What better way to get back into the archives than on two wheels? I’ve been inspired by tomorrow’s NYC Tweed Run, an event that celebrates a bygone era of bicycling culture, to present one of my favorite finds from Scientific American’s past: trick riding.
Trick riding became widely popular in the late 1880s and 1890s in Europe and America. Bicycle academies and cycle racing had already proved their staying power, and many daring young riders sought ways to take the sport to a new level. In a piece from May 13, 1899, Scientific American featured two well-known trick riders from the States: N.C. Kaufman of Rochester, NY and Lee Richardson of Milwaukee, WI.
Kaufman was considered to be one of the best riders in all of America and Europe. His acrobatic style made his tricks “so startling and often so daring that a description would fill a goodly sized volume…He stands upon the step and drives the bicycle with his hands. He seats himself in the frame and, guiding the wheel with one hand and turning the pedal-crank with the other, rides at full speed about the stage. Then, unwinding himself from his uncomfortable position, he swings himself into the saddle again, and, raising the front wheel at the same time, turning the handle bars completely around, pedals about supported only by the rear wheel.”
In the pictures below, Kaufman is seen riding on what was known as a “safety” bike, an updated version of the “ordinary” or “penny-farthing” bicycle, which had a large front wheel and small back wheel. The “safety” got its name because its identical wheels were thought to be safer. Most trick riders used it, however Kaufman also did tricks on an “ordinary” bicycle, making him one of the more exciting performers to watch.
Lee Richardson’s father, L.M. Richardson of the Monarch Cycling Manufacturing Company, gave him early exposure to cycling. Richardson credited his trick riding skills to patience and practice, which allowed him to condition muscles “of whose existence the rider was practically innocent.”
Many bicycles used by trick riders were specially made to hold up to the strain placed upon them, having reinforced frames and tires weighing between 28 and 30 pounds each. According to the article, the first trick most riders learned was to ride without placing their hands on the handlebars. Next came sidesaddle and standstill moves, followed by more difficult moves like the ones shown by Richardson below.
While tomorrow’s NYC Tweed Run won’t feature trick riding, it will have other fun events for 19th century bicycle enthusiasts, such as saddle polishing and best dressed in tweed prizes. Scientific American’s archive documents the bicycle’s rich history, so be sure to check back soon for more two-wheeled tales.