Monday, January 23, 2012

Fort Wayne Cycling

By Carmen Doyle

Carmen Doyle works in the gift shop at the History Center so she has a good knowledge of what's available for purchase here. A 2004 Ball State grad with a bachelor's degree in Public History, she's not only worked here but at the Lincoln Museum. PLUS...she also enjoys cycling! And she assures us she doesn't have a bell on her bicycle so "it isn't constantly ringing". (If you want to know what that means, you'll have to read Carmen's post.)

Fort Wayne has a rich history of biking dating to a time long before the River Greenway became popular or was even an idea. Biking was not only considered good fitness, it was also entertainment. The corner of Hanna and Lewis streets was the site of a Cycling Carnival in June 1887. A Cycling Carnival seems to have been a sort of Halloween parade on bicycles. The descriptions in the pamphlet “Ordinaries, Safeties and Fun” (on sale in our gift shop)get your imagination running. (See the photo of some of the pamphlets on display and stop in to browse.)

There were 70 riders in various costumes, carrying “transparencies” lit with lanterns. Two riders dressed as a racing yacht, one dressed as George Washington, another as a “water mill”, another as Oscar Wilde, another as a jester. The entire parade took place at night. There was elaborate preparation for the event with the anticipated “use of fireworks and lighted flares”. People were asked to keep horses away from the pageant route so as not to frighten the animals. Residents were asked not to water that evening so roads would be dry.

Despite detailed planning, the event was not successful. An immediate delay occurred when the horse leading the ammunition for flares became sick. A replacement had to be found. Most likely the biggest reason the procession was unsuccessful was due to “mischievous boys and hoodlums” who deliberately threw sticks and rocks at the all male riders, causing the riders to fall and lanterns to go out. The parade was never completed, a disappointment to the watchers further along the route. The majority of the men would likely have been riding ordinary bicycles.

By the next year bicycle processions were generally done. There was more emphasis on “practical every day cycling”. The “ordinary” bicycles- the ones with the large front wheel- were being replaced by “safeties”- the bikes we see today with two wheels of equal size. The safety bicycles helped to lead to another change in cycling- the rise of women cyclists.

In 1888, the Fort Wayne Bicycle Club decided to extend honorary membership to women. By that time, there were “some half-dozen lady riders” in Fort Wayne. Female riders led to changes in social mores. There was proper etiquette to be followed when riding- no racing, no continual ringing of the bell. (Only the “vulgar herd...who delighted in noise” did those sort of things.) The “well informed wheelwoman” used the bell rarely.

There was considerable controversy over the “correct” position of a woman when sharing a tandem with a man. If she was in front, she had a better view, but she would also be in charge of steering. In back, a woman would be better protected from danger, the steering would be in the “capable hands” of the gentleman and she would appear to be driving him “which should gratify her vanity.”

There were also changes in cycling costumes. In 1884 Fort Wayne Bicycle Club had worn uniforms of navy blue trimmed with red cord and nickel buttons. When women became avid cyclers, the “ideal costume” was bloomers. The large number of women riding bicycles in bloomers was sometimes frightening.

A July, 1895 article in the Journal Gazette told of an incident where two ladies in bloomers and on bikes accidentally frightened a horse. The horse “leaped into the air, broke the hitching strap and galloped madly down the street.”

Maybe the young ladies were actually part of the “vulgar herd” that constantly rang their bicycle bells and it wasn’t just the bloomers that frightened the poor horse! Bicycling had certainly changed since the disastrous cycling parade less than ten years before.

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