This Day in Cycling History #1

For some reason, I got curious about the history of bicycling and found this website, As it turns out, there were two events important to cycling this weekend. I’m giving you double your pleasure, double your money. The founding of an American cycling association happened May 30, 1868 and the first bike race ever* happened May 31, 1880. So I figured why not delve into them a wee bit? No reason.

Idle cyclists. Source: Collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus on

May 30, 1880 the League of American Wheelmen became the first US bicycle association. It formed in Newport, Rhode Island. Started by Kirk Munroe and E. Charles Pratt, it soon became the leading national membership organization for cyclists in the U.S. The League was also the governing body for amateur bicycle racing during the late 19th century. Membership peaked at 103,000 in 1898.[11] Now called the League of American Cyclists, of which this blogger is a member, it functions as the premier educational and advocacy organization for cyclists in the 50 states. Their goal is to make America friendly to bikes (again).

The original League logo. Source: Wikipedia
Dr. James Moore, 22, on right. Source: Wikipedia

On May 31, 1868 Dr. James Moore (UK) wins the first recorded bicycle race. It was a 2k velocipede race at Parc de St Cloud, Paris; the winning time was 3′ 50″. However, this fact is disputed, and by some accounts, the real first winner was either a Mr. Poloni or Charles Bon. However, that was discovered by a historian, and no one at the time disputed Dr. Moore’s win. The bikes had wooden wheels and were known as “Boneshakers,” the name of a magazine too. For more on this, see this Wikipedia link. Whoever won the first race, they were all winners just for riding such uncomfortable contraptions.

modern-day League logo

Why history? Well, it informs the present and provides education and perspective. That in turn can lead to gratitude, further understanding, perhaps even innovation and justice. Maybe someone will read this and join the League. Or someone else will think, “You know, if those guys wore formal clothes and rode wooden wheels, maybe it’s time I try getting back on the bike.” One never knows their impact, really. I haven’t read any books about the history of the bicycle, but according to the League, cyclists are responsible for getting the government to create paved roads. (Ironic now, I know, what with how paved highways have zero room for bikes.)

The stories of some early riders are incredible. Like Major Taylor, an African American racer who was largely overlooked in his day. In fact, in 1894, the League banned him and all black riders. He managed to overcome incredible odds — including being choked into unconsciousness by white riders in the South — to become the second African American to become world champion in his sport in 1899. The League forgot about and overlooked its color ban, which was finally revoked officially 100 years later, in 1999. For more read about the Major Taylor Association.

Though called wheelmen, women were cyclists too, of course. March is Women’s Bike Month. There was the amazing Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsksy, who in 1895 rode a bike around the world. I mentioned her in a recent post. There’s much more to learn and perhaps I will delve more into bike history — and herstory — as time goes by.

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3 thoughts on “This Day in Cycling History #1

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