Opening soon - LifeCycle: Stories from the Minnesota Bike Community

Mailchim LifeCYCLE MTR updated copy.jpg

Sneak Peek on LifeCYCLE: Stories from the Minnesota Bike Community

By Audrey Negro, Joint CMM and HHM Intern

What do a 13-year-old mountain bike racer, a bicycle frame builder, and the founder of one of the world’s largest bicycle parts distributors have in common? They are all key parts of the Minnesota cycling community and makers of living history here in Hennepin County. They are all also part of a new exhibit produced by the Cycling Museum of Minnesota in partnership with Hennepin History Museum.

Explore the vast, and often shared, triumphs experienced on two wheels. Starting December 1, LifeCYCLE: Stories from the Minnesota Bike Community will be on display at HHM. The exhibit highlights eleven influential figures in Minnesota biking currently living and riding in the state. The exhibit features original portraits by celebrated Minneapolis photographer Nancy Musinguzi, as well as oral history interviews invoking aspects of storytelling and create an archive of contemporary history-makers.

  self portrait, 2018.  Nancy Musinguzi

self portrait, 2018. Nancy Musinguzi

Nancy Musinguzi is a visual storyteller, mixed-media artist and freelance photojournalist working and living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They experiment with both traditional and emerging processes in media-making to document the lives and perspectives of marginal cultures,communities, and voices that chronicle and shape the contemporary American experience. Their perspective as a fellow cyclist invites visitors to reframe how we see people on bikes. All the exhibit subjects have done important work for the cycling community, are known forces in the cycling community, and/or have experienced a valuable life change as a direct result of cycling.

The subjects were chosen to represent the diverse backgrounds, ages, gender identities, and ethnicities found in the cycling community. They also represent a broad range of cycling niches, including bike racers and athletes, established artists and makers, cycling and transportation activists, industry leaders, and shop owners and mechanics. Many of the subjects have used bikes and cycling in their lives as tools to create change. Some have overcome individual challenges, other have created healing and community, while still others enjoy the gratification that comes with working with their hands.

All of them see the transformational possibilities of bikes and cycling applied to ideas like personal fitness, environmental health, transit equity, and social change. This theme was so strong, we had to ask why. Why bikes? Are there not other ways to accomplish change? Here’s a sneak peek of what a few individuals had to say:

“There’s such a push and pull of progress when it comes to politics and so much red tape but at the shop someone could come in and say their bike was broken and I could fix the flat and then they leave and they’re happy! It’s instantaneous and I get to work with my hands. I can see incremental progress. Maybe it’s a cheap way to try to produce social change.”
“It’s a little bit about the opportunity of freedom when you ride, the opportunity to get away. There’s a little bit of that. The solitude. They were literally transportation for me. So they made just, tons of sense. There’s an elegance, too, about bikes. I love the elegance of bikes. There’s an elegant beauty to the mechanical aspects of bikes. That’s way cool.”
“For me, it’s physical health. I’m going on 78 and I don’t feel anywhere like being 78. I think cycling has been the part of my life that has kept me physically fit and physically healthy. I’ve not had any major problems.”

HHM and CMM worked together in the past to produce High Wheels!, an exhibit highlighting antique high-wheeler bicycles. This continued partnership aims to unlock the transformative potential of bicycles in the lives of individuals and communities and demonstrates the role of cycling in Hennepin County’s past, present, and future. Visit HHM to experience LifeCYCLE, view all eleven original portraits, and read more about each subject.

Reserve your ticket for Opening Day on December 1st. The exhibit will be up until March 3, 2019

Use #MNbikestories to share your own story!

LA CLASSE et L’ÉGALITÉ

  Image Courtesy of cyclehistory.wordpress.com

Image Courtesy of cyclehistory.wordpress.com

La Classe et L’Égalité:

Early Female Cyclists and an Overview of the Columbia Lady's Pneumatic Safety Bicycle

by Laura Moran

The 1890s saw the largest bicycle boom in cycling history. Certainly, the first wheelmen began riding in the late 1860s at the height of high wheel popularity. The popularity of high wheels can be attributed to the lack of other two-wheeled options, and it is important to note that the first wheelmen were specifically men. The gender disparity in cycling began to shift with the emergence of safety bicycles in the mid-1870s. A safety is a bicycle with equal sized wheels and a chain drive, and it was first designed to suit elderly and female riders. The safety is considered the cause of the bicycle boom as it was truly approachable to all sorts of riders. Eventually even the young and male high wheel riders realized the design of the safety was superior, and soon all riders were closer to the ground.

Due to cultural norms of the late 19th century, high wheel riding was not realistically available to women. Regardless of the sometimes dangerous and macho (though thrilling) act of riding a high wheel, the everyday costume severely limited female mobility. And the women from upper class families whose pockets could most easily afford high wheels were those who were expected to adhere most strictly to social code. The aristocratic dress during the 1870s-1890s included a stiff bustle and corset, petticoats, knee-length drawers, and multi-folded skirts called an “Aesthetic Dress” which gave a lady’s hips and rear volume. All of those garments would be worn at one time - any athletics would be daunting with all those layers. With the advent of the safety and its female-friendly design, as can be seen on this c.1897 Columbia Lady’s Pneumatic Safety Bicycle, women were finally able to ride alongside men simply because they were able to get their dresses around the vehicle. 

