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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bicycle Birthday Bash marks 150 years of cycling on July 9 at Castillo Blanco

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 5:52 PM

click to enlarge LOUISIANA CYCLING CLUB SPOKES SCRAPBOOK, ACCESSION 98-62-L,WILLIAMS RESEARCH CENTER, THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION
  • Louisiana Cycling Club Spokes Scrapbook, accession 98-62-L,Williams Research Center, The Historic New Orleans Collection

The bicycle was invented 150 years ago, and bicycle clubs soon followed. New Orleans cycling historian Lacar Musgrove writes about bicycle clubs in 19th-century Louisiana. She organized a birthday bash for the bicycle at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 9 at Castillo Blanco Art Studios (4321 St. Claude Ave.). The party includes talks about cycling, bicycle presentations and rides and a dance party with Mod Dance Party’s DJ Matty. Attendees are welcome to display their bikes, tricycles and pedal-powered contraptions.

There also is a presentation on 19th century bicycle art and imagery at Bar Redux (801 Poland Ave.) at 5 p.m. and there is an Art Ride on St. Claude Avenue. The party is a fundraiser for Bike Easy, an organization that advocates for safer biking in the city.

Musgrove spoke with Gambit about cycle clubs in Louisiana and the event:

Gambit: Tell us about the bicycle birthday bash.
Musgrove
: The event is a celebration of the 150 years of the bicycle. The first official patent of the bicycle was done in 1866, and it was an American patent by a Frenchman, Pierre Lallement. Actually, all over the country, there are events going on to celebrate the 150 years of the bicycle and this is one of them. It’s a fundraiser for Bike Easy and I’m flying in the premiere U.S. cycling historian, David V. Herlihy for the event and he is actually responsible for figuring out (in 1993) exactly when the bicycle was invented and patented. He is going to talk about how the bicycle was invented, how the first idea came about in the 18th century (and) when someone figured it out and how he solved the mystery of who invented it, because there was a debate on it for a long time.

Gambit: Tell me about the history of cycling in New Orleans.
Musgrove
: In the 1860s, there were a few of what were called “boneshakers” that appeared, and there was a velocipede school. It was almost like a roller skating rink where you went, rented a bicycle and got lessons, but that died out fairly quickly in New Orleans, as it did everywhere else.

In 1880, there was a man named A.M. Hill who was a jeweler. He acquired the first high wheel bicycle, which came to the U.S. in 1876, and they were manufactured in Connecticut staring in 1879. A year after that, he started the New Orleans Bicycle Club, it was him and a handful of other older and wealthy gentlemen, since a bicycle was very expensive back then. They wanted to promote the bicycle as sort of a gentlemanly, dignified sport and also a means of independent transportation around New Orleans and to get road improvement.
click to enlarge LOUISIANA CYCLING CLUB SPOKES SCRAPBOOK, ACCESSION 98-62-L,WILLIAMS RESEARCH CENTER, THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION
  • Louisiana Cycling Club Spokes Scrapbook, accession 98-62-L,Williams Research Center, The Historic New Orleans Collection
Gambit: Were there other cycling clubs?
Musgrove: In 1887, a 17-year-old kid named Ritchie Betts started the Louisiana Cycling Club, and by then there was a new generation of New Orleanians who were young, from the middle class and had free time and extra money. There was mass production of bicycles in Chicago, which meant it was a lot easier and cheaper to get a bicycle. Betts was really instrumental in popularizing the bicycle in New Orleans with young people, and he was very talented as a writer and publicist. So he started writing these really great articles about bicycles and the activities at the club.

In 1887, cycling had really blown up in New Orleans and it was also that year, when St. Charles (Avenue) was paved with asphalt for the first time, so it gave them what they called a “wheelman’s highway.” These guys were young and had jobs in the CBD as clerks and runners and sometimes students — living in the new Uptown suburbs. So this gave them a chance to get out of the city on excursions to the farms in Gentilly and Chalmette. They built a cycling club in Uptown on Octavia Street and had these fun parties and races in Audubon Park.

Gambit: How many cycling clubs were there in total?
Musgrove: Well, there were two main ones, but there were some others that seemed to pop up briefly and then go away. There was a club called the Arlington Bicycle Club that has been mentioned and there was another short-lived one called the Crescent Cycling Club. In 1892, New Orleans and Louisiana cycling clubs combined forces and they became the Pelican Cycling Club.

Gambit: And how many members did these clubs have?
Musgrove: They usually had about 100 members in each club.

Gambit: Do any of the clubs still exist?
Musgrove
: No. There is something called the New Orleans Bicycle club now, which goes back to the 1960s, but it’s not continuous with the original New Orleans Bicycle Club.
click to enlarge Bike Easy members gather at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
  • Bike Easy members gather at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Gambit: Your event benefits Bike Easy. What is that?
Musgrove
: It is an organization, and it does a number of things. They advocate with the city for better conditions for cyclists, including improved infrastructure as well as improved laws to protect cyclists. They also try to educate the public about bicycle safety, they conduct classes and cyclists how to ride their bikes safely in traffic.

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