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Thomas Stevens


from the August 30, 1884 Harper’s Weekly

ON THIS PAGE we give the portrait of Mr. THOMAS STEVENS, who started from San Francisco, California, April 22, with the avowed intention of riding around the world (barring the Oceans) on his bicycle. He was born at Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England, December 24, 1854. Emigrating to the far West in 1871, he had not been east of the Mississippi until he started out on his famous bicycle ride across the continent. Seven men have within the last three years attempted the same feat, but the great difficulties encountered in crossing the 1500 miles of rocky mountain, barren deserts, and bridgeless streams between California and the Missouri River have invariably turned them back.

More than one-third of the route followed by Mr. STEVENS had to be walked. Eighty-three and a half days of actual travel and twenty days stoppage for wet weather, etc., made one hundred and three and a half days occupied in reaching Boston, the distance by wagon-road being about 3700 miles. He followed the old California trail most of the way across the plains and mountains, astonishing the Indians, and meeting with many strange adventures. Mr. STEVENS reached Boston August 4, and is now in New York, where he hopes to make arrangements which will enable him to complete the journey around the globe; through England, France, Germany, Austria, and Turkey, thence through Asia to the Pacific.

Read the Pall Mall Gazette
via the New York Times, October 3, 1885

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Your Home Bicycle Workshop

Everything you need to know to build
a great home bicycle workshop!

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Some of the most beautiful ocean views you’ll ever see are found along 17-Mile Drive in Pacific Grove, California, where this photo was taken August 12, 1888 at the Del Monte Hotel Beach Resort. The men are members of the Sacramento Bicycle Club.

I’ve ridden my highwheel here and can report that even with today’s tourist traffic, the ride is still spectacular, especially when sitting atop a six-foot-tall bike. One hundred and thirteen years ago, it must have been more amazing. But, it’s doubtful all the cyclists in this photo rode here for this picture taking, as only six bikes are shown (no one today would bury such priceless bikes hub-deep in the sand!) but there are fifteen people! And, look at how well-dressed everyone is. Too bad the photo isn’t in color. Notice that the woman sitting between the two highwheels on the left is cleverly using the pedals as a seat. Also, look closely at the highwheel on the far left. See the hub lamp in the center of the wheel? These days, a light like that could cost more than a complete original highwheel.

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Another amazing vintage photo. Be sure to click on it to see it full size. This is the Fred T. Merrill bicycle shop, probably around 1890. Especially noteworthy is his sign, which depicts the joys that await those who ride. Also, look at those wonderful winged window insignias.

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Two marvelous and sure-to-become-collectible cycling books have just beeen made available! Jan Heine, who publishes Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and photographer Jean-Pierre Pradères have written The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles (photo above), which captures the magnificence of the randonneur bicycles of the golden age of French cycling, made by legendary artists, René Herse, Alex Singer, Jo Routens, etc. Full of large glossy photos of fifty of these phenomenal handcrafted masterpieces, this amazing volume will wow you. And, if you’re interested in bicycle history, order Frank Berto’s The Dancing Chain, which chronicles the development of the modern drivetrain, a fascinating story that explains how bicycles became what they are today.

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Jim Langley, Bicycle Aficionado

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SPIN (stories)

That’s Thomas Stevens over there in the picture (click on it!). He left Oakland, California in 1884 on a Columbia Standard (that wheel he’s posing with) and became the first person to pedal around the world. It took him two years, and when he was done he wrote an amazing two-volume, 1,000-page story about his adventure. His book, Around the World on a Bicycle, is a great read and so popular among collectors that you’ll pay $300 to $400 for the books if you’re lucky enough to find them (although some older big-city libraries often have them, they usually won’t let you check them out). Fortunately, you can now read it on Google Books.

What’s interesting to me is that lots of cyclists have authored books and lots of writers and artists have been interested in bicycles. Mark Twain for instance wrote an essay called “Taming the Bicycle” (see below) in which he says, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it — if you live,” a reference to how difficult it was to learn to ride early machines. And H. G. Wells wrote a novel about cycling called The Wheels of Chance. Maybe it’s something about the increase of oxygen to the brain while riding that inspires pedalers to pick up the pen. Ideas certainly come to mind when you’re riding, and it’s not a bad idea to bring along a pad and pencil to capture them.

Often, what comes to mind for me are memorable events, funny things that happened or adventures. On these pages, I share these bicycle stories; some original, some from others, some pictorial. While they’re not all about cycling, the inspiration for them comes from all those miles pedaled while contemplating the universe.

