be constructed for Britain’s “vast army of cyclists.”
Why should not proper cycleways be built between towns of common interest where the roads are bad or the strain of traffic makes riding a burden? If…local authorities…would take a leaf out of the books of railway companies and construct a proper track they would build up a profitable source of revenue from that vast army of cyclists that increases hugely every year…The experiment has been tried in Southern California…and gives promise of a high degree of success.
This promise of success did not materialise: the cycleway was scuppered, in part, thanks to right-of-way objections lodged by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington. He didn’t want speedy competition for his growing streetcar network. (The competition would be cheaper, too, a trolley-car ride from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles cost 25 cents, the cycleway cost 10 cents one way and 15 cents for all day use). Dobbins and Huntington’s Pacific Electric railroad company would continue to fight over the rights-of-way for the cycleway, long after the cycleway had ceased to exist as a route for cyclists. The California Cycle Way Company secured an injunction against plans for new lines from Pacific Electric and, in turn, Pacific Electric tried to condemn that part of the cycleway which it wanted to cross. It wasn’t until November 1902 that the two companies agreed to compromise.
By this time, cycling was very much on the wane in Pasadena and Los Angeles. The future, it seemed, was in fast public transit with the building of streetcar lines the sensible thing for investors to invest in.
A 1950s local newspaper report reminisced “Many Pasadena old-timers have happy memories of moonlight rides up and down that historic strip…the Cycleway was Pasadena’s pride and joy.”
Pride and joy it may have been but, as a usable route, it was a short lived one. By August 1900 a local newspaper reported the “Cycleway will do no more work now…”
Because the truncated cycleway wasn’t terribly long, didn’t go where people wanted to go, and didn’t have enough entry and exit points, it was of little practical use, and hence not used and not profitable. A built-to-length cycleway would have an income of approximately $20,000 a month “if half of the wheelmen in two cities patronize the road once a month,” the company prospectus had claimed. Most of the period photographs of the cycleway show it empty. This wasn’t because there were no cyclists in Pasadena. There were plenty of cyclists in Pasadena. The small city had fifteen bicycle shops in 1900 and, according to the Los Angeles Herald, in 1898 the city’s 9000 residents owned 4000 bicycles, with the Los Angeles area having “fully forty thousand bicycles.” Pasadena’s many cyclists shunned the cycleway because its enforced short length made it more of a fairground attraction for hotel guests rather than a transportation option for locals.
Had the full nine miles been built in 1897 or 1898 the cycleway might have been a success. It would have been the quickest, slickest way to get from upper Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles (on rental, one-way bikes, if need be). Dobbins also imagined it would be used at the weekend as a fast, flat way of getting from downtown Los Angeles to the foothills of the Sierra Madre and San Gabriel mountains.
The plans for the cycleway had been ambitious. The idea was for it to be grade-separated, to fly over the rutted dirt roads of the city and to soar over the Arroyo Seco river. Its incandescent lamps, at fifty feet intervals, would make the snaking cycleway visible at night down in Los Angeles. There were also plans for the cycleway to snake past a lavish casino to be built in the Moorish style, complete with “a Swiss dairy…for the refreshment of the thirsty.” Neither the casino, nor the Swiss dairy, ever got off the drawing board.
The cycleway’s shortcomings would have been painfully obvious to Dobbins. Originally from Philadelphia and moneyed thanks to having a rich father (Richard Dobbins constructed the buildings for Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial celebrations), Dobbins had holidayed in Pasadena with his parents since 1888. The family later moved to Pasadena, and Dobbins Jnr bought real estate, some of which he developed and profited from. In the 1890s Pasadena attracted wealthy Eastern and Mid-western vacationers, many of whom relocated and became passionate about their adopted city. They were attracted to Pasadena’s warm winter climate, horticultural delights (including citrus fruits and exotic winter flowers) and its grand hotels. Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club was founded by Eastern and Mid-Western wealthy industrialists who, in 1890, created the soon-to-be world famous Tournament of Roses parade, still America’s premier New Year’s day celebration. Dobbins was a Valley Hunt Club member, and was one of the directors of the committee which organised parades in the 1890s.
In 1895 Dobbins and his wife bought one of the mansions on Orange Grove Boulevard, Pasadena’s “Millionaire’s Row.” At this prestigious address he would have rubbed shoulders with brewing magnate Adolphus Busch, David and Mary Gamble of Proctor & Gamble fame (and fortune), and chewing gum king William Wrigley Jr.
Dobbins had begun acquiring the rights-of-way down the Arroyo Seco valley at the height of the bicycling boom in 1896. He incorporated the California Cycle Way Company on August 23rd 1897. The company prospectus said the route would be open to “bicycles or other horseless vehicles.” (Motor bicycles, rather than motor cars).
Dobbins was company president and majority stockholder. Other investors included Henry Markham, who had been governor of California two years previously; Ed Braley, owner of Pasadena’s biggest and oldest bike shop, the Braley Bicycle Emporium (it’s now a Scientology church); and ‘Professor’ Thaddeus Lowe, a Civil War balloonist who, in 1891, had helped create the Pasadena and Mount Wilson Railway Company which ran a seriously steep incline railway to the top of Mount Wilson.
