I have a picture of my grandfather taken in 1906 when he was eight years old, standing beside a stripped down Spalding safety bike, every part not for "whoa" or "go" had been removed for light weight. In the early fifties we called these wonders "clunkers" or "klunkers," when they were chopped for the dirt, and "cruisers," when they were clean stock or duded for the street. Riding bicycles off-road was a tradition long before I stripped my 1948 Schwinn "step-through" cruiser with 24 inch wheels and clothpinned cards to the seatstays, then farted noisily through the neighborhood, along the borders of tobacco and corn fields, and through the woods behind our house in rural North Carolina. Whenever I could, I rode with my bike with three scraggly negro kids from the south side of town, all who owned funky bikes just like mine. My most memorable rides, however, were those I did alone with my dog, through pine forests, farmlands and back alleys of the old town of Goldboro, North Carolina. I used my bike as an archeological exploration vehicle, discovering Indian mounds, ancient carved stone tablets, and grave sites from the Civil War era. I visited remote clearwater swamps with white sandy bottoms, encountered frogs, foxes, an endless variety of snakes and bugs, red and white mushrooms, and a stash of pornography in collapsed barn. Except for the real danger of inbred redneck pedophiles, the flatland woods and fields were safe terrain for a young boy on a stripped-down Schwinn. That was 1957.
ALL TERRAIN BICYCLE CHRONOLOGY
I got most of this stuff from the Christian Science Monitor's website. Tell your kids. Save money on an encyclopedia. 1817. The sport of riding bicycles in the dirt officially began when Baron von Drais invented the Draisienne, a board between two wooden wheels for Germans to careen out of control through horse shit and mud on the farm and in the city. 1839. A Scottish blacksmith connected a crank mechanism to the rear wheel with two articulated rods, creating the first self-propelled bicycle. 1870. Englishman James Starley invented the high wheeler, or penny farthing, also known as the "ordinary" bicycle, that funny-looking contraption with the huge front wheel and dude with the mustache. This contraption, still a cult favorite to the most insane of our numbers, introduced serious head and shoulder injury to a population with no concept of helmet use outside of warfare. 1884. Englishman H.J. Larson created a bicycle with same-sized wheels, a chain and gears, workable brakes and handling characteristics, and called it the "Safety Bicycle" in obvious comparison to the penny farthing. Sadly for Larson, the bike never caught on. 1885. The nephew of penny farthing inventor stole Larson's idea, called it the "Rover" Safety bike, and cashed in. Larson faded, pennyfarthingless, into his footnote in history. 1887. Former slaves enlisted in the all black United States Army 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, rode singlespeed Spalding safety bikes from Missoula, Montana to St. Louis, falling into the trend where descendants of slaves do more-than-equal things just for the CHANCE to be considered equal. 1940. Japanese mountain bikers invade and conquer Burma, running out the English troops and command staff with bicycle-supported jungle warfare techniques. 1945. The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki kill more bicyclists that military troops. WHEELMEN TO REAL MEN
At the turn of the 20th century organized groups of enthusiasts called "wheelmen" created a cult of the bicycle. Home spun ingenuity focused on human-powered travel in blacksmith shops and barns throughout the U.S. and Europe. Wheelmen hot-rodded high wheelers and safety bikes, raced them, sold them, stole each others' ideas, made them better. The bicycle was used to market cereals and tobacco products. Many brake and suspension technologies in use today have roots at the turn of...
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