Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On a Wheel and a Prayer

When you think of the old west, bicycles probably don't come to mind. I mean can you honestly picture John Wayne chasing down bad guys on a tricycle? Yet, the bicycle craze that hit the country in the 1890s was just as prevalent in the west as it was in the east.
The new craze not only changed the way people got around, but also the economy. An editorial in the Fort Macleod Gazette in the early 1890s stated, “If this craze for bicycle riding continues much longer our livery stable men will have to close down.” The same lament could be heard from hatters, dressmakers and carriage workers.


Cowboys, sheriffs and outlaws hopped on the bandwagon—and so did women


One Texas newspaper in 1895 issued this warning regarding female bicycle riders: "We have been watching the course of events with breathless anxiety and Nebuchadnezzar himself never saw the handwriting on the wall more distinctly than we see it now. The bloomer is coming sure enough."

One Kansas newspaper lamented that "Women wear their trowserettes even when their machines are left at home."  While some were criticizing women's attire others like Susan B. Anthony insisted that bicycles "Have done more than anything else in the world to emancipate women."

Head over Handlebars


Bloomers aside, muddy dirt roads and wooden sidewalks made for a wild ride. Newspapers regularly reported people taking a "scorcher" and "being knocked senseless" or "carrying an arm in a sling."

One Texas town responded by adopting the following regulations:

          1.Anyone riding a tricycle or relocopede must be supplied with a bell or horn that must be rung at all crossings.
          2.Any persons riding a tricycle at night must have a suitable lantern.
          3. It is especially prohibited for three or more riders to ride abreast
          4. No person or persons shall rest their bicycle, velocipede, or tricycle against a building (including saloons) where the vehicle will be on sidewalks

Some cities imposed a speed limit in town, usually four miles an hour. Fines could be as high as twenty-five dollars. Some regulations created as many problems as they prevented. Not only was there suddenly a shortage of cowbells but the constant ringing posed a nuisance.

It wasn't just riders that gave sheriffs and marshals a headache, but a new kind of outlaw—a bicycle thief. Bicycles were also used as getaways and one thief led his pursuers on a merry chase through Sacramento.

Hold on to Your Stetsons


An Arizona Territory newspaper reported that cowboys in Three Rivers, Michigan "have discarded their horses for bicycles in herding cattle. Cowboys in Arizona would have a happy time herding cattle on bicycles."

Cattle didn't always take kindly to bicycles as one doctor found out when he unexpectedly ran into a herd of cattle. He ended up with a broken shoulder blade and his $100 bike in ruins. Things got so bad that some insurance companies announced they would charge double for bikers.

Some lawmen like Arizona Sheriff Donahue decided to fight fire with fire and announced that he was the proud owner of a "handsome nickel-plated bicycle" and was in negotiations to purchase a Ferris wheel bike for his under-sheriff.  John Wayne will never know what he missed.

I don't know how it is where you live but the bicycle craze has hit my town big time and I recently caught my husband drooling over a $1000 bike. How are wheeling conditions in your town and have you joined the pack?

I'm excited to announce that one of my early historical novels is now an eBook! 

"What was it about yesterday that made you think 
I was a gentleman, Miss Blackwell?"-A Bicycle Built for Two

 To order click here:


  1. My husband just bought me a bike for Mother's Day this year! I found a used bike trailer to put my one year old daughter in, and we love to ride around the bike path at our local lake!

    1. Heidi, what fun! Your daughter must really love that,
      We now have a dedicated bike path that runs directly behind our house and we can ride to the train station. I'm too chicken too use the bike paths on the busy streets.

  2. Very interesting, Margaret. I recall Paul Newman riding one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

  3. Hi Susan, yes I remember Paul Newman riding that bicycle and the song Raindrops Keep Falling. I loved the scene but I never thought it fit the movie. I read years later that Paul thought likewise. I guess we were both wrong because that's the scene everyone remembers.

  4. When my husband and I first married we bought matching bicycles. Ten speeds at that! While riding one day, my hubs starting riding really close for a kiss. The kiss would have been nice but I was fearful of a collision. Sure enough, our front wheels came in contact and the rest is history. One broken ankle later, we sold the bikes the next week. Oh yes, it was me with the broken ankle!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

    1. Melanie, sorry, but your story made me laugh. That's the first time I ever heard of anyone breaking their ankle with a kiss! I'll have to add that to my "things not to do on a bike" list.

