Lenawee County “enthusiastically” embraced cycling in the 1990s


As far as we know, Lenawee County’s first bicycle was imported by Irvin Finch in 1883, 20 years before the first automobile appeared on the scene.

Irvin’s bicycle was of a “Hi-Wheel” design which made it a difficult and dangerous machine, difficult for the rider and dangerous for both the rider and pedestrians nearby.

It was a direct-drive machine with the pedals attached directly to the front wheel axle, which often measured around 6 feet in diameter, preventing the rider’s feet from reaching the ground. It has been described by one author as a “high-seat two-wheeled vehicle”. One of these machines is on display at the Lenawee Historical Museum in Adrian.

Bob Wessel is Vice President of the Lenawee Historical Society and can be contacted at LenHist51@gmail.com.

Cycling quickly became popular, and a few intrepid young men in town equipped themselves with the new form of transportation and, in 1893, organized the Adrian Bicycle Club. The club sponsored dances, social gatherings, and runs, and frequently went on group hikes or runs.

Within a few years, a safer version of the bike, known as the “safety bike”, was introduced and has almost, but not entirely, replaced the Hi-Wheel. The new design was made possible because the chain drive allowed the wheels to be of more reasonable size.

Over time, the club went through a series of ups and downs to become today’s Adrian Maple Wheelers. Along the way, competing clubs have been organized with names such as “The Four B’s” and “Chain Gang”. Even the YMCA got into the act.

From left to right, Gordon McCracken, Will Curtis, Ernest N. Smith and Schuyler Baker proudly display their courage as they ride the first High-Wheeler bikes in the early 1890s at Adrian.

The informal organization of runners, known as the “wheelers,” had been in existence for several years when an advertisement on June 17, 1893, Daily Telegram invited all interested parties to attend a meeting at the buggy, horse-drawn carriage and horse-drawn carriage shop. CC VanDoren bikes on Winter Street. Ed Cleveland chaired the meeting and said: “No city… Adrian’s size had such a large biker representation, and everyone’s interests would be enhanced by proper organization. The meeting took place on July 21 and the “Adrian City Cycling Club” was officially organized to “advance interest in wheeling” with Cleveland as its first president.

The first meeting was busy. Officers and a board of directors were elected, and an ordinances committee was chosen and charged with “confer with the city fathers” regarding the ordinances governing the helmsmen. The newly formed race committee got to work organizing cycle races at the Lenawee County Fair.

With over 200 members in July 1897, the club did more than just organize rides and races. They raised funds and supported efforts to build safe bicycle lanes.

Similar clubs sprang up in the decades that followed. A Ladies’ Bicycle Club was organized in Adrian on May 8, 1896, with a limited number of 30 members. The initiatory contribution was 25 cents, then 5 cents weekly thereafter, the profits being used for “the animation of the club.” “The Ladies’ Club rides were short at first and extended“ because the ladies felt able to take longer rides. ”During the years of racial segregation, Adrian’s African-American bike enthusiasts also formed a club. .

In June 1897, the club called a meeting of all the “wheelmen” to meet in Adrian’s boardroom with the aim of perfecting the organization. About a hundred cyclists attended. They discussed building new bike lanes and extending existing Adrian Trails to connect with trails in Britton, Tecumseh, Hudson and beyond.

Bike clubs were prolific in the county and across the country. They promoted cycling safety and offered the opportunity to exercise together and interact socially. They even insured members’ bikes against theft for $ 25 as a member benefit.

Cycling clubs were formed in Clinton, Britton, Tecumseh and Morenci, as well as in the Presbyterian Church, before the turn of the century. Even the kids got in the mood when a boys ‘bike club was formed in Blissfield in 1921. Milla Brees’ fifth grade class at Onsted School formed a bike club in 1958. In order not to be outdone by the young, a club exclusively for the elderly was formed in Adrian in 1974.

Bike clubs were not unique to the United States. A 1902 newspaper article reported that a dozen “high class” Japanese girls from Tokyo had organized a bicycle club “to the amazement of the whole nation.”

Incidentally, the Hi-Wheel was also known as “Penny-Farthing” because the relative sizes of the wheels were similar to the relative sizes of British pennies and British farthing.

Bob Wessel is vice president of the Lenawee County Historical Society and can be contacted at [email protected]

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