Early Bicycles
Bicycle Touring
Cycling in Fiction
Women Awheel
Cycling Music


Cycling Music

There were fears in the nineteenth century that bicycle riding would masculinize women. Most men, however, were clearly attracted to the sight of healthy young girls exercising and enjoying the outdoors, and bicycle courtships became common.

"Her head is cool, but oh! her heart!
Is warm and womanly.
She does not like the mannish girl,
And how that pleases me!
I've asked her if together we
Might wheel the road of life.
She don't say 'Nay,' and so some day,
She'll be my little wife."
Queen of the Bicycle Girls
Queen of the Bicycle Girls
(ca. 1895)

The Great Wheel-Hoss-I-Pede
The Great Wheel-Hoss-I-Pede
(London, ca. 1880)
The bicycle was used for all sorts of social commentary. Sadly, it was sometimes used to make fun of minorities. The high pricetag of nineteenth-century bicycles meant that cycling was almost exclusively a white middle-class pursuit prior to 1900. Blacks and other minorities are known to have ridden bicycles (Chicago, for example, had large numbers of African-American wheelmen during the bicycle boom of the 1890s), but the cycling world, like the rest of society, was deeply scarred by racism. Although the League of American Wheelmen allowed colored cyclists to race, it denied them membership. In parts of the South, they were not allowed to race against whites, and in the North, African-Americans were hazed by crowds and sometimes even physically assaulted. The great racer Marshall "Major" Taylor ended his career at the early age of thirty-two out of disgust over the treatment he received.

Bicycle accidents were common prior to the invention of the safety bicycle around 1890. Bystanders often got a good laugh out of cyclists being hurled over their handlebars into the mud, and "taking a header" was a popular subject for lyrics.

      "Then boldly I started with Jones from the top,
        And commenced going down t'other side;
      My pace was terrific, the thing wouldn't stop,
        And I couldn't go when I tried;
      It struck me that things were not quite as they ought,
        And my ardour immediately fled;
      For the next thing that struck me was more than a thought,
        For it raised a big bump on my head."
I Won the Bicycle
I Won the Bicycle
(London, ca. 1885)

Get Your Lamps Lit!
Get Your Lamps Lit!
(New York, 1895)
To help prevent cyclists from injuring themselves and others, many cities passed ordinances requiring cyclists to obey a speed limit and carry bicycle lanterns. Scorchers (as speeders were called) and anyone caught riding after dusk without a lamp could be fined or arrested.

      "Get your lamps lit, get your lamps lit,
      If you don't I will soon run you in,
      Miss Wise was all right for she had a search light,
      So safely along did she spin,
      Get your lamps lit, get your lamps lit,
      Miss Foolish was fined the next day,
      Which opened her eyes; Miss Foolish got wise,
      And bought a search light right away."

Additional images here