From 1900 to 1901, Dobbins was chairman of Pasadena’s City Board of Supervisors (precursor to the City Council, and hence mayor in all but name) but despite this leading role, and earlier elevated positions in the city’s administration, he had been originally unable to secure permission for his cycleway during the first year of his company’s incorporation. It took another city vote in 1898 before he got the required licence, a costly delay. Erection of the superstructure didn’t start until November 1899. The Patton and Davies Lumber Company of Pasadena supplied the Oregon pine, and builders erected the one and a quarter mile stretch of cycleway in just three months (grading cuts through the foothills had taken place in the two years beforehand). On the first day of construction, the Pasadena Daily Evening Star said the “first section” of the cycleway would be “rushed to completion.”
The cycleway ran downhill from the luxurious Hotel Green, adjacent to the Sante Fe railroad station, to The Raymond, a resort hotel with its own nine-hole golf course. Pasadena was not yet friendly to “autocarists.” Arthur Raymond, owner of The Raymond, didn’t much like the first vacationing motorists. A sign outside his hotel read “Automobiles are positively not allowed on these grounds.”
Another sign outside the hotel pointed the way to the Dobbins’ Cycleway, which is how the route was known locally. To the outside world it was the Great California Cycleway and it was claimed to be a rip-roaring success. In September 1901 the mass-circulation Pearson’s Magazine devoted three pages to the cycleway.
“On this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling,” rhapsodied T.D. Denham.
At Pasadena they may mount their cycles and sail down to Los Angeles without so much as touching the pedals, even though the gradient is extremely slight.The way lies for the most part along the east bank of the Arroyo Seco, giving a fine view of this wooded stream, and skirting the foot of the neighboring oak-covered hills.The surface is perfectly free from all dust and mud, and nervous cyclists find the track safer than the widest roads, for there are no horses to avoid, no trains or trolley-cars, no stray dogs or wandering children.
Denham claimed that “industrial activity will be so quickened [by this splendid track] that the country will enjoy such prosperity as it has never known.”
His article stated that the California Cycleway was nine miles long, as did most of the other press reports about the structure. Given that the cycleway had closed for business a year before, it’s rather strange Pearson’s Magazine printed such a misleading piece (the magazine also reported as fact the supposed existence of the casino and the Swiss dairy).
Pearson’s wasn’t totally wrong: the cycleway did exist in September 1901 and it was probably still used (the moonlight trips mentioned by the 1950s newspaper article may have been illicit rides, and dangerous, too: “A Mexican boy took hold of a live electric wire on the cycleway and received a shock which made him unconscious,” reported the Herald in 1906).
In March 1901 a local newspaper reported that the cycleway was “to come down from Central Park tract” and that Dobbins “agrees to turn his franchise back to the city free of cost-to be paid only what that section of the structure cost.”
In October 1900 Dobbins told the Los Angeles Times: “I have concluded that we are a little ahead of time on this cycleway. Wheelmen have not evidenced enough interest in it…”
There are photos of the cycleway still standing in 1905 although by 1906 a newspaper said it was “an eyesore to some people.” The following year the Los Angeles Herald said the “old wooden trestle” was “objectionable” and that Dobbins had applied for it to be pulled down. Permission wasn’t granted because the city council believed Dobbins “desires to use the old right of way for other purposes.” He did: he wanted to build a rail road.
While at least parts of the structure may have been still extant in 1919 most of it was pulled down in stages, and the lumber sold off. Some of those parts of the right-of-way owned by the city were used for a curving scenic motor road. At the opening ceremony for the Arroyo Seco Parkway, in December 1940, California governor Culbert L. Olson declared it to be the “first freeway in the West.”
The 45-mph Parkway used short stretches of the route of the former cycleway. Today, there’s a modern bike-way that follows some of the flood control channels down the Arroyo Seco and this bike-way also uses a few short stretches of the Dobbins’ Cycleway route.
In 1958, Pasadena mayor Harrison R Baker said Dobbins was “way out in front of all of us” in dreaming up what would become, in part, the main asphalt route between Pasadena and Los Angeles.
An urban myth has since grown up around the California Cycleway. Newspapers and blogs claim the cycleway was killed off by the motor car. “The horseless carriage…caused the demise of the bikeway,” wrote the Public Information Officer for the City of Pasadena on her 2009 blog. In 2005, a feature for the Pasadena Star News claimed “Automobiles spelled doom for the cycleway.”
Numerous online mentions of the cycleway have trotted out the same angle. In January 2014, the architecture correspondent for The Guardian even claimed the structure, abandoned in 1900, was “destroyed by the rise of the Model T Ford,” a car not introduced until 1908.
There’s no proof the advent of the automobile had anything whatsoever to do with the financial collapse of the cycleway. In 1900, motor cars were still fresh on the scene and very few people thought they had a certain future, and certainly not an all-dominant future. It took another fifteen years before automobiles started to dominate in the Los Angeles area. In the eight-years from 1914-1922 the number of vehicle registrations in Los Angeles County quadrupled to 172,313. Yet until well into the 1920s, Pasadena was not as auto-centric as Los Angeles, and even Los Angeles still had an efficient public transit network in the 1920s and into the 1930s.
