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Monday, April 30, 2012

Detroit Bike History: Jack VanDyke Talks Cycling In The Days Before Detroit Became The Motor City [Huff Post]

Detroit Bikes
This map of Detroit bike routes from 1896 showed cyclists the routes used to escape to the countryside.
Although it may be difficult to believe, bicycles were once nearly as popular as cars in Detroit. In fact, they helped pave a path that allowed the automobile industry to flourish in the Motor City.
Jack VanDyke is a self-educated student of the city's cycling history who works at a local bike space called The Hub of Detroit. He helped design an exhibit for the The Model T Automotive Heritage Complexthat explores the historical relationship between bikes and automobiles in Detroit and is currently working on a manuscript on the subject. The Huffington Post spoke with VanDyke about Detroit's first bicycling craze in the 1880s and '90s, and its relationship to the birth of the automotive industry and contemporary cycling in the city.
Scroll down for images of the early days of cycling.
What were the early days of the bicycle craze like in Detroit?
In the mid to late-1860s, the pedal-driven bike came over from Europe. That was the first wave of cycling mania, but it didn't last very long because it still wasn't very practical. Iron tires, wooden rims, front-wheel drive -- they were all like a kid's tricycle, but two wheels and adult-sized. It kind of came and went in the 1860s.
As the technology got better with the pneumatic tire and the wire spoked wheel, the bikes became more comfortable. They became safer. What came along in the 1880s was called the "safety bicycle" -- we now call it the bicycle. But back then, it was called the safety bicycle because it was this radical redesign that made the bicycle safe and accessible to everybody.
So what was happening in Detroit was happening all over America, and it was a mania it was really a cultural-saturating phenomenon. Many consumer products tried to latch onto the mania by using bicycles as branding with their products.

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