A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Friday, June 27, 2008

"Wheel Still Has Its Devotees"

If you read this blog, apparently you can count yourself in the good company of award-winning international journalists. Colin Woodard sent me this item he'd found on ancient microfiche in the basement of the Portland library. It's from the June 24, 1904 edition of the Maine Sunday Telegram [no link, since it's about 85 years older than the web, but you can find it yourself at the library]:


Forest City Has Many Enthusiastic Bicycle Riders
Get As Much Fun As They Ever Did Out of Riding, Good Work of the Portland Wheel Club in Keeping Up Interest in Bicycling

These are automobile years, and the years of the motor cycle. For the great general public the bicycle "fad" has passed and gone. A fad we are now forced to call it, although five years ago we never for a moment suspected that this would be the term by which we would have in the future to designate the almost universal riding of wheels...

Today what a different condition of things is in evidence from five years, even three years ago when "everybody" rode! Great has been the falling off, and today but few people ride. Yet most of those who do still remain faithful to their old friend the bicycle are enthusiasts. They are to be found upon the saddle almost as much, sometimes more than in the days when the wheel was seeing the fullness of its use.

These enthusiastic riders who have thus remained faithful to the bicycle are for the most part men of middle age, and moreover, men not to be influenced by the coming and going of "fads" nor the turning of the fickle public fancy. Many if not most of them ride as much as they ever did. Furthermore, they employ the wheel for business uses as well as for the pleasure which its riding affords them...

The real wheelman of the good old fashioned type loves the bicycle just as it was at that time when all the world derived an honest, healthful, and lasting pleasure from its riding. That pleasure he derives still.

Another phase of wheeling is the practical use to which bicycles are now-a-days put by many persons. The wheel is used in this practical manner to a greater extent, perhaps, that at the time of its great popularity as a means of obtaining pleasurable enjoyment.

Who has not seen the working man returning from his work at night, mounted upon the seat of a bicycle, and who has not a hundred times seen this same workman riding as fast as he might to his home for dinner at noon, and back again to work? When he lives in the suburbs [note: "suburbs" in 1904 referred to the close-in neighborhoods just outside city centers - places like Deering, Riverton, and Mill Creek, not Buxton or Gray], or when his place of employment is at some distance from his home, he saves both time and many dollars in car fares.

Hundreds of Portland workmen go and come thus from their employment and hundreds of wheels save hundreds of dollars every month of the year.

The lead paragraph's talks about cycling as a "fad," succeeded by the automobile. But what this article is really about - which is especially evident in the last few paragraphs - is the transition of cycling from a sport and a leisure activity to a mode of transportation.

Other parts of the article that I didn't bother transcribing discuss the diminishing price of bicycles, and the role of cycling clubs in keeping the sport alive.

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