Ironically, there’s a photograph from 1900 showing Dobbins on the cycleway in his steam-powered Locomobile motor car. He told the Los Angeles Times “we will lie still for a time and use [the cycleway] for automobile service” but this would have been 14 years too early and it would have also needed a great deal of modification: motor cars would have been unable to get past the toll booths or turn around at the other end of the cycleway. A one and a quarter mile pleasure track for automobiles would have been just as pointless as a one and a quarter mile hotel-to-hotel cycleway.
As part of a deal, Dobbins transferred ownership of some of the cycleway’s rights-of-way to the City of Pasadena in August 1902, in return for adjoining rights of way, yet there were no plans, at that time, to turn any of these rights-of-way into a prototype freeway. All eyes – including Dobbins’ – were on turning the route into a railroad. In 1909 Dobbins incorporated the Rapid Transit Company in order to create a fast streetcar line into Los Angeles. Fifteen investors in the California Cycleway Company were given stock in the new company and Dobbins was made president.
Via newspaper reports, he told Pasadena residents:
The Pasadena Rapid Transit railroad to Los Angeles will be built, and it is my honest belief that this road will be built and the cars running between Pasadena and Los Angeles inside of eighteen months. [By road, Dobbins means rail-road; and by car, Dobbins means trolley-car]. The right of way is ours absolutely. We own every inch of it. [This is probably fanciful; Dobbins may have owned 224 separate tracts of land that made up the route’s right-of-way but just one missing link can scupper a proposed route, and it’s likely Dobbins couldn’t guarantee every inch of his route]. It cannot be taken from us. It is absolutely without grade crossings… It is absolutely the shortest line between the centers of population in Pasadena and Los Angeles, and always will be.
The Rapid Transit Company’s one-stop streetcar line to Los Angeles – like the full length of the earlier cycleway – stayed a dream. In 1917 the City of Pasadena bought out Dobbins’ interest in the Arroyo Seco route, and parts of his company’s rights-of-way became roads, including residential roads, back alleys, and stretches of the Arroyo Seco Parkway.
Dobbins lived in Pasadena until his death, in 1962, at the ripe old age of 94. No doubt he drove along the Arroyo Seco Parkway a great many times and it’s not too fanciful to imagine he drove along it with an intimate and ironic appreciation of what it could have been.
If the California Cycleway had been built to plan in 1897 it may have had a successful life but it would have still been a brief one: the automobile may not have killed Dobbins’ dream in 1900 – that bubble was burst by the streetcar and the waning popularity of cycling – but the Southern Californian love of motor cars would have killed off a nine-mile cycleway soon enough.
In the Roads Were Not Built For Cars book, due in Spring next year (do sign up for updates in the box on the right) this article will be fully-referenced and will also include hi-res pix, with use granted from the Pasadena Museum of History.
In the meantime, here’s the full 1901 article from Pearson’s Magazine:
California’s Great Cycle-Way
*How Los Angeles and Pasadena are Connected by a Magnificent Elevated Cycle-track, Nine Miles in Length, Entirely Devoted to Wheeling, Running through Some of the Most Beautiful Country in the States, and Forming One of the Most Perfect Cycle-ways in the World.*
The South Californian towns, Los Angeles and Pasadena, are now connected by the strangest and most interesting of links – a magnificent, elevated cycle-way, with a smooth surface of wood, running for nine miles through beautiful country, flanked by green hills, and affording views at every point of the snow-clad Sierras.
On this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling. At Pasadena they may mount their cycles and sail down to Los Angeles without so much as touching the pedals, even though the gradient is extremely slight.The way lies for the most part along the east bank of the Arroyo Seco, giving a fine view of this wooded stream, and skirting the foot of the neighboring oak-covered hills.The surface is perfectly free from all dust and mud, and nervous cyclists find the track safer than the widest roads, for there are no horses to avoid, no trains or trolley-cars, no stray dogs or wandering children.
Southern California – with her delightful climate and beautiful country, verdant and radiant with wild flowers in the midst of winter – should be a cyclists’ paradise. There is only this drawback – a really good cycling road cannot be found in all the country! Where a good road is most needed it is least in evidence – between the towns that are now linked by the sky cycle-way.
A conservative estimate places the number of cyclists in the two towns, including visitors, at 30,000. As a sign of the enthusiasm that exists for wheeling, it is stated that no fewer than 5,000 inventors of cycles are numbered in the populations. On Sundays, enthusiastic cyclists often swarm over the apologies for roads between the towns. They bravely face the sand and the dust and the steep hills that they have to combat.
There is a difference of some 600ft. in the elevations of the larger city and of its suburb; but this does not deter the enthusiasts, although the twenty mile ride from one town to the other and back is no mean feat of endurance. At present, not only is there no good cycling road, but there is little chance of one being constructed, owing to the number of railway tracks that would have to be crossed.
What a boon, therefore, is the new cycle-way to these beautiful Californian cities! It is thought that in five years’ time, industrial activity will be so quickened that the country will enjoy such prosperity as it has never known. Wheelmen increase and multiply every season. Motor cycles are fast coming in. The day is at hand when the motor-cyclist will be able to buy for a few cents enough compressed air to propel his machine for twenty miles at top speed. That in Pasadena, Queen of the Cities, and in Los Angeles, her metropolis, there will be 100,000 cyclists and 10,000 motor-cyclists in a few years, is a moderate computation. It is well that they will not have to trundle over the old, rutty *adobe* roads.