Taming the Bicycle by Mark Twain

Mark Twain's account of learning to ride a highwheel should be required reading for anyone so inclined . . . (click to view; click again anywhere to hide)

Jean-Jacques Sempé’s Magical Cycling World

Born in Bordeaux, France in 1932, Jean-Jacques Sempé is one of the truly great illustrators, especially of bicycles, bicyclists, bicycle shops and . . . (more)

Myths and Milestones in Bicycle Evolution

What do: a derailleur gear, an aluminum frame, the freewheel, disc wheels, anatomical saddles, clipless pedals, suspension, folding bikes have in common? Answer: they were all ideas that originated in the late 1800s . . . (more)

The Grand Game

The address in my notebook says Madison Avenue, so naturally I'm expecting tall buildings full of guys and dolls in swanky duds, the type who . . . (more)

Streak Cyclists, Mileage Junkies & More

Up until I was about 35, I could ride or not ride and still feel pretty good on the bike as long as the riding I was doing was quality riding. Yet, only a couple of years later, even a single day off left me feeling stale and stiff and unhappy on the bike. So, in 1990, I set a goal of streak cycling for ten years . . . (more)

L’École des Facteurs

A brilliant 30-minute cycling comedy from 1947 starring the wonderful Jacques Tati, also known as Mr. Hulot (Flash player required; broadband connection recommended) . . . (more)

Bicycle Stereocards

Here are a few fun bicycle stereocards. Way before television (about 1860 to the turn of the century), these special photographs were a way to capture and view interesting scenery and events with almost three-dimensional realism  . . . (more)


I found this story in the underground cycling magazine On the Wheel (no longer published). Its editor, Gabe Konrad, also published the ’zine Aeolus Butterfly. Both are now prized by vintage cycling collectors. Gabe has a knack for capturing the feeling of road riding before helmets, index shifting, Lycra and the SUV menace. I particularly enjoy this story that originally appeared in New York Magazine in the early 70s. That’s when I started working in bike shops and I remember it as a magical time . . . (more)

The Puncture

Whether you enjoy repairing flat tires, as I do, or hate it, you’ll surely get a kick out of this classic cartoon “essay” by Willliam Heath Robinson, whose last name (Heath Robinson) is a synonym in England for Rube Goldberg, because of the many silly machines he concocted and drew . . . (more)

Wheeling in the Years

Plenty of people have machines onto which they hop to roll back time. And I’m one of them. What’s the gimmick? An antique bicycle, more specifically, a highwheel bicycle . . . (more)

A Little Santa Cruz Cyclocross History

Instead of the manmade barriers used today, courses then were designed to force crossers over and through as many natural obstacles as possible, including creeks and rivers, huge downed redwood logs, mud pits, barbed wire . . . (more)

The Highwheel Guy Races

It pains me no end to have to report that that dastardly Red Robin handily stomped me into the ground last night at the Swanton Time Trial . . . (more)

Quest for Fire

The most important job every morning was lighting the big sheet-metal stove in the center of the shop  . . . (more)

Old Bicycle Ads Bring Back a Bygone Era

They cost next to nothing. They're easily found. They're not held in high esteem by other two-wheel junkies. Yet, to this collector, they're among the most interesting of bicycle artifacts  . . . (more)

Rolling Relics

A cold night in April finds me in Chicago at the home of Cycle Smithy bike shop owner and bike collector Mark Mattei. The Windy City is still in winter mode. It’s snowing lightly and frigid gusts squeeze their way through Mark’s windows, forcing him to crank the heat in his downtown home. But we hardly notice. It’s unlikely even a tornado could snap us out of our trance  . . . (more)

Calvin and Hobbes: Weirdness by Bill Watterson


 Calvin and Hobbes in bicycle cartoons by Bill Watterson “Weirdness,” Character,” Secret,” Unbalanced” and Upgrade” . . . (more)


I really got into cycling in 1971 after buying my first good road bike. There was a lot to learn, so I gathered what books I could find. One, Richard’s Bicycle Book by Richard Ballantine, is still a favorite. It’s now dog-eared and yellowed but . . . (more)

Santa Cruz, Cycling Mecca

You might find it interesting to learn that I knew of Santa Cruz’s reputation as a bike town when I first got into cycling because it’s where the author of Anybody’s Bike Book, the number-one bike book in the early seventies, came from . . . (more)

Sticky Situation

I had worked at West Hill Shop in Putney, Vermont for about six months in 1978, when Jan VanderTuin walked in one day with a pair of wheels and asked to look at tubular tires. I knew who he was. He’d been in before, and my boss/mentor Neil Quinn, the owner of West Hill, had told me how VanderTuin had raced a bit in Vermont, done pretty well and had then headed west  . . . (more)

The Bet

When I started running I had a close friend and training partner named John. He was a year behind me in school but was born to run. While I ran twice a day to improve and compete, he flew on several runs a week. And even when he was just beginning, he could . . . (more)

Schwinn Auction, April 6, 1997

At one time, Schwinn had one of the finest bicycle collections in the world. But the goods (estimated to include over a million items) belonged to the Schwinn family; not the company. Unable to continue to house and display the bikes and memorabilia, the family decided to sell the entire collection at an auction in Chicago, which I attended. It was a bittersweet affair.  . . . (more)

Bicycle History Slideshow

See the many strange ways the bicycle changed from the early 1800s to the late thirties in this interactive bicycle history.  . . . (more)

Porcupine Rim Trail, Moab, Utah

A photo essay from my one trip to Moab (1996). We're approaching the top of the Porcupine Rim trail and about to experience one of the nicest downhill runs there is.  . . . (more)

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