February 17, 2004 > Bicycles
The two-wheeled riding machine called the velocipede with pedals applied directly to the front wheel became popular about 1865. All metal machines and hard rubber tires led to the widened popularity of bicycles for transportation and pleasure in the 1880's.
Residents of Washington Township were engulfed in the biking rage in the 1890's, and news articles often recorded information about local wheelmen. Races, meets and rides were popular events for many people. Writers recorded that "the bicycle was what made the Gay nineties Gay and did much to liberate women."
Bicycle clubs were organized in the towns, especially Alvarado. The Sunset Cycling Club sponsored a run to Decoto and a picnic to Dry Creek. Races, meets, and rides up Niles Canyon were especially popular. Moonlight rides were especially memorable but were less painful if you knew the hazards along the route. The Niles Athletics Club built a bike track. It was apparently not used much, but high wheelers raced on the Centerville track. The Mckinley Bicycle Corps of Alvarado had 50 members in 1896. Their uniforms had white coats, knickerbockers with block trim and matching caps. Some of the bikes had electric lights and spokes tuned to give out notes as the wheel revolved. They planned to play a campaign song, but "so many of the lady riders were unable to ride fast enough to play the song that they compromised and played America the Beautiful. It was quite a sight to see 50 gaily decorated bikes pouring forth the national anthem."
Bicycle shops and salesmen became regular features of small towns, and people no longer had to send east or go to San Francisco to purchase bicycles. J. E. Jacobus of Niles advertised Columbia bicycles as "the best bicycles made" and Hartford's as "equal to most bicycles." Old wheels were taken in exchange and sale prices ranged from $30 to $75. Jacobus also sold chainless and tandem models. F. S. Secada's Niles bicycle shop featured new Pierce and Iver Johnson bikes and guaranteed all work. Secada also operated the Central Cyclery in Centerville where he sold his Pierce, Rambler and California Bicycles but also carried "cheap grade bicycles." He also advertised as agent for Pierce and Excelsior motorcycles in 1909.
R. T. Moses was another Centerville dealer. R. T. Anderson was the local agent for Hudson, Lenawee, and Knox all bicycles at Irvington. The advertisement read, "The best is the cheapest in the long run."
Most people purchased their bikes from agents, but Ned Witherly earned his by selling tea and coffee for an Eastern house. The local editor noted that the wheel was a fine one and Ned was the proudest youngster in Irvington.
The common use of bicycles created a great and unusual interest in their mechanics. Wheelmen who met on the road often remarked, "What gear do you use?" The local editor surmised that not one rider out of a hundred knew how to determine the gear, so he printed the rule formula. The editor even noted that one boy had taken so many tumbles on his new bike that he had to eat standing up for a few days. He finally mastered his "fractious steed" and could now almost do figure eights.
Even a minor bicycle accident made the news. Champ Stivers, speeding down to the Irvington depot, collided with Charlie Frick coming around the corner of Dr. Nellis' office. The riders were not injured, but the front forks on Frick's wheel were broken.
Many of the roads were rough, dusty in dry weather, muddy after heavy rains and difficult to navigate.
Cyclists formed the League of American Wheelman to sponsor races and lobby for better roads. Their 1896 Road-Book described popular bike routes with surveyed routes for races. Route 11 went through Alvarado, Centerville, Irvington, and Warm Springs. Route 12 went through Niles, Mission San Jose, and Warm Springs Junction. League hotels included the Riverside Hotel at Alvarado, the Gregory House at Centerville, the Irvington Hotel, and the Rural Hotel at Warm Springs. Hotel costs varied from $1.35 to $1.75 per night and meals from $.25 to $.50. The 100-mile relay course went from San Francisco south to San Jose and North to Alameda.
Bicycles were designed especially for children after World War I and evolved into a variety of specialty bikes including the 3-speed, the 10-speed, and the mountain bike. Bikes are as popular as ever and continue to be useful and enjoyable vehicles for exercise and transportation.