Wheeling through time | SummitDaily.com

Wheeling through time

SUMMIT COUNTY – Forget suffrage. If we’re to believe Susan B. Anthony, the bicycle helped women make the largest strides toward liberation.

“The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world,” Anthony said in 1896.

The bicycle took women out of skirts and put them into pants. During the Gay ’90s, bicycles gained intense popularity, and women – who up until then had been expected to keep their legs hidden under long skirts – sought more practical clothing in which to ride.

“The bicycle craze killed the bustle and the corset, instituted common-sense dressing for women and increased their mobility considerably,” according to the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum.

The bicycle traces its birth back to the early 1800s, when Baron von Drais invented a walking machine that would help him get around the royal gardens faster. His machine featured two same-size in-line wheels mounted in a frame the rider straddled. The device wasn’t ridden, but propelled forward when the person pushed their feet against the ground, rolling it forward and giving the person a gliding walk. Not practical, to be sure, but nevertheless a starting point. In 1865, pedals were applied directly to the front wheel, though the machine was popularly referred to as “the boneshaker” for its notoriously uncomfortable ride. In 1870, the first all-metal machine appeared.

Solid rubber tires and the long spokes of the large front wheel provided a much smoother ride than its predecessor. But they were expensive for the time, costing an average worker six month’s pay, and dangerous. Ladies, confined to their long skirts and corsets, were limited to adult tricycles.

Many mechanical innovations now associated with the automobile were originally invented for tricycles, among them rack and pinion steering, the differential, and band brakes. As metal became stronger, chains and sprocket were introduced.

Finally, the pneumatic tire, which greatly increased the comfort of the ride, was introduced. The bicycle was what made the Gay Ninties gay. Bicycling was so popular in the 1880s and 1890s cyclists formed the League of American Wheelman (now called the League of American Bicyclists). The League lobbied for better roads, literally paving the road for the automobile.

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