Posts Tagged ‘History’

Elsa Von Blumen & Detroit’s first indoor bicycle track

Friday, January 26th, 2018

Some might think the new Lexus Velodrome is Detroit’s first — or even the first one indoors. It’s not. The Dorais Velodrome isn’t either.

In fact it’s challenging to know how many bicycle tracks Detroit has had since many were built just for a specific event.

One of those — and perhaps the first  — was built inside the former Music Hall for an endurance event in 1882.  Ms. Elsa Von Blumen (a pseudonym for Caroline Kiner) had come to Detroit in an attempt to ride 1,000 miles in six days, something she’d accomplished in Pittsburgh during the prior December.

Von  Blumen was born in Pensacola, Florida (or Kansas?), and not unlike Susan B. Anthony, moved with her family to Rochester, NY .

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Detroit Patrolman Charles Stewart’s “Horrible Death”

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

detroit-police-at-elmwood-station-1895The Detroit Police Department (originally called the Metropolitan Police) were among the first to put officers on bicycles.

In 1893, Officer Charles J. Stewart was appointed to the department and began his assignment on the Elmwood Precinct bicycle patrol. The Elmwood station was on Elmwood Avenue between Lafayette and E. Fort Street. The station and those segments of Elmwood and Fort no longer exist, but it would have been a block east and just south of the current Lafayette/McDougall intersection where the MLK High School is now

The Detroit News has an 1895 photo of Officers Joe Whitty (left) and Stewart taken at the Elmwood Station. Both are wearing their bicycle police uniforms, which included knickers to prevent their pant legs from getting caught in their front sprocket. Their bikes were fixed gears with dropped bars and designed to go fast. It doesn’t appear they had brakes.

There were very few automobiles on the roads, but Whitty and Stewart had to be able to catch the fast cyclists of the day who might be scorching (i.e. speeding) on Detroit’s streets. The speed limit was 8 MPH in the downtown area and 12 MPH outside of it. (more…)

Evolution of the Wheel

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

The following editorial ran in the August 5th, 1899 Detroit Free Press.

This year was arguably at or near the peak of Detroit’s golden-era of bicycling. What’s striking is how the benefits of bicycling are practically the same today as they were more than a century earlier. Surprisingly, the health benefits of bicycling are not mentioned.

Evolution of the Wheel

There could be no more fitting time to apostrophize the bicycle. The pavilion dedicated to it last evening at the island is a monument to one of the most marked and widely appreciated innovations of our modern civilization. The evolution of the wheel has been steadily toward the ideal. In beauty, speed and utility, its record is one of unbroken progress. It has made itself a formidable factor in the social problems, in politics, in war and in the ever pressing question of personal economy. It is the foe of monopoly, the handmaid of pleasure, the companion of loneliness and the champion of good roads.

Like many other great successes in this uncertain world, the bicycle was of humble origin. It sprang from the wheelbarrow, and no one blames it. This is the reason that you can fall so far and be so long about it when you are mixed up with one of these machines, no matter what price or what model. The velocipede, which the best authorities testify was a connecting link, was uglier than anything except a three-humped camel trying to escape its keeper. The device will best be recalled as propelled by a small boy with a straw hat over his ears, his busy feet on a level with his chin and his shoulders settled down on his waist line. Then came the ungainly affair with the enormous fly wheel in front, and a pitiful little baby wheel trailing. To drop from it was like falling off a load of hay and it forced upon short, fat men the indignity of mounting from a second story window or a convenient shade tree. Nearly all of those who were thrown from it and survived are miscellaneously maimed.

But it is through such rugged stages that success is reached. The bicycle became a thing of beauty and a joy forever, with pneumatic tires that are blown up as they deserve it, artistic finish, ball bearings, spring seats and an unaccountable disposition to participate in a scorch. At last they have thrown off their chains and have the highest degree of freedom attainable by things inanimate. They neither eat nor drink but are always merry. They toll not, neither do they spin — when a policemen is looking — yet Solomon in all his glory could not have ridden one of them to save his life. They do not shy at firecrackers, a cow in the road, or a locomotive whistle, it does not require two hands to hold them when an interested couple are going home, as it does a horse headed for the oats bin, and they will stand without hitching, wherever the bicycle thief permits. In time, it is predicted, they will have wings, and humanity itself aspires to nothing more desirable.

The pavilion mentioned in the editorial was Bicycle Pavilion on Belle Isle. It still stands but is now called the Athletic Pavilion.

The Good Roads movement led by bicyclists in 1899 is similar to today’s Complete Streets movement.

A “scorch” is riding fast on a city street. Those who did that often were called scorchers.

Wings? Well that prediction came up a bit short.

Detroit bicycling in 1898: No other city compares

Monday, March 4th, 2013

1898 Detroit Official GuideWe recently purchased the Detroit Official Guide from 1898.

The city was growing then and it appears this guide was intended for newcomers. Most of the pages list “reliable merchants”, including sixteen bike shops around the downtown area, nine of them on Woodward Avenue.

Beyond the retailersr, bicycling has a prominent place in the guide. The appendix lists city officials first then bicycling information.

