Road Rage in the 19th Century

The Draisene, invented in 1819 by the Baron Karl von Drais, was the first successful two wheeled conveyance that resembles a modern bicycle. Lacking pedals and propelled by a striding motion with one's legs, the Draisene was the toy of the aristocracy. In England, during the Regency period (1790-1820) this vehicle was known the Hobby or Dandy Horse. It was all the rage in 1818-1820. Dandies, astride their Hobby Horses, were the first to face opposition to the use of the public roads. The public at large didn't like it. 

Below is a caricature of local village folk reacting to the appearance of the Hobby Horse in their town. The title of the cartoon is "The Anti-Dandy Infantry Triumphant or the Velocipede Cavalry Unhobby'd". An angry woman smashes the machine while a village elder shoots the rider !!

Forty plus years later,1866/69, offset cranks and pedals are added to the front wheel and a new machine, the Velocipede, is born. Here was a great improvement to self propulsion and the true forerunner of the modern bicycle. Below, as can be seen by a contemporary French engraving, the Velocipede and rider are met with an angry reception. A poor hapless rider is chased by an angry mob and pack of dogs. Animals and citizenry flee in terror. The time is 1870.

Moving forward to the late 1870's - 1880's, the era of the Ordinary or high wheel bicycle, we see that conditions are no better. Laws varied from place to place regarding use of the bicycle. Was it a carriage or cart ? Should riders pay road tolls ? Unsympathetic magistrates backed by angry policeman imposed fines. Teamsters hated cyclists and horses were frightened. Should cyclists have their own paths like the railroads?

In England ,The Bicyclist for October 1876 reported 'an act so fiendish and murderous that nothing short of a long term of imprisonment would seem to justly punish the offender'.

The details were thus. 'On August 26th, a number of bicyclists were making their way along the high road at Hendron, when they overtook the St. Albans coach. On top of the vehicle was Henry Cracknell, guard to the coach, who had provided himself with an iron ball connected with a long rope. As the bicyclists overtook the coach Cracknell launched his missile against the bicycle ridden by Mr. Gee, Hon. Secretary of the Trafalgar Bicycle Club, when at the same moment the driver of the coach lashed Gee's shoulders with a whip!  Another rider, Mr. Mitchell, was caught by the rope,thrown to the ground with great violence, and dragged some distance until the rope broke. His clothes torn, legs cut and bruised, and his bicycle damaged. The prosecution of Cracknell and Parsons, the driver, became a test case. The coach driver claimed that he'd had a lot of trouble with bicycles frightening his horses and that he was simply taking "preventative measures". Cracknell and Parsons were fined 7 pounds but this was a moral victory for cyclists. In England various clubs formed to fight for cyclists' rights to use the roads and gathered under the protection of the Bicycle Touring Club (later the Cyclist Touring Club or C.T.C.). In the United States various clubs formed and united under the banner of the League of American Wheelmen or L.A.W. in 1880.

One hundred forty years plus have now passed. We find ourselves in the modern era with roadways congested with automobile traffic. With signs, we remind ourselves to "Share the Road". Daily confrontations take place between those on two and those with four wheels. But there is hope ! The street scape is slowly changing as more and more folks rediscover the benefits of  the "Wheel". With the appearance of commuter bikes,cargo bikes,and E-bikes there appears to be a Renaissance awheel. 


Progress Arrives 1870