Take a Ride with Prints and Photos: Bicycles and Balance Required

When I was a kid, I was happy to tool around the neighborhood on my red, white and blue bike, handlebar tassels flowing in the breeze. My brother, on the other hand, once attempted to jump a Volkswagen Beetle on his two wheeler. Bicycles can tempt certain people to go fast, go high and try almost anything. Take the Gaynells, otherwise known as “The 7 Wild Wheel Whirl Wonders,” whose act was featured in this 1902 circus poster.

Forepaugh & Sells Brothers enormous shows united. The 7 wild wheel whirl wonders. Poster copyrighted by the Strobridge Litho. Co., 1902. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g02625

Early cycling enthusiasts rode all kinds of contraptions as the bicycle evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries. To my eye, just riding an early bicycle such as a ‘penny-farthing’ or ‘ordinary’ was an exercise in daring. An 1890 photo (below, left) shows that people even raced on these tall bikes, though clearly needed a bit of help to line up for the start. The act of getting on a bike of this proportion even seems tricky, as evidenced by a photo from around 1920 (below, right).

L.A.W. Bicycle Race–The start. Photo copyrighted by Geo. Barker, 1890. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a13135

Times High bicycle. Photo by National Photo Company, ca. 1920. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/npcc.01574

And when it comes to daring deeds, let’s not forget the daredevil Allo Diavolo, who put his bicycle – and nerves – to the test doing this loop-the-loop trick for an audience in 1905.

Diavolo performing his bicycle daredevil act before a large audience. Photo by Fred G. Mathiessen, copyrighted 1905. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a32443

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3 Comments

  1. Maria M. Rodriguez
    August 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    The good ol’ bike. Nice to see somethings hanging on…It still a thrilling and graceful ride.

  2. Stephanie DiFrancesco
    August 7, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    What fascinating pictures. I am always drawn to pictures of people on bicycles. I have never figured out why but these are great and I am going to figure out how to use them in my classroom. Thanks!

  3. John (Her Brother)
    August 7, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    I did not attempt to jump the beetle, I jumped the beetle, landing on the other hand was less successful…

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