 A Women’s Safety  The Columbus Bicycle Co., Columbus, Ohio; Columbia Lady's Pneumatic Safety Bicycle; ca. 1897; Steel, wood, cast aluminum, rubber, cork, hemp twine; Cycling Museum of Minnesota, Collection of Juston Anderson; L2014.1.5

A Women’s Safety

The Columbus Bicycle Co., Columbus, Ohio; Columbia Lady's Pneumatic Safety Bicycle; ca. 1897; Steel, wood, cast aluminum, rubber, cork, hemp twine; Cycling Museum of Minnesota, Collection of Juston Anderson; L2014.1.5

This particular women’s safety (on long-term loan to the Cycling Museum of Minnesota) is crafted specifically with a high-class lady rider in mind. It’s top bar swoops down and is attached to the seat tube near the bottom bracket, rather than traveling nearly straight across towards the seat tube. This makes negative space for the dress or skirt to fill. The chain guard and fenders kept grease, dust, and mud off of the fabric. Luckily, by the time of this particular bike’s manufacture, a loosened dress code for female bikers was already in place (eventually, female riders used knickerbockers similar to men’s garments for their rides).

  New Woman in cycling knickerbockers, c 1985 Courtesy of Victoriana Magazine

New Woman in cycling knickerbockers, c 1985
Courtesy of Victoriana Magazine

 

This coincides and relates to another boom of the 1890s: that of the New Woman. The New Woman was a termed used, sometimes not so endearingly, to describe the modern woman whose independence suddenly extended outside the boundaries of housekeeping and motherhood and into the social and political sphere dominated by men. It was the era of the suffragette, and it was no coincidence that many New Women traveled by bicycle. In fact, the bicycle was a powerful tool: it allowed women to travel about without the accompaniment of a man, and quickly. Even Susan B. Anthony proclaimed that cycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

  Intricate filigree on chain guard. Columbia Lady's Pneumatic Safety Bicycle, detail; ca. 1897. L2014.1.5   Collection of Juston Anderson

Intricate filigree on chain guard. Columbia Lady's Pneumatic Safety Bicycle, detail; ca. 1897. L2014.1.5 Collection of Juston Anderson

And if that emancipated woman was traveling about on this specific women’s safety, she traveled in style and in comfort. This beautiful burgundy model is outfitted with a precise and lovely design. Its wooden wheels pair beautifully with its functional and trendy wooden fender and handlebars. The handlebars arc gracefully for an easy grip, and their grips match the frame. These wooden parts needed a precise sort of carpentry, so as to ensure not only the ease but also the possibility of a ride on this machine. The fender is attached to the frame via very taut and tightly wound hemp. Renowned for its stiffness and strength, hemp was trusted in this setting to keep the lady’s fender in place. This Columbia model also boasted a gorgeous chain guard, coated in an aluminum filigree which during the 1890s was a precious investment. The rider of this bicycle was lucky enough to have a revolutionary and fairly unique pneumatic saddle. Affixed with Schrader valves (the tubes required the same), one merely had to pump air into the seat until its user cried “comfortable.” Another fun component of this Women’s Safety is the carbide lantern. Useful for dark rides, this unique mode for light was also potentially dangerous. The lantern had a chamber that was filled with carbide powder and a canteen within the lantern held water. By turning a valve, water would drip into the carbide powder chamber and created acetylene gas. This required a careful hand, as acetylene gas is highly flammable and the light had to be lit using a match. It was nothing that a New Woman could not manage.

 Detail of the carbide lantern  Columbia Lady's Pneumatic Safety Bicycle, detail; ca. 1897. L2014.1.5; Collection of Juston Anderson

Detail of the carbide lantern

Columbia Lady's Pneumatic Safety Bicycle, detail; ca. 1897. L2014.1.5; Collection of Juston Anderson

Having new riding pants and fellow like-minded suffragettes did not mean life was not always easy or kind to the early female rider. Boston’s The Sunday Herald once described female cyclists as “vicious things.” Women riders of were constantly warned about the dangerous effects of too much biking on the internal organs, the sex organs, and the head, and were encouraged to cease their riding (remarkably, it seemed that male riders were less at risk to these ailments). However, the warnings were all for naught. The New Woman already knew and enjoyed the independence of cycling. In 1894, Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky, a Boston-based Jewish immigrant and mother of three, set off on a bicycle tour around the world after two men made a bet of $10,000 that no woman could circumnavigate the globe while earning $5,000 worth of donations in15 months. Annie Londonderry completed the task with 14 days to spare.

