In today’s installment of Bicycle Month posts, I am going to ever-so-briefly mutate from being a physician and bon vivant to (very) amateur historian.
You know that road out in front of your house? The (probably) paved road that takes you and your resource-hogging, squirrel-killing automobile to work, to school, and to the grocery store?
Well, you can thank this country’s cyclists for that road.
You see, back during the turn of the century, cycling was an enormously popular activity. By the 1880s, the “safety bicycle” design, essentially the same shape as the modern bicycle, had replaced the dangerous penny-farthing, and John Dunlop had invented the air-filled tire. These two advances converted the bicycle from a silly toy for the young, adventurous and rich, to a useful transportation and recreational device for the masses. The use of the bicycle exploded among the middle class, and what is now known as the Golden Age of Cycling began.
(I cannot go further without noting that the bicycle was an enabler of the nascent feminist and suffrage movement in the U.S. In fact, Susan B. Anthony called the modern bicycle the “freedom machine.” But we’ll get back to that later this month).
As the American populace became truly mobile for the first time, they found the conditions of our dirt roads somewhat less than adequate for their speedy new machines. And, as Americans tend to do, they banded together to advocate for improved cycling conditions. The most prominent face of this social force was the League of American Wheelmen (which continues to be the largest voice for cyclists today as the updated League of American Bicyclists). The League successfully lobbied both local, state and federal government to engage in a massive upgrade of the nation’s rutted roads.
Thus, the paving of American roads began long before the mass-produced automobile was even a gleam in Henry Ford’s eye. The paved road that you drive on today exists because the cyclists of the early 20th century demanded the infrastructure needed for middle-class mobility.
Next time you get angry at some bicycle who is blocking “your” road, remember this. It was originally his road. And in law, custom and practice, the cyclist has the same rights to use the road as you do.
In fact, instead of honking at him, you should thank him, for making your passage possible.
Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 860-567-5727.