american journeys   


To The Golden Gate
George Nellis' 1887 Wheel Across The Continent
By Charles Meinert, Web Site Bicycle History Consultant

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INTRODUCTION
From crude beginnings in the 1860's, the bicycle had evolved by the 1880s into a beautiful high-quality machine, with a huge front wheel and small back wheel, whose speed could only be surpassed by that of powerful trains. The men who rode these handsome wheels were vigorous fellows with a sense of daring, a love of speed, and appreciation for the companionship of other wheelmen. Riders tested their ability in races against other competitors or in long distance rides against the clock and nature. Though multi-day rides might pass through several states, the ultimate endurance challenge was a bicycle journey across the continent.

This is still an appealing challenge and each year countless modern bicyclists, mounted on regular or antique machines, complete rides from sea to sea. These modern accomplishments are, however, quite different in nature from the nineteenth century crossings since few roads were then paved and in many regions even dirt roads did not exist. There are two documented cases of pioneer Wheelmen crossing the continent entirely by bicycle prior to 1888. The following pages provide an account of one of these remarkable journeys that began in the upstate New York town of Herkimer on May 24, 1887 when George W. Nellis, Jr. rode out of town accompanied by a "send-off" group of the community's wheelmen.  (See article From Sea to Shining Sea under American Journeys for sketches of the 10 men who attempted to cross country highwheel rides in the 19th century.)
 

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