The inventor and promoter of the great cycle-way scheme is a wealthy Pasadena resident, Mr. Horace Dobbins, while the vice-president of the Cycle-way Company is an ex-Governor of the State, Mr. H.H. Markham. When the first bill for the cycle-way was brought before the Legislature it was vetoed – the scheme was thought chimerical. In 1897, however, the proposition was officially sanctioned, and although no one but its daring originator had any faith in it at first, gradually public support was gained. In spite of all difficulties and opposition, the cycle-way at length became a fact, and is now, perhaps, one of the most noteworthy institutions in Southern California.
The long track that winds like a great green snake through the hills between the two towns is built almost entirely of wood, and is strong enough to bear a service of trolley-cars. Throughout the entire distance from the center of one city to the center of the other it has an uninterrupted right of way, passing over roads, streets, railway tracks, gullies and ravines. At its highest point, the elevation of the track is about fifty feet. The maximum grade in the nine mile run is three per cent, and that only for two thousand feet. Elsewhere the grade averages one and a quarter per cent.
At present, the cycle-way is wide enough to allow four cyclists to ride abreast, but its width may be doubled presently. As it is, cycles and motor-cycles alone are allowed on the road, but when the track is widened, motor cars may be permitted the privilege of running over its beautiful surface.
From the engineer’s point of view, the road is a triumph. No fewer than 1,250,000 feet of best Oregon pine were used in its construction. The wood is painted dark green. At night, the cycle-way looks like a gleaming serpent, for it is brightly lit with incandescent lights.
The cycle-track has pretty terminal stations and a Casino. The stations are little buildings of Moorish design, where cycles and motors may be hired and repaired and housed. The Casino sits on one of the loftiest hills in a beautiful tract of country that has been christened Merlemount Park, and which is now laid out as a peaceful retreat for the weary townsman. You look out from the crown of the hill over a superb view – the grand Sierra Madres overshadow the beautiful San Gabriel Valley; Mount San Jacito and Mount San Bernardino, rising 9000 feet and 11,000 feet, stand sentinel over the rich land of orange and olive; the blue Pacific waters glisten to the South; and far out to sea your eye can discern the island of Santa Catalina. All the important fruit trees in the world grow in the gardens below you.
In the Casino buildings are cafés and restaurants, reception-rooms, and luxurious waiting-rooms, and a Swiss dairy, complete in all its fittings, for the refreshment of the thirsty. At night there are gay lights and bright music.
The entrance toll to the cycle-way is only ten cents. This allows a cyclist or a motor-cyclist to ride up and down the track all day, if he should so please, and to enjoy the benefits of the park, and other attractions.
By T. D. Denham, Pearson’s Magazine, September 1901
The new visitor centre at Stonehenge opens this week and the new Twitter account is already live. From tomorrow you won’t be able to park a car near to the hallowed stones, you’ll have to take a shuttle bus from the visitor centre. No doubt there’s a bike park at the centre and bikes will also be verboten by the megaliths.
It wasn’t always so. Here’s a couple of pix from Cycling Illustrated, May 1896:
My (very) forthcoming book has a long, detailed article about the cycling back-stories behind a great many automobile brands, including GMC, Ford, Land Rover and 77 others. I’m including a quote from libertarian American satirist P.J. O’Rourke. He’s not a big fan of cycling or cyclists (in 2011 he wrote a Wall Street Journal piece attacking NYC’s bike lanes) and I therefore find it funny when he talks about Jeep city Toledo (Jeeps were made there because of bicycles) or his favourite car brands: Cadillac and Chevrolet. Both have bicycling backgrounds (the founder of Cadillac made bicycle parts before making cars; and Louis Chevrolet was a famous bicycle racer before he became a racing driver, and made bicycles before he put his name to a car brand).
O’Rourke is famously obsessed with cars and a collection of his auto-centric essays – including ‘How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting your Wing Wang Squeezed and not Spill your Drink’ – can be found in his 2009 book, Driving Like Crazy. In Roads Were Not Built For Cars I’m using this O’Rourke’s quote, from his 1987 book, Republican Party Reptile:
Mankind has invested more than four million years of evolution in the attempt to avoid physical exertion. Now a group of backward-thinking atavists mounted on foot-powered pairs of Hula-Hoops would have us pumping our legs, gritting our teeth, and searing our lungs as though we were being chased across the Pleistocene savanna by saber-toothed tigers. Think of the hopes, the dreams, the effort, the brilliance, the pure force of will that, over the eons, has gone into the creation of the Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Bicycle riders would have us throw all this on the ash heap of history.
The essay in the book – did it appear in National Lampoon first? – is headlined ‘A Cool and Logical Analysis of the Bicycle Menace And an Examination of the Actions Necessary to License, Regulate, or Abolish Entirely This Dreadful Peril on our Roads.’ In the article O’Rourke makes the rash claim that “The bicycle will be extinct within the decade.” He wrote that in 1987, not terribly seriously, for sure, but, still, it must grate on O’Rourke that in 2013, the bicycle is not only very much unextinct, it’s positively throbbing with life.
Below are some edited highlights from the rest of O’Rourke’s polemic…
Our nation is afflicted with a plague of bicycles. Everywhere the public right-of-way is glutted with whirring, unbalanced contraptions of rubber, wire, and cheap steel pipe. Riders of these flimsy appliances pay no heed to stop signs or red lights. They dart from between parked cars, dash along double yellow lines, and whiz through crosswalks right over the toes of law-abiding citizens like me.
