The Bicycle Archive

When the bicycle debuted in the 1800s, it was blamed for all sorts of problems—from turning people insane to devastating local economies to destroying women’s morals. Here are some of the most striking examples of this extreme reaction to the bicycle. 

Excessive Use of Bicycle Fatal

The New York Times | April 9th, 1897

Excessive bicycle riding is given as the cause of death of Miss May Brewer, a young teacher in the high school here, who died last night.


Lunacy in England

The New York Times  | August 12th, 1894

Still, there is not the slightest doubt that bicycle riding, if persisted in, leads to weakness of mind, general lunacy, and homocidal mania. In the opinion of one of the ablest and most experienced of British lunatics, the habit of watching the revolution of the forward wheel develops in the mind of the bicycle rider a tendency to reason in a circle.


The Bicycle Eye

Boston Post | July 12th, 1896

Those persons who have been decrying cycling as a pastime for women have a new argument to offer against it. They claim that a hitherto unheard of malady, namely, the “bicycle eye,” has developed as a result of the great and unusual strain on the optics of wheelwomen. These meddlesome fault-finders are composed chiefly of old maids who have outlived their usefullness and men who never were possessed of any. They offer one reason after another why women should not ride, and each more terrible than the former one.


Beware the Bicycle Eye

The Evening Record  | October 27th, 1896

Persons who have been gently but firmly opposed to bicycling for women have ventured to suggest from time to time that this somewhat violent form of recreation left its unmistakable traces upon the delicate feminine frame. It has been broadly hinted that the harmonious proportions of the most finely formed young woman rapidly succumb to the baleful influences of bicycle riding and that the results of the unlady-like exercise appear in enlarged waist, and broader and more masculine hands, and feet of a size that is positively disgraceful. 


Bicycle Spine and a Rider’s Curved Back

San Francisco Examiner | September 1st, 1895

Discussion of the Doctors Upon Benefits or Evils From Use of the Wheel.

T he “bicycle face” is a joke, and the “bicycle hump” is a prediction. Is the “bicycle spine” a present and perilous reality? Some doctors say yes and some say no.


Bicyclists’ Stoop

Yorkshire Evening Post | August 16th, 1893

The prospect of the evolution of a round-shouldered, hunched-back race in the near future is not pleasant to contemplate; yet this result is approximately what the bicycle mania is tending to produce.


Inspired by the Devil

The Madisonian  | October 12th, 1895

When the bicycle woman realizes her disasterous mistake and begins to suffer from the unenviable notoriety of her indelicate and unwomanly conduct, she says that it was her love of exciting pleasure that tempted her to take the false step. She is mistaken. It was not the love of pleasure, but a personal devil.


Morals of Wheelwomen

The New York Times | May 16th, 1899

A large number of our female bicyclists wear shorter dresses than the laws of morality and decency permit, thereby inviting the improper conversations and remarks of the depraved and immoral. I most certainly consider the adoption of the bicycle by women as detrimental to the advancement of morality–nay, even its stability.


Does Bicycling Increase Selfishness?

The Age | December 13th, 1897

For the last 10 months complaints have been very frequent with regard to the number of riders who come up noiselessly behind the foot passenger and shoot past them, apparently trying how close they can go without touching.

If she had dropped dead from the shock would the offending woman cyclist be guilty of manslaughter according to the law, as she undoubtledly would according to justice?


Bicyclists Ridiculed in the Street

The New York Times | November 1st, 1872

The velocipede rider was exposed, unaided, to the jeers and insulting comments of his tormentors. His style of riding was ridiculed; his dress, and especially his boots were openly disparaged, and contemptuous wagers were loudly laid upon his mental condition.


The Almighty Bicycle

San Francisco Examiner | June 14th, 1896

There is no chapter so astounding as that which tells of the bicycle. A toy, it has overturned the trade of nations within the compass of five fleeting years. Serious people laughed at it and called the folk who rode it “feather brains.” Today those same serious people have recalled their capital from world-wide enterprises and started it anew in the bicycle business to save themselves from commercial shipwreck.


Do Bicycles Hurt Books?

The New York Times  | June 7th, 1897

“Bicycling is a killer, and make no mistake! Its influence on our business has been deplorable to such an extent that we have lost more money in the past four years than we made in sixteen years before; and bicycling is undoubtedly ‘the chief, if not the only, cause of the trouble.'”


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