Posts Tagged ‘wheelmen’

The wheelmen (and women) of New York

May 1, 2008

Today marks the start of bike month in New York City. But cruising around on two wheels en masse is nothing new; Gothamites have been doing it since the late 19th century. In the 1890s, Ocean Parkway became the country’s first designated bike path, with thousands of “wheelmen” and “wheelwomen” pedaling the six miles from Prospect Park to Coney Island. 

From the New York City Parks photo archive, Ocean Parkway in 1894:

When a second Ocean Parkway path was completed in 1896, the New York Times described opening day, June 28, poetically:

“Over the return cycle path, in Brooklyn, which lies like a strip of gray ribbon from Prospect Park to the sea, there rode yesterday an army of cyclists. There were all sorts and conditions among them—the grave and the gay, side by side, each bent on doing his share to celebrate the formal opening of the second path in the Imperial Ocean Boulevard.”

Bicycles were like the iPhones of the 1890s. Here’s an 1898 bike ad from Wanamaker’s, the grand old department store formerly on Broadway and 9th Street (where Kmart is today):

 

It wasn’t long before some wheelmen were branded a menace. “Scorchers” were riders who blazed into the streets. “Cracks” raced their bikes. Papers were full of accident stories. Wet asphalt is dangerous, indeed!