10 Ways the Bicycle Moved Us Forward

How two little wheels spun a revolution in dating, fashion, medicine, and space travel.

1. IT REVOLUTIONIZED HOW PEOPLE HOOK UP, A CENTURY BEFORE TINDER.

When bicycle prices dropped in the 1890s, people of modest means could afford their own transport for the first time. The effect on romance was profound: Long-distance courtships were possible. People could date outside their parishes, which, according to British geneticist Steve Jones, widened the gene pool, making the bicycle “the most important event in recent human evolution.”

2. IT SHOWED THE WORLD THAT AFRICAN AMERICANS BELONGED.

Fifty years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, Marshall “Major” Taylor was a star of professional track racing, which at the turn of the 20th century was the most popular sport in America. Taylor won his races with bulletlike bursts while fending off attacks from white riders. He outrode them with quiet defiance, setting seven world records.

3. IT GAVE US THE NATION’S FIRST PAVED HIGHWAYS.

Country roads of the 1890s were the stuff of nightmares, or, as The New York Times put it, “a morass in Spring, a Sahara in Summer … frozen stiff in later Autumn, and a slough whenever there is a thaw in Winter.” Urban roads—many of which were covered in wood—were smoother, but cyclists wanted asphalt. They got their wish via the League of American Wheelmen, which used its 100,000-plus members to agitate for the nation’s first state-funded paved roads in 1898.

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