Bicyclists made early call for paved roads

Cattle, sheep and hogs were often driven on foot to the nearest shipping point. Mail-order catalogs were in every home. The post office employed men to drive a horse and a light-weight, open two-wheeled cart to deliver "Rural Free Delivery," called RFD, on several routes from large towns.

The Katy Railroad honored "flag stops" about every five to 10 miles to pick up and deliver mail, passengers and farm supplies. When paved roads were proposed, farmers didn’t want to pay taxes to improve roads. City dwellers had adequate streets and didn’t need all-weather roads. Who needed them?

Surprisingly, bicyclists were the ones who lobbied for, and finally got, good roads.

When cycles were introduced shortly before 1900, riders complained about the roads. City streets were rough enough to damage those big, high-wheel cycles of the late 19th century. Rough graveled roads helped give the two-wheeled machine the name of "Boneshaker." With a front wheel of 5 feet or more in diameter, and with fixed pedals, each revolution of the pedals moved the rider a long distance. Excessive speed on rough dirt or gravel roads caused many a nasty spill, but high speeds were part of the excitement of bicycling.

The sport of cycling spread like wildfire. It was fun, healthful and provided rapid transportation. Almost every able-bodied man rode a bike to work or for pleasure.

The roads were filled with them on weekends.

Men formed clubs, scheduled long and short races and gathered on streets just to talk bikes.

Women were jealous. They didn’t like being left at home while their husbands and sweethearts were out having fun. So, they "fought fire with fire" by designing feminine costumes appropriate for bicycling. They liked the new freedom of shorter skirts or bloomers. Long skirts with many petticoats were doomed soon after the ladies took to the road on bicycles. But, still, their main problem was the rough roads.

Some doctors made their house calls by bicycle. In an emergency, a cycling doctor would grab his black bag and the high-wheeled bike on his front porch and fly off to the scene of an accident or to assist in childbirth. Another doctor might have had to call the livery stable, ask the livery man to get his horse, harness it, hitch it to the buggy and bring it to his home. The bicycling doctor could attain speeds faster than most horses. Making house calls on a bike was much faster and allowed the doctor to see more patients in a day.

But those hard metal - or hard rubber - tires on the early bikes made for a bone shaking ride, for sure.

On Sundays, people were out on their "wheels" visiting, racing, touring or just enjoying the countryside. Bicyclists began holding events in cities where the streets were paved with wooden blocks pounded endwise into the earth. Although smoother, these roads proved hazardous when the blocks of wood began to rot. The League of American Wheelmen and other cycle groups refused to hold their meetings in cities with wooden streets.

Gradually bicyclists, including the ladies, brought enough pressure for smoother roads. Dunlop invented pneumatic tires for bikes even before automobiles used them. So who needed paved streets and roads? Bicyclists.

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