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Hiwheelin - Martin Krieg

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Posted - 02/06/2014 :  12:36:24  Show Profile  Visit Hiwheelin - Martin Krieg's Homepage  Reply with Quote
The First Bicycle & San Francisco's Beginnings


By 1870 San Francisco, at 149,473 people, had become the tenth largest city in the United States. Everywhere one looked there were hotels, restaurants, parks, churches, synagogues, schools, libraries and academies. It was also in 1870 that the city approved the $801,593 needed for the 1,013 acres of barren land referred to jokingly as "The Great Sand Bank" that would become Golden Gate park. When the building of the park began on what was also called "Sand Francisco" it was called the greatest horticultural experiment of all time.

Six years later, in 1876, word has it that the first bicycle came to San Francisco from Paris. By the 1880's, HiWheel bicycles, the first bicycles of the day, were ubiquitous in Golden Gate Park. So much so that they their informal races on a horse racing track there, a mile and a quarter mile straightaway, called Speed Road, caused much friction at City Hall. The cyclists were well enough organized back then that they formed, in 1878, the San Francisco Bicycle Club, the second bike club in America, and successfully campaigned for their own path along what is known now as JF Kennedy Dr. Until 1904 when cars were allowed into the park, their only competition for use of the park's many paths had been people and horses

It was in and amongst this setting, in 1884, that a 30-year old man named Thomas Stevens began a two-year bike journey around the globe. Before he left, however, he polished the skills he would need to ride his 50-inch wheel in Golden Gate Park.

While in transit, his regular reports from the road in Harper's Weekly an influential and widely read magazine in that time period, expanded consciousness for people all over the world and established San Francisco as a beacon of hope for achieving the impossible once his ride was complete. Upon his return, on Jan 3, 1887, the new bike club that formed while he was away, the Bay City Wheelmen (BCW) joined the influential San Francisco Bike Club to receive him.

Thomas Stevens upon his return to San Francisco

In fact. It was the BCW that would go on to build the bike racing track at 8th and Market, very near City Hall, that produced a race that drew 20,000 spectators in 1893. In a city filled with high priced bikes that only the well off could afford, its many bike shops became an economic force that could not be ignored. In endeavoring to spread the craze that bad erupted in their city to a larger market they commissioned a map of the bike roads for the entire state. The result in 1896 became the cutting edge map you can see at

When by the 1890's bicycling was made easier for women and more affordable for the masses by the smaller wheel, diamond-frame safety bike, even more bikes flooded the streets of San Francisco. Even the city's major newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle knew that the city was a leader in the two-wheel revolution, when in 1905 Ida L. Howard wrote "When San Francisco was Teaching America to Ride a Bicycle".

A year later, by 1906, San Francisco was filled to the brim in other ways as well. It had five daily newspapers and half a dozen others in foreign languages, 42 banks and 120 places of worship. It also had 3,117 places where liquor was sold. Just as booze flowed freely, so did money. In 1906, the U.S. Mint at Fifth and Mission streets was the largest in the world, and in its vaults was 222 million dollars in gold, one-third of the country's gold supplies. Known as the Paris of the West, at 410,000 people, it was the largest city west of Chicago when disaster struck.



Images courtesy Steve Stevens & Ed Berry

Edited by - Hiwheelin - Martin Krieg on 02/06/2014 12:52:26


37 Posts

Posted - 01/02/2018 :  12:11:31  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Wonderful badge.
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329 Posts

Posted - 01/09/2018 :  09:14:39  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
[quote]Originally posted by Hiwheelin - Martin Krieg

The First Bicycle & San Francisco's Beginnings

Hi Martin,

Thanks for doing the posting on the history of the bicycle in San Franscisco. I really enjoyed reading about "SAND" FRANCISCO and all your other commentary. Although you undboubtedly are talking about High Wheel bicycles their predecessor might also be mentioned.

Velocipedes were well intrenched in the psyche of San Franciscans. There were makers of Velocipede bicycles in the city during 1869.

This image below is from the Velocipede Riding School at Mechanics Hall in San Francisco during 1869. The photo is by Muybridge.

B.T.W. ... the cap badge is a treasure. Many years ago I saw an example on eBay which, I am fairly certain, Ed Berry Jr. acquired for his fantastic collection. Do you own the example illustrated in your article or, might you share, to whom it belongs?

I hope everyone finds this informaiton and image to be helpful.

Thanks again Martin.

Regards to one and all.

Lorne Shields

Edited by - LORNE SHIELDS on 01/09/2018 16:04:16
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Craig Allen

1088 Posts

Posted - 01/09/2018 :  10:15:16  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Looking at Lorne's photo with the gas lamp makes me wonder if there was ever a gas lamp lighter velocipede.
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