THE bicycle is back. Four million Americans now pedal along streets and highways. And, last year, factories in the United States turned out 750,000 machines, nearly equaling the peak production of the gay nineties. News items from all parts of the country tell the story of this dramatic boom in popularity.
In Chicago, Ill., for instance, 165,000 persons recently signed a petition asking for cycling paths to be constructed in the city parks. In Washington, a huge crowd of enthusiastic spectators, last winter, braved frigid winds for hours to watch an amateur bike race. From coast to coast, cycling clubs are springing up. The veteran League of American Wheelmen has come back to life. The Amateur Bicycle League of America has approximately ninety affiliated clubs; the Century Road Club, promoting amateur races, has twenty-five or thirty, and there are upwards of 300 unassociated clubs in the country.
Almost every large city has bicycle rental stations, and several have schools for teaching the fine points of cycling. Railroads are running special “bicycle trains” that carry enthusiasts and their wheels to scenic spots for one-day outings. The bicycles ride in special baggage cars, where passengers may also rent machines if they so desire. Last summer, when the Boston and Maine Railroad inaugurated the idea, its first Sunday excursion to the wooded section of New Hampshire carried 200 cycling enthusiasts, in spite of the fact that the day was rainy!
Instead of subsiding, the tide of cycling popularity continues to rise. What is the secret of the bicycle’s amazing comeback?
[In Hollywood,] actors and actresses had been shown engaging in every form of athletics, wearing almost every known costume, and riding in almost every kind of motor vehicle. The publicity men hit on the idea of having their stars photographed riding bicycles. Almost overnight, Hollywood became “bicycle conscious.” What started as a mere publicity stunt turned into an authentic cycling craze.
One prominent actor pedals ten miles between his home and the studio twice a day, rain or shine. Some Hollywood stars adopted the bike as a pleasant form of exercise, others as an easy way to pedal off a few excess pounds. But most of them continued to ride because they had discovered that cycling was fun.
The bicycle craze spread up the California coast to San Francisco. Society leaders took up cycling as a novelty, and ended by adopting it as a regular activity. The popularity of cycling spread inland. Before it could reach the Atlantic coast, Boston, New York, and Washington had already been bitten by the bicycle bug from another direction.
Read more of this article at Modern Mechanix. Published in Popular Science in July, 1936.