 Worries of the era, c. 1885  Courtesy of bikesandbloomers.com

Worries of the era, c. 1885

Courtesy of bikesandbloomers.com

The maltreatment of lady cyclists was especially true for female cyclists of color. During the bicycle boom, a time when segregation was rampant and Jim Crow laws were still in effect, cycling clubs were an incredibly popular and social activity. While some all-black cycling clubs formed during this era, many cyclists of color began to consider joining the only national club: League of American Wheelmen. A mixed-race female cyclist, Kittie Knox, joined the League in 1893. At the time, there were a few hundred female members and “twenty to several hundred” members of color in the League’s membership. In 1894, the League’s governing body passed a color bar. Knox was already a prominent member of the Riverside Cycling Club, the first all-black cycling group in Boston and a well-known cyclist who raced on 100-mile courses. During the League’s 1895 annual meeting - this time held in Boston - Knox became a sensation. Not only had she attended the meeting, but she arrived wearing knickerbockers of her own design and won a Fourth of July costume contest in her outfit. Kittie Knox again pushed racial boundaries by showing up to the League’s annual Meet later that day. Southern papers reported that even upon showing her membership card, Knox was denied entry. However, The Boston Globe reported that Knox did enter the meet, and that “the leaders tried to lose Knox during the eighteen mile run but she was game, and when the big crowd entered the town on the return trip she was up with the leaders, sailing with the best of them.” Though a few Bostonian League officials threatened to protest her remaining membership, the League later denied her exile. They explained that the color bar would not be retroactive. As Knox joined the League prior to 1894, she would remain a member. Kittie Knox single-handedly brought attention to the color bar that the League of American Wheelmen instituted and became a source of inspiration for other female cyclists of the time, whether they were serious or social riders.

 Kittie Knox, with her bicycle and cycling costume, 1895  Courtesy of League of American Cyclists

Kittie Knox, with her bicycle and cycling costume, 1895

Courtesy of League of American Cyclists

Amidst challenging social norms, female cyclists broke the mold and took ownership of the sport. Cycling classes specifically for women began appearing and more shapes and styles of cycling knickerbockers were available. In 1896, Maria Ward published Bicycling for Ladies, a definitive text for women cyclists and covered every topic from purchasing to repairing bicycles - without the aid of a man. The bicycle became a tool and a symbol of social change for many women in the western world. And atop such rides as the above Columbia Lady’s Pneumatic Safety Bicycle, a woman would be able to boast la classe and l’égalité.

Questions? Comments? Tales of your own female emancipation atop two wheels? Please share below.

Works Cited for “La Classe and L’Égalité: Early Female Cyclists and an Overview of the Columbia Lady's Pneumatic Safety Bicycle”

•David Mozer. “Bicycle History “Chronology of the Growth of Bicycling and the Development of Bicycle Technology.” International Bicycle Fund at ibike.org. (2004)

•Kate Davies. “Aesthetic Dress.” Fabrickated (February 2015)

•Sarah Gordon. Beauty and Business: Commerce, Gender, and Culture in Modern America. (2001) via annielondonderry.com

•Peter Zheutlin. “Women on Wheels: The Bicycle and the Women’s Movement of the 1890s.” annielondonderry.com (2006)

•“Champion of Her Sex.” New York Sunday World. (February 1896) via annielondonderry.com

•Caroline Wood interviewing Juston Anderson, 2016.

•Adrienne LaFrance. “How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women’s Rights.” The Atlantic (June 2014)

•Zheutlin, Peter. “Chasing Annie: The Woman Who Changed My Life Was Brave, Cunning, Daring And Free -- And I Never Met Her.” Bicycling (May 2005)

•Andrew Ritchie. “The League of American Wheelmen, Major Taylor and the ‘color question’ in the United States in the 1890s.” Culture, Sport, Society. (June 2003)

•Guy Still. “Guy on a Bike: African-American Bicycling Pioneers.” WCCO CBS Minnesota (February 2017)

•Dan Adams, 2013. “Pluck on Wheels.” Boston Globe (September 2013)

•Carolyn Szcezepanski. “Women’s (Bike) History: Kittie Knox.” News from the League. (March 2013)

•Hilary Angus. “Three Women who Changed the Course of History on Bicycles.” Momentum Magazine (March 2015, updated since)


Laura Moran is a member of the Cycling Museum of Minnesota’s Board of Directors, and she serves on the Collections and Exhibits Committee.

 

RAD! Cycles Exhibit & Fundraiser

On Saturday April 8, 2017 we hosted our first annual fundraiser and bike party RAD! Cycles at 514 Studios in Minneapolis. This one-night-only pop-up exhibit explored the history of BMX in Minnesota and featured story telling by local cycling legends Shawn Sheely and Dave Christensen. We are so pleased to announce that the event not only sold out, but that we raised about $10,000, all due to the donors and volunteers who contributed in so many ways. A huge thanks to sponsors Ripple FoodsPerennial CyclePark Tool, and Land O'Lakes, Inc. Foundation who made the event possible and have lifted us to a new level. All profits from RAD will go towards our goal of hiring our first part-time staff person in the next fiscal year, caring for our growing collection, and hosting future events and exhibits. THANK YOU to our entire community of supporters that helped to make RAD a success. 

THE EXHIBIT: RAD! Cycles

Photos courtesy of Twin Birch Studios  

The Party 

Photos courtesy of Walter Griffin