A Craze for Cycling

Text by Candace Kanes

Images from Maine Historical Society, Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum, Dyer Library Archives/Saco Museum, Sanford Historical Committee, and Skowhegan History House

As American life changed in the second half of the nineteenth century, becoming more urban, more industrial, and more sedentary, many people were drawn to the outdoors. Cities and towns built parks. Rusticating flourished as did seaside and rural resorts. And Americans became interested in exercise.

The bicycle was the perfect fit for the new American fashion, especially after the "safety" bike replaced the "boneshaker" in the 1890s.

Temperance advocate Frances E. Willard wrote in 1895, "... the bicycle was perhaps our strongest ally in winning young men away from public-houses, because it afforded them a pleasure far more enduring, and an exhilaration as much more delightful as the natural is than the unnatural."

Willard herself, at age 53, learned to ride.

The bicycle brought many changes with it, including a strong push for women's dress reform and better roads.

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