1896 GOOD ROADS CAMPAIGN
The best friends of the bicycle are those who ride it for the pleasure of the exhilarating exercise it affords, and the enjoyment of the happy and multiform surroundings with which it brings them in touch. The golden-haired, bound-to-have-folks-notice-me patrons of the wheel are its foes. Those who use it for exhibition purposes on the boulevards do much to prevent ‘the better element’ from riding the gracious vehicle.
The members of the League of American Wheelmen have a double mission to perform. They have been urged to induce people to ride the wheel and to join the League. Through their efforts many thousands have been led to mount the winged steed, and to become associated with the organization that has done so much to make the highways of the nation real paths of pleasure where once they were ditches of distress.
This good work of reformation will go on; but there is another mission to perform. There are those whose presence is a regret and whose help is a hindrance. The League of American Wheelmen has aspired to be an organization of gentlemen and ladies. It doesn’t wish ‘sporty’ ‘freaky’ ‘woozy’ folks in it. The self-respecting members of the League should do all they can to keep them out. Advise them not to ride the bicycle. Tell them it doesn’t harmonize with their complexions, and that it won’t be a good thing for their health. If they will ride the wheel, don’t be any manner of means, do anything to induce them to wear the badge of the League …A pleasant company of wheelmen differs from a ‘gang of bikers’ as greatly as does a bevy of bluebirds from a flock of crows.
– L.A.W Bulletin & Good Roads, 3rd July, 1896
As you can see from the above editorial, the League of American Wheelmen was a body for ‘gentlemen and ladies.’ Reflecting attitudes of the time, it excluded members of different colour, race and outlook. There are various offensive ‘jokes’ in the magazine which also illustrate this ignorance. Major Taylor, the world’s leading cycle racer for many years, and the world’s first top black sportsman, found this to his cost in the late 1890s. He was dogged by American prejudice, with little support from the League despite his amazing achievements. (By contrast, he received wonderful support in France). The vintage bicycle hobby is still primarily a WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) hobby though, thankfully, barriers are slowly being broken down; the internet helps a lot because of its worldwide reach. I doubt if I’d have been accepted by the League in that era; though as Groucho Marx famously suggested some decades later, would I have wanted to join a club that allowed me to become a member?