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Kickstarting Bicycle History

All of a sudden, history seems to be the “in” thing.

First, there was the glorious return of the winged wheel to the League’s logo. Then there were several requests for “proof” of the link between the League of American Wheelmen and AAA. And, of course, with Women’s History Month comes a string a fascinating profiles of women that have a left a mark on the history of bicycling (including our own Phyllis Harmon).

Where to go for all this information?

.Well, the Smithsonian archives aren’t really very accessible on short notice, and the California Bicycling Museum and U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame is 3,000 miles away in Davis. David Herlihy’s go-to book on history of the bicycle always has good leads and is beautifully produced — but David’s history is about the bike and not so much about where the wheel took us after the glory years of the 1890’s.

The role of the League in the creation of the Good Roads Movement and everything that followed from that is excellently documented by Richard Weingroff and fellow authors at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), of all places. I say “of all places,” but, of course, the FHWA most definitely traces it’s own existence directly back to the League of American Wheelmen and their lobbying for the creation of an Office of Road Inquiry in 1892. Colonel Albert Pope was one of the founders of the LAW and a force behind the creation of the Good Roads Movement. General Roy Stone took the idea and ran with it, including pitching the idea of The National Road, and being one of the founding members of the Automobile Club of America (which went on to be a founding member of the American Automobile Association).

The League’s influential past is more than matched on the other side of the Atlantic by the UK’s Cyclists Touring Club (CTC). Those parallels are about to get a thorough airing thanks to the extraordinary work and creativity of Carlton Reid — and the support of a lot of individuals who responded to a kickstarter campaign to fund publication of Reid’s “Roads Were Not Built for Cars.” In fact, interest was so high that the initial fundraising goal was reached in 20 hours and attracted the attention of Kickstarter staff themselves.

The League’s story is entertainingly told by Reid (and he actually did take the time and planned ahead to visit the Smithsonian!), and there are plenty of relevant Women’s History Month stories in there as well. Check it out…


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