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

Source: Library of Congress
August 7, 2014 by Kristi Finefield

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.

“The 7 Wild Wheel Whirl Wonders,” whose act was featured in this 1902 circus poster.

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.

Bicycle Race–The start. Photo copyrighted by Geo. Barker, 1890

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.

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