  5. Thank you for the interesting article about bicycles Margaret.
    I no longer bicycle but did as a teen (I won't say how long ago that was!) I live in a small village that has a bicycle path that runs around the lake and lodge area. It is used quite a lot by tourists and residents.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Jackie, I guess we all rode more when we were younger. I know I did. I still remember the Christmas I got a new Schwinn bicycle. I so seldom see children on bicycles today. I guess they're all inside playing video games.

  6. I hadn't heard about cowboys riding bikes. Interesting, but it seems a horse would be better--and safer. My bike has 2 wheels but they just spin in place. I've often wished it had a visual screen that displayed videos of trails and roads so that I could pretend I was out riding in nature. :) No big bike craze in our town.

  7. Hi Vickie, you would think horses would be better, but bicycles were actually touted as being better health-wise, better for the environment (no manure) and cheaper (you didn't have to feed or board bicycles). Later, the same arguments were used to sell automobiles.

  8. Interesting about cowboys and bikes...never heard about that. We have normal bikes here....but my jaw did drop when you said there was a bike for $1000...yikes!! hope it comes with a warrenty. =) truckredford(at)gmail(dot)com

  9. Eliza, I was shocked too, but some bikes cost even more and you still have to pedal them. At that price I would expect a chauffeur

  10. Cowboys on bicycles...I never knew! My children love riding their bikes, and I am eager to share this fun post with them. Thank you for sharing the bicycle craze!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  11. Margaret, I loved this history of Bicycles. We were too poor. Yhe first bike at our house was for my little brother, six years younger than me. Si was around 13. My sister that was still at home, had a good job and bought the bike. I had wanted one but just as good wasn't for me. I have never been able to ride one. Oh, I can stay up but amble all over the street. I can not make it go straight. I needed the kind Vickie had. Or one of those big ones like tricycles it has three wheels.LOL Melanie, I was the same. but I never broke my ankle. BUT, we would have wrecked if my husband had tried. The kids had bikes and he wanted us to go for a ride. I kept telling him I couldn't ride one. Guess he just couldn't believe a grown woman couldn't ride. So finally went with him but told him not to get close to me. Guess he didn't believe that either. So he got close and since I couldn't go straight we almost wrecked. THEN he believed me. No moe rides for me. I had no trouble keeping the car in a straight when I learned. Crazy, huh? When the kids were young, I lived where moost all of the women on the block were good friends. They kept after me to go bikeing with them. I finally got tired of that and rode my daughter's bike. Had barely got maybe 30 feet from the house and hit the back of a parked car. Walked it right back home. And, now I see these real young boys riding standing on the seat. And riding with no hands. Mercy me! Margaret, I too had a laugh about getting a broken ankle while trying to get a kiss. I never even heard of a cowboy riding a bike . Loved their horses too much. Maxie
    > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

    1. Maude, thank you for sharing your experiences and mishaps! If I were you I definitely would stay away from bicycles. No cycling kisses for you!

  12. Never thought about a bicycle boom in the 1800s. Was interesting to read.
    I haven't had a bike since my teens (and the last bike I used was my mom's and I took it over when I outgrew my child's size bike). I haven't really seen a bike boom around where I live; we're still very much car people. Plus, drivers here are crazy so biking around wouldn't be very safe.
    nayda underscore torres at yahoo dot com

  13. Nayda, I think the reason we're having a bike boom is because we have so many bike paths. I don't like the ones on the road, though. You won't see me on those.

  14. Hi Margaret! I live in a college town, so there is no shortage in bicyclists in my city! However, my family moved around A LOT when I was younger, because my dad was in the Air Force. My brother's bikes would always wind up missing when the moving truck finally showed up at our new home so I never got a bike of my own or was taught how to ride one. By the time we settled down and I thought about it I was way too old because I've never seen a ten speed with training wheels. Now, since I've made it almost 38 yrs not knowing how to ride a bike, I'm betting I can survive another 38 without ever learning!
    kam110476 at gmail dot com

  15. Hi Kam, your "ten speed with training wheels" made me laugh. In the 1890s some adults rode tricycles but I don't think they make those any longer.

  16. I took my one-speed bike to college with me and rode it all over the place. I was in much better shape then as there were a lot of hills! Later, when my kids were older and we would visit a lot of national parks, we would take all of our bikes with us. I gave mine up a few years ago when my tire got caught in something and I flipped over the handlebars. No injuries, except to my pride!