November 28, 2018
November 28, 2018
Did The Bike Move For You: 5 World Shaking Cycling Events
We all know that cycling is the answer to many of life’s problems – from climate change to depression to obesity to traffic gridlock. As HG Wells once admitted “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” Looking to the future we can perceive “bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world” (Grant Peterson – Bicycle Designer) but bikes have also had an incredible impact on human history in the past 200 years. As our perceptive West African Assistant Tour Leader, Sophie DeGroot, recently pointed out “A bicycle is a fantastic mechanism to shift the power dynamic”, be it between tourists and locals or men and women. The 1900 United States Census Report noted, “Few articles ever used…have created so great a revolution in social conditions as the bicycle.”
Here are 5 excellent examples of the ways in which the bicycle has shaped our world.
1. Women’s Liberation – You’ve Come A Long Way, Bicycle
Susan B. Anthony, the American social reformer and women’s rights activist, wrote in 1896 that she thought the bicycle “has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world,” and that she “rejoices every time I see a woman ride by on a bike.” As JR Thorpe writes “In ways both explicit and subtle, the invention and popularization of the humble two-wheeled bicycle in the 19th century helped move the cause of female equality and freedom forward in the modern world; even today, there is no more feminist way to get around.” After centuries of being severely limited in their freedoms it is hard for us to imagine just how liberating it was for women to simply get on a bicycle and ride as far as they liked in whatever direction they chose. The bicycle also had practical applications in the struggle for equal rights. English suffragettes would ride around on bicycles with “Votes For Women” banners in the 1910s and regularly blocked Winston Churchill’s motorcades with bicycles. They even had their own special bike designed with the colours of the suffrage movement.
2. Creation of the Road Network in America – Take The Lane, Hell, Take The Road
“Roads were not built for cars.” This assertion may come as a complete surprise to most drivers on the roads today but there is solid evidence to back it up. In America, roads were originally built for stage-coach travel but the construction of vast networks of rail lines effectively killed off that mode of transportation. Roads fell into disrepair and were mainly used for local travel. It was the growing popularity of the bicycle for local travel in the mid-1800’s that led to the demand for paved roads and later the interstate system. Groups like the Roads Improvement Association – a lobbying group created by the Cyclists’ Touring Club in 1886 and the Good Roads movement organized by the League of American Wheelmen were instrumental in pressuring governments to respond to these requests. Without the efforts of cyclists, motorists would not have as many roads to drive on. Unfortunately, the debt owed to cyclists by motorists is long forgotten. The bicycle movement, however, is reemerging as a potent political force, demanding more space on the roads for cyclists and even their very own infrastructure like cycling superhighways.
3. The Invention of Flight – Bike Mechanics Rock’N’Fly
Without the bicycle, the airplane may never have existed. In the early 20th century, most members of the scientific establishment were convinced that human flight was impossible. Thankfully, not everyone agreed. In fact, a Binghamton newspaper editor in 1896 presciently wrote “The flying machine problem is liable to be solved by bicycle inventors. The flying machine will not be in the same shape, or at all in the style of the numerous kinds of cycles, but the study to produce a light, swift machine is likely to lead to an evolution in which wings will play a conspicuous part.” As it turned out, many aviation pioneers were also avid cyclists. In 1895, the Wright Brothers began manufacturing bicycles, the “Van Cleve” and the “St. Clair.” Later they they used the equipment in their bike repair shop to make glider and airplane parts. Their experience provided perhaps the most important insight that led to the invention of the airplane, that a plane didn’t need to be stable. Like a bicycle, it could be inherently unstable and could be flown in the same way a bicycle is “flown”: by a rider making constant, tiny, unconscious adjustments. The Wright bothers later revealed that “our idea was to secure a machine which, with a little practice, could be balanced and steered semi-automatically, by reflex action, just as a bicycle is.”
4. The Idea of Radler Beer – Cycling’s Cooling Culinary Contribution
Beer and cycling goes together like peanut butter and jam, like Sonny and Cher. Nothing tastes better than a cold beer after a long, challenging ride. The invention of Radler has been widely attributed to the Munich innkeeper Franz Xaver Kugler in 1922 although some believe that it existed for about a decade prior to that. In any case, the legend goes like this – Kugler apparently built a bike path from the city to his beerhall, the Kugleralm. One weekend a large group of thirsty riders arrived Kugler’s bar. The bartender (Herr Kugler himself), realized that he was almost out of beer. In order not to disappoint his customers (thirsty cyclists are not to be trifled with), he mixed what beer he had left with lemon fizzy water, ingeniously claiming that he was preventing the cyclists from getting too drunk to ride. The resulting drink was so well-received by the refreshed riders that it grew to become incredibly popular in beer gardens in Munich and beyond. In honour of the riders that had forced him to come up with this new beverage, he named the concoction “radler”—which translates to ‘cyclist’ in German. In fact, Kugler’s Beerhall still exists today for those cyclists eager to recreate this refreshing legend.
5. The 2003 Tour d’Afrique – Part Expedition, Part Social Experiment, Part Madness
Prior to 2003, there were certainly a number of long-distance cyclists such as Annie Londonderry who rode around the world in 1894-95 but it was not until early 2002 when Henry Gold began preparations to create a cycling expedition from Cairo to Cape Town that long distance cycling really took off. He was undaunted by the enormous skepticism and a mountain of logistical challenges. Henry wrote at the time that “We’re off. Thirty three cyclists, followed by two supply trucks, carrying everything from spare parts to a nurse, roll away from a shadow of the Sphinx on the first leg of an 11,000 km adventure. Foolish or courageous – I am not sure which. We’re planning to ride the length of Africa in 100 days of biking.” The first group of riders arrived safely in Cape Town in May 2003, coincidentally establishing the Guinness World Record for the fastest human powered crossing of Africa. This success helped with the the popularization and democratization of long distance cycle touring, bringing with it the rise of the bike packing movement as well as a host of cycling companies offering supported tours ranging from a few days to many months. The 2003 event proved that just about anyone could cross a continent on a bike. I should know – I did the 2006 Tour d’Afrique having never cycled more than 60kms at a time – and that was just once! In addition, the Tour d’Afrique and its sister Foundation pioneered the idea of donating bikes to Africa, inspiring other organizations to do the same.