In the country, one cannot drive around a curve or over the crest of a hill without encountering a gaggle of huffing bicyclers spread across the road in suicidal phalanx.
The very existence of the bicycle is an offense to reason and wisdom.
Bicycles are childish
Bicycles have their proper place, and that place is under small boys delivering evening papers. Insofar as children are too short to see over the dashboards of cars and too small to keep motorcycles upright at intersections, bicycles are suitable vehicles for them. But what are we to make of an adult in a suit and tie pedaling his way to work? Are we to assume he still delivers newspapers for a living? If not, do we want a doctor, lawyer, or business executive who plays with toys? St. Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, 13:11, said, “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” He did not say, “When I became a man, I put away childish things and got more elaborate and expensive childish things from France and Japan.”
Bicycles are undignified
A certain childishness is, no doubt, excusable. But going about in public with one’s head between one’s knees and one’s rump protruding in the air is nobody’s idea of acceptable behavior.
It is impossible for an adult to sit on a bicycle without looking the fool. There is a type of woman, in particular, who should never assume the bicycling posture. This is the woman of ample proportions. Standing on her own feet she is a figure to admire-classical in her beauty and a symbol, throughout history, of sensuality, maternal virtue, and plenty. Mounted on a bicycle, she is a laughingstock.
Bicycles are unsafe
Bicycles are top-heavy, have poor brakes, and provide no protection to their riders. Bicycles are also made up of many hard and sharp components which, in collision, can do grave damage to people and the paint finish on automobiles. Bicycles are dangerous things.
Bicycles are un-American
We are a nation that worships speed and power. And for good reason. Without power we would still be part of England and everybody would be out of work. And if it weren’t for speed, it would take us all months to fly to L.A., get involved in the movie business, and become rich and famous.
Bicycles are too slow and impuissant for a country like ours. They belong in Czechoslovakia…
I don’t like the kind of people who ride bicycles
At least I think I don’t. I don’t actually know anyone who rides a bicycle. But the people I see on bicycles look like organic-gardening zealots who advocate federal regulation of bedtime and want American foreign policy to be dictated by UNICEF. These people should be confined.
I apologize if I have the wrong impression. It may be that bicycle riders are all members of the New York Stock Exchange, Methodist bishops, retired Marine Corps drill instructors, and other solid citizens. However, the fact that they cycle around in broad daylight making themselves look like idiots indicates that they’re crazy anyway and should be confined just the same.
What must be done about about the bicycle threat?
Fortunately, nothing. Frustrated truck drivers and irate cabbies make a point of running bicycles off the road.
Bicycles are quiet and slight, difficult for normal motorized humans to see and hear. People pull out in front of bicycles, open car doors in their path, and drive through intersections filled with the things. The insubstantial bicycle and its unshielded rider are defenseless against these actions. It’s a simple matter of natural selection. The bicycle will be extinct within the decade. And what a relief that will be.
Speed cameras were foretold in 1894 (by the richest guy to die on the Titanic; he also patented a bicycle brake)
Colonel John Jacob Astor was an interesting chap. Stinking rich, too. He was one of the wealthiest men of America’s Gilded Age. Educated at Harvard, he thought highly enough of his own literary talents to write a science fiction novel. This was published in 1894, a year before H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Astor’s book was not a best-seller, but some of his predictions – like those of H.G. Wells – are startling to modern eyes. He predicted that, by 2000 A.D., there would be high-speed magnetic railways, space travel, television, ground-penetrating radar, nuclear weapons, 500-mph aeroplanes, an end to hunger thanks to solar power mills in the Sahara, and the world would be ruled by America and England. Oh, and he foretold the invention of speed cameras, “kodaks mounted on tripods” used to catch “electric phaetons” exceeding 40mph. Like Wells, Astor also painted a world where there would be a great many bicycle paths.
The 48-year old Astor sank with the Titanic in 1912, as did his manservant, although his 18-year old pregnant wife survived. Known as Jack, and noted for his love of motoring – he owned 20 cars at time when owning one was rare enough – Astor was one of the earliest members, and richest benefactors, of the Automobile Club of America, a high-society hang-out for automobile pioneers.The Automobile Club of America – later to become part of the American Automobile Association – was originally a gentlemens’ club modelled on the even posher Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, founded in 1897 (ACGB&I added the Royal bit, and shortened its acronym to RAC, when King Edward VII joined in 1907). The Automobile Club of America was launched at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel in October 1899 (half of the hotel was owned and built by Astor; the Empire State Building stands there today). Of the twenty or so individuals who met for the inaugural meeting, some had been cyclists. At least one – Charles Ranlett Flint, the fabulously wealthy founder of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, which became IBM – had been a consul of the League of American Wheelmen bicycle club. Isaac Potter, president of the League of American Wheelmen and publisher of the League’s Good Roads magazine, was an early member of the Automobile Club (while still an active cyclist, he had founded the American Motor Association in 1895, which he claimed was “the oldest and largest organisation of automobilists in the world”). The first motorists were not from a different class to the cyclists of the 1890s, they were often the exact same people. Cycling was rich mans’ transport in the 1880s and much of the 1890s.
