Is the current bicycle boom simply part of a never-ending bike cycle, wherein the press rattles on and Americans ride a little more, but real progress is never made?
I’m contemplating this question after reading an article from 1941 in Click Magazine that I found at a book fair, entitled: “Bike Cycle? How to Go Places Without Gasoline.” At first glance, the article seemed to be a bit of vintage fun, like the preceding article, “Your hat in 1941 will show how you feel about the war.” Step-through frames with baskets! Women on bikes in skirts! Men in suits riding to the train station!
However, as I read the article, I realized it was eerily similar to the issues presented today. Take out the retrograde parts about “men” going to the office and “housewives,” and the piece could have been in the latest issue of Time. The writer seemed very excited about the future of transportation cycling in America, yet 70 years later there’s been no progress. To me this is horrific in a Twilight Zone kind of way.
Below I present the article in its entirety (apologies to the original copyright holders). I bolded and italicized the parts that struck me the most and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Bike Cycle? how to go places without gasoline
BIKE CYCLE? HOW TO GO PLACES WITHOUT GASOLINE
Town and country have both witnessed the return of the bicycle as a pleasure vehicle. During the Gay Nineties, heyday of cycling, only 10% of the bicycles sold were made for women. Today women buy over 30% of the bicycles made. College girls like those on the right helped bring back the bicycle’s popularity. In cities, bicycles must obey all traffic laws. Bicycle fans want state registration and license tags just like automobiles.
When the phrase “they never come back” was muttered about the American bicycle, the mutterers were muttering too soon. True enough, bicycle sales in America dropped from a high of 1,089,000 in 1899 to 180,000 in 1932. But then the great comeback started. Last year, bicycle sales reached an all time American high – more than 1,300,000 were sold. Cycle paths were built in city parks, and women took the wheel in amazing numbers. As a fun vehicle, the bicycle’s comeback was complete.
"Today, women buy over 30% of the bicycles made."
Now, with gasoline shortages looming importantly on our horizon, the bicycle is making a serious bid for at least some of the jobs being performed by automobiles. It is no longer necessary to release pictures like the one above to make people bicycle-concious. Bike lovers see their two-wheelers usurping most of the duties of the family car – and they might be right.
Men who now use automobiles to drive to the railroad station while they commute from suburb to city daily may follow the lead of commuters like Norman Hill, who pedals two miles from his home to the Maplewood, N.J. station in ten minutes every morning. He parks his bike there all day.
The huge quantities of gasoline now being burned by the cheap second-hand cars many families maintain for children who go to rural and suburban schools can well be saved by sending them to school on bicycles. Bikes are healthier, often less dangerous than cars.
"Suburbanites find they can make two wheels do the work of four."
Housewives who now drive a mile or less to do their shopping may soon find themselves faced with the alternative of cycling or walking to the store. But many American women, like this suburban Pennsylvania matron, find that cycle shopping can be completely practical.
The pleasures of parking and touring the countryside are enjoyed by any bicycle owner who desires them. A pair of shorts are all this girl needs in the way of special cycling clothes. The growth of roadside youth hostels has paved the way for bicycle tours covering hundreds of enjoyable miles.
"...and get an amusing exercise program out of legwork that replaces gasoline."
With the private family car completely eliminated by the fortunes of World War II all over Europe, most people are finding bicycles to be their only form of private transportation. Gadgets like this side car for Parisian youngsters are becoming more and more common in European city streets.
American schools and factories may soon have to erect bicycle garages like this one in Paris if gasoline shortages on this side of the Atlantic become even remotely as acute as they are in contemporary Europe. Cycling enthusiasts say this will make for healthier Americans.
"Bicycles have already replaced automobiles in Europe"
Prominent Americans love bikes. Bicycle enthusiasts take great pride in the prominent Americans who ride bikes. Civilian Defense Director La Guardia must have seen this picture of Grover Whalen before he appointed him director of the gas-saver drive.
L to R: Lana Turner, Wendell Willkie, Ann Rutherford, Grover Whalen
Click Magazine, 1941
What do you think – Fun piece of vintage bike history or terrible sign of the status quo? I’m afraid that in another 70 years another article like this will be written and nothing will have changed.