The bicycle. It doesn’t make smoke, it doesn’t make smog and it never makes a bad picture. In the 1880′s the bicycle was young then; it antedated the automobile by only a few decades. it is hard to believe now, but bicycles bewitched America in the 1880′s and ’90′s. Everybody rode them. The League of American Wheelmen swelled to over 100,ooo members, intimidated legislatures, lobbied for better roads, free transport for bicycles on trains and steamboats, and equal rights with carriages, and paraded behind buglers blowing ”Boots and Saddles”. Then it was all over. The motorcar swept the land like the plague.
Bicycling has a long, eccentric history in which pride has gone steadily before a good many falls. Leaving aside a few crude ”hobbyhorses,” or aids to walking, the first real bicycle, that is, a two-wheeler propelled with both feet continuously off the ground, was built by the Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, in 1839; its rear wheel was driven by treadles and levers. He soon knocked down a child with it, paid a five shilling fine, and fades from history.
In Paris about 1862, one Pierre Michaux, who never heard of Macmillan, devised the pedal and thus what became the boneshaker. France built him a large memorial. America’s great contribution was ”Mile-a-Minute” Murphy, who made his mile in 57 4/5 seconds on June 30,1899, riding on a board path laid between the Long Island Railroad tracks and behind a special car used as a windbreak.
When the bicycle appeared in the Orient, the local artists were carried away by the beauty of it all. In the China of Mao, everything had to be he ”great leap forward” . As to bicycling itself under Mao, official pamphlets observed that ‘, the art now blooms again because the government is kind to it” . Certainly, no one could accuse anyone in the U.S. and Canada during this time of this particular Communist tendency, for the bicycle languished.