In 1896, Astor joined the League of American Wheelmen. He renewed his membership every year until at least 1900. Clearly, he didn’t give up on cycling when he joined the Automobile Club of America. It’s also clear that Astor was a cyclist long before 1896 for, in 1889, he patented a bicycle brake. This was for a solid-tyred Safety bicycle. Bad timing, Jack. Solid tyres would soon be thrown on the scrapheap of history thanks to the pneumatic tyre, developed for bicycles by Belfast veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop.
Astor’s patent for a bicycle brake, no. 417,401, stated:
“Be it known that I, JOHN JACOB ASTOR, Jr, of the city, county, and State of New York, have invented a new and Improved Bicycle Brake…It is well known that the soft-rubber tire of a bicycle-wheel, which is circular in cross-section when first applied to the wheel, soon becomes worn in use, so as to present a flat zone to the bicycle-brake….To obviate this difficulty and to provide a brake which will adapt itself with equal advantage to either a new or a worn tire is the object of my invention.”
Four years later Astor submitted another patent application, no doubt inspired by his love of bicycling. This was a blower for pushing dust and detritus out of the way of road users, such as cyclists. Victorian cyclists agitated for better roads long before motor-cars came along. The patent, no. 514805, was granted in February 1894.
“My invention relates to an improvement in machines for cleaning streets or roads…leaving the road for a major portion of its width free from any loose material….as the machine is carried along the road, the bed of the road will be completely cleared of dust, or any light or loose foreign matter lying thereon, by means of the air blast emanating from the bellows. It is also evident that without injury to the road bed the light foreign matter or loose particles of dust lying thereon may be blown from the road bed in direction of or into the shrubbery or over the fences along the line of the road, leaving the road bed intact, and that the operation of cleaning is accomplished both expeditiously and conveniently.”
Strangely, Astor didn’t relate how his shrubbery-defiling dust-blower would be propelled. It had neither pedals nor an engine. It was probably never built. It’s not as though Astor needed his inventions to be commercially successful: his inherited wealth saw to that.
His inherited wealth also meant he had time on his hands; time in which to write a future-predicting novel about a Journey-to-the-Centre-of-the-Earth-style adventure of high-society chaps hunting mastodons on the lushly vegetated planets of Saturn and Jupiter and where, on Earth, “smart electric traps, or phaetons” are driven by chauffeurs (“A man in livery stood at the step of the phaeton. Ayrault got in and turned on the current, and his man climbed up behind.”)
A Journey in Other Worlds;: A Romance of the Future has its odd moments, such as riding on giant tortoises. And its Christian imperialism mixed with a dash of spiritualism is disturbing.
Astor’s story was set in the year 2000. The protagonists are soldiers, socialites and scientists working for the Terrestrial Axis Straightening Company, intent on adjusting the Earth’s axial tilt in order to equalise global temperatures. Astor’s spaceships are powered by “apergy”, a miraculous anti-gravitational energy force, as used by Jesus Christ to walk on water and a forerunner to H.G. Wells’ non-religious Cavorite from 1901′s The First Men in the Moon. According to an encyclopaedia of science fiction, Astor’s novel was the first to use the term ‘spaceship’. And no tubes of space food for our 21st Century heroes: while in their wooden-panelled spaceship they feasted on “canned chicken soup, beef a la jardiniere, and pheasant.” When on Jupiter they grilled “thick but tender slices from the mastodon” but preferred “well-fed birds” which they would “roast, broil, or fricassee…to a turn.” Jupiter, it turns out, was a “sportsman’s paradise.”
I’ve extracted some of the best bits of the novel for your reading pleasure but it’s available in full, for free.
“Come in!” sounded a voice, as Dr. Cortlandt and Dick Ayrault tapped at the door of the President of the Terrestrial Axis Straightening Company’s private office on the morning of the 21st of June, A. D. 2000. Col. Bearwarden sat at his capacious desk, the shadows passing over his face as April clouds flit across the sun. He was a handsome man, and young for the important post he filled – being scarcely forty – a graduate of West Point, with great executive ability, and a wonderful engineer. “Sit down, chappies,” said he; “we have still a half hour before I begin to read the report I am to make to the stockholders and representatives of all the governments, which is now ready…
Prof. Cortlandt, LL. D., United States Government expert, appointed to examine the company’s calculations, was about fifty, with a high forehead, greyish hair, and quick, grey eyes, a geologist and astronomer, and altogether as able a man, in his own way, as Col. Bearwarden in his. Richard Ayrault, a large stockholder and one of the honorary vice-presidents in the company, was about thirty, a university man, by nature a scientist, and engaged to one of the prettiest society girls, who was then a student at Vassar, in the beautiful town of Poughkeepsie.
OK, so that’s the setting and the main protagonists of the novel. Chapter four has a scientist ‘chappie’ telling an audience about the advances in science that had been made since 1900 to 2000, with Astor extending the use of some existing technologies and imagining some of his own. The following headings are mine, the text beneath the headings is all his.
The audience became greatly interested, and when the end of the telephone was applied to a microphone the room fairly rang with exultant cheers, and those looking through a kintograph (visual telegraph) terminating in a camera obscura on the shores of Baffin Bay were able to see engineers and workmen waving and throwing up their caps and falling into one another’s arms in ecstasies of delight.