And it speaks very highly of Detroit’s cycling opportunities. Detroit and Brooklyn were America’s best cycling cities in 1898? We’d like to think so, but it could just be visitor’s guide boosterism.

From the Guide:

With perhaps the exception of Brooklyn, noted for its cycle paths, no other city in the country can compare with Detroit in the facilities which it offers for pleasant bicycle runs. The suburban runs are especially fine. Elsewhere mention has been made of the streets and avenues of the city, and they need only be referred to here in passing. Miles of excellent macadam extend in all directions leading to scenes of beauty and interest. The course around Belle Isle is famous but that is only one. In reaching the Island you ride past some of the finest homes in the country beneath a canopy of foliage of trees planted more that a century ago, on a perfect asphalt pavement. To write of the attractions of the various cycle paths would be to write a long story. Suffice it to merely point them out:

Going out Fort St. West, rides may visit Ecorse, 9 miles; Wyandotte, 12 miles, Trenton, 17 miles; Flat Rock, 25 miles.

Michigan Ave. — Dearborn, 10 miles; Inkster, 15 miles; Wayne, 18 miles; Canton, 23 miles; Denton’s, 26 miles; Ypsilanti, 30 miles; Ann Arbor, 38 miles.

Jefferson Ave. — Grosse Pointe, 10 miles; McSweeney’s Club, 24 miles.

Woodward Ave. — Highland Park, 5 miles; Whitewood, 7 miles; Royal Oak, 12 miles; Birmingham, 18 miles; Bloomfield Center, 21 miles; Pontiac, 28 miles; Drayton Plains, 31 miles; Waterford, 33 miles; Clarkston, 35 miles; Orchard Lake, 32 miles. The road out Woodward Avenue is always good.

Grand River Ave. — Greenfield, 8 miles; Farmington, 10 miles.

And the bicycling ordinances? There weren’t many. Remember there were no stop signs, traffic lights, one way streets, or expressways. To the 1898 cyclist, the condition of the road surface was the most important information needed for a productive ride.

Of course the ordinances were important as well — and they were quite simple. We especially like the ordinance permitting businesses to have bicycle racks.

From the Official Guide:

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Tom Cooper: Fastest man in Detroit

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Prior to the advent of auto racing in the early 1900s, bicycle racers were the fastest men alive. And from 1895 to 1900, no Detroiter was faster than Tom Cooper.

Cooper was born in Birmingham, but moved to Detroit with his family at age 18. He became a pharmacist by trade but eventually switched to bicycle racing.

Turning professional

Friend John Colquhoun told the Detroit Free Press about Cooper’s breakthrough race when he beat champion racer Eddie “Cannon” Bald in Battle Creek on July 22nd, 1895.

“Cooper was a low salaried drug clerk at the time, fair and ruddy faced. He had no racing wheel [i.e. bicycle] of his own — he couldn’t afford it.

“As they were lining up for the pistol, Cooper could scarcely keep his admiring eyes off the great Bald. Finally Bald took offense at the individual ovation and asked the ‘kid’ what he means.

“‘I was just thinking,’ Cooper replied, ‘how fortunate I would be if I could finish second to you, Mr. Bald.’

‘”Get t’ell out of my way,’ was all the satisfaction Cooper got, ‘or you’ll not finish at all.'”

That apparently inspired young Cooper who soundly beat Bald. Afterwards Cooper was approached with a sponsorship deal.

“‘How would you like to sign for the rest of the season at $50 a week?’

“‘For $50 a week!’ cried Cooper. ‘Come sign me for life.'”

The bidding began and he was eventually under contract earning $200 a week (~$5,500 a week in today’s dollars) while also getting paid $1,000 to use a sponsor’s saddle and $500 to use another’s chain.

After six years of professional cycling — and most likely being the highest paid athlete in Detroit sports — he’d saved $60,000 to $100,000.

Cooper was the pride of the Detroit Wheelmen cycling club.

He set world records in 1897, was the National Cycling Association (NCA) U.S. Champion in 1899, and spent the 1900 season racing in Europe.

After returning from Europe he agreed to a match race against Marshall “Major” Taylor, who was the League of American Wheelmen champion and world champion in 1899, and the NCA Champion in 1900.

Taylor wrote in his autobiography, “If there were two riders on earth that I wanted to meet in match races above all others, they were Eddie Bald and Tom Cooper.”

The race was held in front of a 10,000 spectators at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Taylor won the first two races to take the best of three. Cooper left humiliated.

He continued to race the U.S. circuit in 1901 but retired afterwards at the age of 25.

Interestingly enough, his last bike race may have been at Detroit’s first major automobile race on October 10th, 1901. He and Barney Oldfield raced a motorized tandem bicycle against the clock, which received “scarcely a ripple of applause” according to the Detroit Journal.

Henry Ford was in that first auto race. He had Tom Cooper ride with him during his warm up laps. The champion cyclist advised Ford on how to best race the track and handle his machine. Ford won the race.

Afterwards, Cooper headed to Colorado to manage a coal mine but he would be back the next summer itching to race once again — this time in automobiles.

Read more about Cooper’s return to Detroit and his partnerships with Henry Ford and Barney Oldfield