Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Bicyclists’ bone-shaking rides led to paved roads

Farmers used teams and wagons, or sleighs and wagon sleds in snow, to haul products to market.

Cattle, sheep and hogs were often driven on foot to the nearest shipping point.

Mail-order catalogs were in every home. The post office employed men to drive a horse to a lightweight, open two-wheel cart to deliver "Rural Free Delivery," called RFD, to several routes from large towns.

The Katy Railroad honored "flag stops" about every five to 10 miles to pick up and deliver mail, passengers and farm supplies.

When paved roads were proposed, farmers didn’t want to pay taxes to improve roads that were usually dirt with the low spots or mud holes filled with rocks or logs.

City dwellers had adequate streets and didn’t need all-weather roads. Who needed them?

Surprisingly, it was bicyclists who lobbied for and finally got good roads. When the big front-wheel cycles were introduced before 1900, riders complained about the roads. City streets were rough enough to damage the big, high-wheel cycles of the 19th century. Rough country gravel roads helped give this speedy two-wheel machine the name "Boneshaker." With a front wheel 5 feet or more in diameter and with fixed pedals, each revolution of the pedals moved the rider a long distance. Excessive speeds on rough dirt or graveled roads caused many a nasty spill, but high speeds were part of the excitement of bicycling.

The sport of cycling spread like wildfire. It was fun, healthful and provided rapid transportation. Almost every able-bodied man rode a bike to work or for pleasure.

The roads were filled with them on weekends. Men formed clubs, scheduled long and short races and gathered on streets just to talk bikes.

Women were jealous. They didn’t like being left at home while their husbands and sweethearts were out having fun. They "fought fire with fire" by designing feminine costumes appropriate for bicycling. They liked the new freedom of shorter skirts or bloomers.

Long skirts with many petticoats were doomed soon after the ladies took to the road on bicycles. Their main problem was the rough roads.

Some doctors made their house calls by bicycle. Sometimes at night in an emergency a doctor would grab his black bag and the high-wheel bike on his front porch and fly to the scene of an accident or childbirth.

Other doctors might have called the livery stable and asked someone to get his horse out, harness it, hitch it to the buggy and bring it to his home. The bicycling doctor could attain speeds faster than most horses. Making home calls on a dozen or more patients in one day was much faster by bicycle.

The doctor could mount and ride the bike much faster, but those hard metal - or hard rubber - tires on bikes made for "bone shaking," for sure.

Almost any style of bike could have been called a boneshaker at the turn of the last century.

On Sundays, the people were out on their "wheels" visiting, racing, touring or just enjoying the countryside.

Bicyclists held events in cities where the streets were "paved" with wooden blocks pounded endwise into the earth. This was hazardous when those wooden blocks began to rot!

The League of American Wheelmen and other cycle groups refused to hold their meetings in cities with those rough wooden streets. The bouncing was hard on their bodies and on their beloved high wheel machines.

Gradually bicyclists, including the ladies, brought pressure for smooth roads, and Dunlop invented pneumatic tires for bikes even before automobiles needed them!


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