GAME THEORY; NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Further mechanical and scientific progress, however, such as flying machines provided with these high explosives, and asphyxiating bombs containing compressed gas that could be fired from guns or dropped from the air, intervened. The former would have laid every city in the dust, and the latter might have almost exterminated the race. These discoveries providentially prevented hostilities, so that the ‘Great War,’ so long expected, never came…
U.S. HEGEMONY; U.S. FREEWAYS
Adequate and really rapid transportation facilities have done much to bind the different parts of the country together, and to rub off the edges of local prejudice. Though we always favour peace, no nation would think of opposing the expressed wishes of the United States, and our moral power for good is tremendous.
NEW YORK’S BIKE PATHS
The several hundred square miles of land and water forming greater New York are perfectly united by numerous bridges, tunnels, and electric ferries, while the city’s great natural advantages have been enhanced and beautified by every ingenious device. No main avenue in the newer sections is less than two hundred feet wide, containing shade and fruit trees, a bridle-path, broad sidewalks, and open spaces for carriages and bicycles. Several fine diagonal streets and breathing-squares have also been provided in the older sections, and the existing parks have been supplemented by intermediate ones, all being connected by parkways to form continuous chains.
Steam-boilers are placed at the foci of huge concave mirrors, often a hundred feet in diameter, the required heat being supplied by the sun, without smoke, instead of by bulky and dirty coal. This discovery gave commercial value to Sahara and other tropical deserts, which are now desirable for mill-sites and for generating power, on account of the directness with which they receive the sun’s rays and their freedom from clouds. Mile after mile Africa has been won for the uses of civilization, till great stretches that were considered impassible are as productive as gardens.
Light but powerful batteries and motors have also been fitted on bicycles, which can act either as auxiliaries for hill-climbing or in case of head wind, or they can propel the machine altogether.
Another change that came in with a rush upon the discovery of a battery with insignificant weight, compact form, and great capacity, was the substitution of electricity for animal power for the movement of all vehicles. This, of necessity brought in good roads, the results obtainable on such being so much greater than on bad ones that a universal demand for them arose. This was in a sense cumulative, since the better the streets and roads became, the greater the inducement to have an electric carriage. The work of opening up the country far and near, by straightening and improving existing roads, and laying out new ones that combine the solidity of the Appian Way with the smoothness of modern asphalt, was largely done by convicts, working under the direction of State and Government engineers.
FAST CARS. SORTA.
The electric phaetons, as those for high speed are called, have three and four wheels…With hollow but immensely strong galvanically treated aluminum frames and pneumatic or cushion tires, they run at thirty-five and forty miles an hour on country roads, and attain a speed over forty on city streets…
MULTI-LANE HIGHWAYS; ROAD MARKINGS; SEGREGATION OF WHEELED TRAFFIC; SCREW PEDESTRIANS
Gradually the width of the streets became insufficient for the traffic, although the elimination of horses and the consequent increase in speed greatly augmented their carrying capacity, until recently a new system came in. The whole width of the avenues and streets in the business parts of the city, including the former sidewalks, is given up to wheel traffic, an iron ridge extending along the exact centre to compel vehicles to keep to the right. Strips of nickel painted white, and showing a bright phosphorescence at night, are let into the metal pavement flush with the surface, and run parallel to this ridge at distances of ten to fifteen feet, dividing each half of the avenue into four or five sections, their width increasing as they approach the middle.
All trucks or drays moving at less than seven miles an hour are obliged to keep in the section nearest the building line, those running between seven and fifteen in the next, fifteen to twenty-five in the third, twenty-five to thirty-five in the fourth, and everything faster than that in the section next the ridge, unless the avenue or street is wide enough for further subdivisions. If it is wide enough for only four or less, the fastest vehicles must keep next the middle, and limit their speed to the rate allowed in that section, which is marked at every crossing in white letters sufficiently large for him that runs to read.
There is a gauge on every vehicle, which shows its exact speed in miles per hour…The policemen on duty also have instantaneous kodaks mounted on tripods, which show the position of any carriage at half- and quarter-second intervals, by which it is easy to ascertain the exact speed, should the officers be unable to judge it by the eye; so there is no danger of a vehicle’s speed exceeding that allowed in the section in which it happens to be; neither can a slow one remain on the fast lines.
HARD ROADS; NO MORE POT-HOLES
Of course, to make such high speed for ordinary carriages possible, a perfect pavement became a sine qua non. We have secured this by the half-inch sheet of steel spread over a carefully laid surface of asphalt, with but little bevel; and though this might be slippery for horses’ feet, it never seriously affects our wheels….Our streets also need but little cleaning; neither is the surface continually indented, as the old cobble-stones and Belgian blocks were, by the pounding of the horses’ feet, so that the substitution of electricity for animal power has done much to solve the problem of attractive streets.
Pedestrians have sidewalks level with the second story, consisting of glass floors let into aluminum frames, while all street crossings are made on bridges. Private houses have a front door opening on the sidewalk, and another on the ground level, so that ladies paying visits or leaving cards can do so in carriages. In business streets the second story is used for shops. In place of steel covering, country roads have a thick coating of cement and asphalt over a foundation of crushed stone, giving a capital surface, and have a width of thirty-three feet in thinly settled districts, to sixty-six feet where the population is greater.
