Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bicycle History Tour

Luis Vivanco is a cultural anthropologist at the University of Vermont. He also loves bicycles. I often see Luis and his family riding to our children's school and at fundraising events. When I saw he was leading a historical tour, related to his recent book Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing, well, I couldn't miss it. After listening to his lecture last winter, I knew Luis had done his homework on Burlington's bicycle history. I was ready for a fun time.

The artistic entrance way at Old Spoke's Home.
We met at the Old Spokes Home.

Unfortunately, a start time discrepancy waylaid some riders. Fortunately, owner Glen Eames invited riders inside to see an ordinary get a new wheel.

A rare treat, indeed! Glen owns one of four surviving high-wheelers by a certain craftsman, whose name escapes me.

Glen holds the wheel.
A bike mechanic snakes a cable through the solid tubing (the same rubber used on wheelchairs). He says the pink rubber is hard to get nowadays.

The tubing is wrapped around the big wheel. Then the extra wire is strung through a hand-cranked winch, which tightens the tubing onto the wheel. At some point the wire is soldered and the rubber shrinks to form a perfect circle on the rim. It's a precise procedure, requiring lots of practice.

Glen suggested I check out a new acquisition, a Stearns Yellow Fellow. I went up stairs to the attic, part museum, part stock of reconditioned bicycles crammed together, but still organized. Museum pieces are displayed behind a barrier. It's not particularly a good place to photograph singular bicycles, but there she was: a golden Stearns.

If a Stearns looks familiar, it's because I use it for my blog icon. Now I can say I've finally seen one in person. Glen picked this beauty up from a lady in Aberdeen, Washington.

A home on Loomis Street once held Lane Bicycles.
But enough of bicycle drool. Luis led the flock, stopping at residential houses, which were once at the center of the 1880s-1890s cycling heyday  A large grey home stands virtually unremodeled. It's two car garage held the largest and longest standing bicycle dealership.

Luis takes his costume seriously, reciting more history.
A few more stops, one depicting a county fair where a horse track was used  to race bicycles, (now city residences) and it was on to pedestrian friendly Church Street, the heart of our Queen City. It was once bicycle central with 6 shops selling bicycles, plus sewing machines and hardware.

The magical bicycle tour, as Glen Eames coined our adventure, ended in a parking lot, former site of Howard Park, state fairgrounds for 15 years and home to more track racing. All that remains from that time period is the brick building on the left.

With cycling gaining momentum today, it's nice to recall when bicycles outnumbered cars, when one could race a trolley, ride macadam roads without mud crusted ruts (Burlington had great roads early on), or go for pleasure rides with your friends.

1 comment:

Due to increased Spam, I will be moderating comments from now on. Thank you for your patience.