Our suspicions were right: Cyclists are infinitely cooler than motorists.
Seriously though, I just learned the coolest bit of history.
“The League of American Wheelmen is credited with getting paved roads in this country before the reign of the automobile,” proclaims the organization’s modern-day incarnation, the League of American Bicyclists.
According to Jeff Mapes’ Pedaling Revolution, soon after its founding in 1880, the League of American Wheelman was heavily entrenched in the Good Roads Movement, which paved the gravel and dirt roadways that were the norm at that time.
Director of the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op Jim Sheehan confirms, “Roads existed long before cars. The League of American Bicyclists were the people who lobbied for paved roads 130 years ago.”
Wikipedia dissolves doubt: “The Good Roads Movement was founded in May 1880, when bicycle enthusiasts, riding clubs, and manufacturers met in Newport, Rhode Island, to form the League of American Wheelmen to support the burgeoning use of bicycles and to protect their interests from legislative discrimination.”
I don’t mean to get all bike-righteous, but this is pretty significant, don’t you think?
Mapes goes even farther to suggest that cyclists paved the way for motorists not only practically but also psychologically, serving to raise the national consciousness for a new mode of movement. He quotes turn-of-the-century automobile maker Hiram Maxim:
The reason why we did not build mechanical road vehicles before [the late 19th century], in my opinion, was because the bicycle had not yet come in numbers and had not directed men’s minds to the possibility of independent, long-distance travel over ordinary highway. We thought the railroad was good enough.
Legendary advocate Horatio “Good Roads” Earle wrote in his 1929 autobiography, “I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country.” My feelings at learning this information range from surprise to amazement, joy to pride, validation to indignance.
Instead of angry honks, we cyclists ought to be getting gracious hat-tips.
My friend, Meredith, thinks we should produce bicycle T-shirts with snarky messages, such as:
- “We paved the way for you to drive.”
- “We were here first.”
- “Sure, we’ll share our roads with you.”
- “Cyclists created roads. Motorists created traffic.”
If we made them, would you buy one?