GROUND-PENETRATING RADAR; INFRA-RED CAMERAS
‘Magnetic eyes’ are of great use to miners and Civil engineers. These instruments are something like the mariner’s compass, with the sensitiveness enormously increased by galvanic currents. The ‘eye,’ as it were, sees what substances are underground, and at what distances. It also shows how many people are in an adjoining room–through the magnetic properties of the iron in their blood–whether they are moving, and in what directions and at what speed they go. In connection with the phonograph and concealed by draperies, it is useful to detectives, who, through a registering attachment, can obtain a record of everything said and done.
Telephones have been so improved that one person can speak in his natural voice with another in any part of the globe, the wire that enables him to hear also showing him the face of the speaker though he be at the antipodes.
We can build an airtight projectile, hermetically seal ourselves within, and charge it in such a way that it will be repelled by the magnetism of the earth, and it will be forced from it with equal or greater violence than that with which it is ordinarily attracted.
“Where should you propose to go?” asked Stillman.
“To Jupiter, and, if possible, after that to Saturn,” replied Ayrault
Today, there’s a justifiable concern that HGV drivers on piece-work are causing havoc on London’s roads. In 1898, there were similar complaints. About bicycle-riding “scorchers”. Note: the scorchers may have hit pedestrians but they didn’t tend to kill them.
“One of the newspaper-carrying cyclists who scorch through London from the publishing offices of evening papers to the various terminal stations with bundles of red-hot-from-the-press special editions has knocked down a child and been fined the extraordinary sum of 2s. These paper-carriers are employed on the understanding that they find their own cycles, but any fines fur furious driving and the like are paid for by the office. Speed is everything to the London paper in despatching its news broadcast, and therefore naturally the cycle is an essential adjunct in the distribution of the papers, and the offices by paying the fines encourage the defiance of traffic regulations and give the boys no excuse for delays or missing trains. And their general dexterity is one of the marvels of London’s traffic…
“Much has been heard of the deadly bicycle. Statistics show, however, that the bicycle was responsible for only eight accidents in London’s streets last year! and of a total of 129 fatalities the bicycle caused by one.”
SOURCE: Otago Witness
12 May 1898
It’s 1893. Road locomotives, such as the newfangled motorcar, cannot be practically driven on the queen’s highway (they’re not street legal for another three years). The fastest thing on the roads is still the bicycle. But a dip in bicycling’s popularity and a recession (some bicycle firms went pop in 1893) have seen more second-hand machines coming on the market. Some of the new riders have less manners than the gentleman riders of the 1880s, and ‘scorchers’ were frightening the beejezus out of pedestrians. It was still three years away from the peak of bicycling’s popularity – when high society took to the wheel, from royalty to aristocracy to the middle classes – and, in the comic song Blazy Bill, satirical magazine Punch took a real dig at the ‘Cycling Cad’.
To be sung to the tune of ‘Daisy Bell, a Bicycle made for Two’, a music hall favourite, written by Harry Dacre in 1892, Blazy Bill was written from the pedestrian’s perspective.
POPULAR SONGS RE-SUNG. “BLAZY BILL; OR, THE BICYCLE CAD.”
“The churl in nature up and down” is perennial and ubiquitous. Like the god Vishnu, he has many avatars. Every new development of popular pastime (for instance) developes its own particular species of “Cad.” Leech’s “Galloping Snob” of a quarter of a century ago has been succeeded by that Jehu of the “Bike,” the Cycling Cad, to whose endearing manners and customs in the Queen’s highway, and elsewhere, the long-suffering pedestrian is persuaded a laggard Law will shortly have to find its attention urgently directed. Mr. Punch, who is of the same opinion, adapts Mr. Harry Dacre’s popular song to what he is convinced will be a popular purpose.
Perturbed Pedestrian sings:—
There is a fear within my heart,
Planted one day with a demon dart.
Planted by Blazy Bill.
Whether he’ll kill me, or kill me not,
Smash me or only spill, [not
Little I know, but I’d give a lot
To be rescued from Blazy Bill.
Give me a chance, Sir, do!
I’m half crazy,
All for the fear of you.
You haven’t a stylish way, Sir,
I can’t admire that “blazer”
(Which you think sweet).
The curse of the street
Is the Bicycle Cad—like you!
You rattle along as though for your life,
Pedalling madly, with mischief rife,
Blundering Blazy Bill!
When the road’s dark we need Argus sight,
Your bell and your lamp do nil
But dazzle our eyes and our ears affright,
Blustering Blazy Bill!
Bother your “biking” crew!
I’m half crazy,
All for sheer dread of you.
I can’t afford a carriage,
If I walk — in Brixton or Harwich —
The curse of the street,
I am sure to meet
In a Bicycle Cad like you!
Why should we stand this wheel-bred woe?
Yes, your vile bell you will ring, I know,
Suddenly, BLAZY BILL,
When you’re close on my heels, and a trip I make,
And, unless I skedaddle with skill,
I’m over before you have put on the brake,
Half-fuddled BLAZY BILL!
Turn up wild wheeling, do!
I’m half crazy,
All in blue funk of you.
The Galloping Snob was a curse, Sir,
But the Walloping Wheelman’s a worser.
I’d subscribe my quid
To be thoroughly rid
Of all Bicycle Cads like you!
August 19th 1893