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November 4, 2009 > History: Wheeling Around Hayward

History: Wheeling Around Hayward

The bicycle is so common to us today that it is hard to imagine a time when riding about on a two-wheeler was such a novel thing that young people taking their bicycles for a ride was newsworthy enough to be mentioned in the local newspapers. Such was the case in the 1890s, when a bicycle craze swept across the country and Hayward residents eagerly jumped on the bicycle bandwagon. Improvements in manufacturing and design started bringing down the cost of bicycles by the early 1890s. This meant the sport was no longer reserved for the very wealthy (which it had been up to this time) and the average, middle class American could purchase one.

Bicycles became especially popular with women and were closely associated to the growing women's rights movement of the 1890s. Women had a freedom of movement and mobility with the bicycle that they had never seen before. The bicycle affected women's fashion with the introduction of "bloomers" (skirt-like trousers) so women could ride astride a bicycle without catching their skirt on any moving pieces.

The bicycle became so popular by 1895 that a local Mt. Eden man remarked, "The bicycle does not eat, and the result of the bicycle craze has turned out of service thousands of horses and at the present time there is scarcely any demand for hay. If this bicycle hysteria continues to grow as it has this year, horses will have to be retired to private life." While this is probably a bit of an exaggeration, the newspapers from around this time do illustrate the popularity of bicycle riding in the area.

Mixed among articles in the Hayward Journal about salt production, the yearly cherry and pear harvest, and other local business are mentions of various bicycle related activities. Many are announcements about upcoming races, "The great bicycle race attracted a large crowd here Saturday and all cheered Wells while Rose, our own champion, made a good record" (Feb. 29, 1896);"The bicycle races in San Francisco attracted many of our wheelmen this week" (March 14, 1896); "Jason Borree is becoming quite a bicycle rider. In the Imperial Club's 5-mile race Sunday he made second time 13:15 1-5, wining him a pair of racing tires, valued at $12 and 6th place, giving him a pair of racing shoes" (June 27, 1896). Even the annual Fourth of July picnic in 1896 was to feature a bicycle race to Hayward's Park (near the Plunge). Often, bicycle clubs from all over the Bay Area sponsored the races.

Also of note in the newspaper are brief mentions of residents acquiring a bicycle, gaining expertise on their new bicycle, or taking a day trip. In June 19, 1897, "Miss Annie Mohr and brother William have become quite expert in riding their new 'tandem,' and make the trip to Oakland and back in good time." On October 24, 1896 "Quite a delegation of young ladies and gentlemen made a trip to San Leandro Wednesday evening on their wheels by moonlight. They presented a fine appearance as they passed through town but as regards their return - well, they ran against a very saucy norther and had plenty of excitement and a few falls [before] they reached home."

Probably the incidents that received the most attention in the newspaper regarding bicycle riding at this time are accidents and injuries suffered during a bicycle excursion. Hayward was a busy area at the time and bicycles had to share the roads with wagons loaded with goods coming back and forth to town, residents traveling about in their carriages and on horseback, and the new electric streetcar line from Oakland. All this activity coupled with bad dirt roads and inexperience caused the occasional problem for the intrepid bicycle rider. A passing reference in June 1897 briefly mentions an accident involving Fred Trathen on his bicycle and E. Dole on his horse. Unfortunately, the article does not mention whether either the horse or Mr. Trathen came out unscathed.

One of the longer stories from February 22, 1896 is quite amusing, "Chris Thorup and 'Fritz,' in the employ of H. Petermann, are up to date bicyclists. On Wednesday evening, they took a ride down the road towards San Lorenzo, when they met Roadmaster [Henry] Gansberger in his cart. Henry is somewhat of a boy himself, and he turned his horse loose and gave the wheelmen a brush. It was a great race while it lasted. Both bicycle riders spurted for all they were worth, and it was a sight to see them. Finally, Henry pulled up rather suddenly, and the wheelmen, who were under such terrific headway, that they could not slow down in time to avoid a collision, and in separating [from their bicycles] each went over the edge of the road and took a 'header.' They turned more somersaults in a minute than a professional acrobat. Chris was badly bruised, but he says the revolutions performed by Fritz in the grass were so remarkable as to cause him to forget his own troubles."

Some bicycle accidents were reported because they were caused by mischief: "The different bicyclists who make the run from Hayward to Oakland and Berkeley are very indignant at the small boys who live in and around San Leandro. Just as they [the bicycle riders] approach San Leandro there is a long bridge they have to cross. No sooner are they fairly started on the bridge when pop goes their pneumatic [air filled] tires and the rider takes a header, for carefully distributed along the bridge are numerous tacks face up which pierce the tires and places the rider of the wheel in a very awkward predicament" (1895).

As the nineteenth century came to a close, fewer mentions of bicycle incidents appeared in the newspaper. By the beginning of the twentieth century the bicycle was commonplace, everyone who wanted one could have one. While the bicycle continued to be popular, they just were not as newsworthy as they once were.

Correction: In the article Fill'er Up! (October 7-October 13), racecar driver Bryan Saulpaugh did not win an Indy 500 but he did compete in two before he died in 1933. His friend Leo Doeckel also wanted to race but needed the money he made working as a mechanic on the racecars. He had to content himself with testing racecars and riding in the mechanics seat.

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