Bicycle Diaries: Before there was Chicago Critical Mass...

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Before there was Chicago Critical Mass...

there could've been
the parade
of all cyclists

From the archives of the Chicago Tribune, 25 June 1895
C. Newton Wilson Wants Chicago Riders to Turn Out Some Night

And now a parade of all the bicyclists in Chicago is proposed. C. Newton Webb, whose office is at Room 1329, No. 315 Dearborn street, wants a turn out of not only all the club members but of all unattached riders, and makes the following proposal:

"It is suggested that cyclers of this city form a monster parade to demonstrate the popularity of cycling. The authorities place the number of wheels in this city at 85,000 and there should be 80,000 in line making a continuous procession around the boulevards, passing through the several parks. The plan is to have all cyclers start at any point the choose and all go in one direction, each one dropping out after covering the entire route, back to the place of beginning. The expense would be incurred, and as nearly all riders are out in the evening any way there would be no inconvenience and all would take pride in massing on the line of march, that the people of Chicago for once might realize the combined strength of the wheelmen of a great city, which can justly boast of having more cyclers than any other city in the world. All riders should costume and illuminate as suits their taste, and be on the designated boulevards at 8 p.m. and continue until the entire route is covered. The President of each cycle club is requested to name a committee of one, who will meet Mr. Wilson to take steps for advocating this feature for an early date."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog and like the combination of cycling and politics. I recently posted a story on my blog about a bicycle commuter whose bike was confiscated while it was locked up since it was considered unsightly. Since I am in Washington DC, I give the story a political angle. The story was actually picked up by the local NBC television station.

Please take a look at the post here and the follow up here You may want to share it with your readers.


10/9/08 14:55  
Anonymous amsterdamize said...

That is a great find, love it! I don't believe you can now look at that through the lens of a modern critical mass, as I think it was more a confirmation and pride of the popularity of cycling in Chicago, just like cycling was popular in other cities across the US.

Looking at this, and still seeing so many similarities with current day cycling in my country (the Netherlands), I feel it is really a shame how in one great century of progress, the bicycle (as it started out) and the core value of cycling has gone downhill so much, pardon my pun, first through the rise of the automobile (public transportation systems suffered just as much, slowly dying/stonewalled) getting hijacked by the sports/leisure industry. I'm serious about my disappointment, having lived in NYC in the 90's and having had the experience of being scolded for not wearing a helmet or not riding a mountain/roadbike, etc, while I was just trying to get from A to B, in a normal fashion, not to be intimidated by all the fear-mongerers and other politically correct foot soldiers.
I genuinely feel sorry that fighting for a rightful place of the bicycle in everyday traffic has to involve so much political and sub-culturally inspired battles. I believe this also doesn't help achieving the primary goals. Way to fringy and tribe-like and, again, political for the main public to get on board. With the same kind of effort, I would put the same amount of people on the road, on a daily basis, going about doing what they do, wherever they are, going about their business, work with local policy/decision makers, build real relationships with councils and city planners and go through the motions. By sheer numbers and the obvious needs for accommodating that, you'll achieve greater progress than you do now. Sure, it's a compromise, but that's how it has proven to work in the past and it still does.

If you show people, just like in that last picture, that biking is normal, not dangerous, not fringy, not political, not anything, just a great utility machine, it will automatically be more appealing to people, not scary. Let people be sheep, but for the right reasons and the greater good. That, and cycling is just plain fun.

Thanks for reading my ramblings :).

Cheers, Marc

Ps, I pointed at that last picture for a reason, check this post of mine of 20 min of everyday cycling in Amsterdam yesterday. Look at the type of bikes, and the people...nothing changed, it's still the preferred model, still in their normal clothes, dressed for the purpose of the occasion, not for cycling. It works, it has always worked, because people don't perceive cycling as a 'culture'. It's just there. 45 years of building an infrastructure, new policies, also started from the bottom after the rise of the automobile and years of neglect. People here wouldn't know what you're talking about, mentioning 'bike culture'. Still, interesting enough for outsiders, hence my blog. Oh, videos, photos and lots of conversations included. :-)

10/9/08 19:23  

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