A Short History
In the spring of 1893 cycling in Cincinnati was taking hold. It had developed into a culture of social clubs, a calendar of competitive events, and weekend explorers from many different backgrounds. The doings of the wheelmen were of enough interest to the public to merit daily updates in the local newspapers. As winter slowly turned to spring and the cyclers were beginning to become active once again the papers reported on the clubs new uniforms and calendar of runs. On March 31, 1893 the Cincinnati Times Star published a remarkable short history of cycling in the city that is worth reproducing here in full. Cycling in this year had another three or four seasons as a phenomenon, so its interesting to see an interest in the nearly twenty years prior that establish Cincinnati as one of the important landscapes in cycling history. Here is the full text from an interview with Harry Ellard.
Cycling in Cincinnati
The Pioneer Wheelman and the Clubs of the Early Days
Harry Ellard’s Recollections.
Very few wheelmen ever stop to think, and, in fact, very few know, how long it has taken for the sport to reach the stage it has attained at the present day. To get at the beginning one must go back to the time when the old velocipede flourished. It was in the Spring of 1866 when the great craze struck New York, a fad imported from France. So much interest was taken in the velocipede that the next year American capital was interested, and their manufacturer became a great industry.
The latter part of April, 1868, the first lot of fifty wheels where brought to Cincinnati by George B. Ellard, who at that time had the largest athletic and sporting goods establishment in the West. Five months had hardly elapsed before this lot was disposed of and more ordered out. The following year, 1869, the velocipede boom was here in full blast and great was the demand for them, so much that several carriage firms in town began to manufacture them, the best of which were turned out by George C. Miller & Sons and sold for the price of $125.
About this time the rink then situated opposite Lincoln Park running from Laurel to Betts Street, which consisted of a large wooden structure two stories high, was used for skating purposes in the winter and as it was of little value in the summer and having a nice smooth floor up stairs, a velocipede club was formed of about thirty members, the rink being the headquarters and school for riding. This club increased rapidly in membership and many pleasant runs were made, one of which was out Spring Grove Avenue to Chester Park, over Crescent Avenue through Clifton and down to headquarters. So much was thought of this run that it was mentioned the day in the papers as being
A WONDERFUL RECORD ON WHEELS
The most favorite afternoon jaunt was out to the old Brighton house to take supper and spend a few hours and then return. The club flourished until the later part of 1870, when velocipede riding ceased, the interest died out, and the velocipede, or boneshaker, as it is now known, was a thing of the past and lived only in the memories of those who had ridden them. For nearly five years cycling in Cincinnati was practically dead, with the exception of the stray rider of a boneshaker which was now and then seen on the streets holding on to the handles of his machine and shaking as thought he held an electric battery while trundling over the rough bowlders [sic], asphalt was then only in dreamland.
It was not until the latter part of 1876 that the first ordinary bicycle made its appearance in Cincinnati. It was a 44 inch Premier, being one of the first lot brought to America and was
RIDDEN BY HARRY ELLARD.
The brake was on the back wheel, the handle bars twenty inches long and to the critical observer now it would appear a most awkward affair, but in those days was considered wonderful. The weight of this wheel was forty-nine pounds, which was a great reduction over the old wooden wheels, which never went less than seventy-five pounds.
The first time this bicycle made its appearance on the streets it created quite an excitement and it was a long while before its rider was able to ride three squares undisturbed by the irrepressible boy who delighted to throw sticks in front of or at the rider. The first long distance of any rate was to Hamilton and return which was made on this wheel the following year. The trip consumed six hours.
In the latter part of 1877 a few more wheels made their appearance here on the 11th day of April, 1878, the Brighton Bicycle Club was formed, composed of six members. The first officers were H.C.G. Ellard, president; Wm. Windisch, captain, and Ed. Muhlhauser, secretary and treasurer. This little band of wheelmen was
THE PIONEER BICYCLE CLUB IN THE WEST
A number of very interesting runs where made and the club rooms, which were then situated on Freeman Avenue, was the place of much amusement. This club began to grow steadily until the umber of fifteen was reached and then the limit of membership was reached and then the limit of membership was put at that number. It will be remembered that the largest bicycles ever made were owned and ridden by this club, Alvin and Kessler Smith’s [sic] each being a 62 inch wheel. The enthusiasm of this club led more to take up the sport of cycling and in the early part of 1880 the Cincinnati Bicycle club was formed with the following officers: Jos. Meader president, Herbert Kitchell, secretary and treasurer, and Wm. Reed captain. Their headquarters were situated on Harrison avenue, near Spring Grove avenue. It was necessary then to have the club runs out in that part of the city where a good start could be had, as streets through town were then almost impassible.
At the Gymnasium field day held in June 1880
THE FIRST REGULAR OPEN RACES
Were held of one and three miles, the time of the winner, who was Wm Reed, was for the one mile 4:10 and the three miles 13:26, remarkable time in those days. This club began to grow very rapidly and before three years had passed it had attained a membership of over fifty, when the rented Power Hall of the present Exposition buildings and held a number of races, the course being eleven laps to the mile [The present Music Hall Ballroom was previously called Power Hall].
In 1883 the first professionals made their appearance here and had races in this course. John S. Prince and Wm. Woodside being the competitors in a twenty, ten, and five mile race, Prince being the victor in each. It may be noted here that Woodside has since died. It was in this hall that the famous former racers of Cincinnati made their debut among who were Ned Landy, Warner Galway, Julian Wright, William Ried, New. Pierson, John Barclay and others. In their day these boys were considered great, but later days have brought so many improvements that a person who can not make a mile in 2:20 is not in it. It may be well to remember here that for grace and beauty no wheel has ever approached the ordinary bicycle, and it was about this time that fancy and trick riding awheel became prominently into notice. The first one in the city to do trick riding was Harry Ellard, and it was at every race meet and other tournaments where wheeling figured he was called upon to give an exhibition and won many medals for same.
The next club to spring up was
THE WALNUT HILLS WANDERERS,
Composed of boys living on East Walnut Hills. Among the members were Nicholas Longworth, Jr., Paul Scudder, Francis Scarborough, Geo. Keck, Julian Wright and others. This club was the first to give a road race, and proved a great success. Many wheelmen attended, and the race was won by Ed. Muhlhauser.
The Avondale Club was formed about the same time as the Wanderers. Their rooms were on Washington and Forest avenue, and many a jolly time was there celebrated. Among the members were the handsome Thos. Estabrook, Kyle Holloway, Morris Bebb, and others. This club gave a series of races in the Walnut Hills skating rink and it will be remembered that a few accidents occurred owing to the very short turns in getting around the small space.
In the fall of 1885
THE FIRST COMBINED RUN
Of all the wheelmen in town of every club was given by the Brighton Bicycle Club, who had extended their hospitality to all wheelmen to join them in a run to Hamilton and return. Fifty-nine wheels responded to the call of Captain John Barclay. This was the best run ever made up to that date. Refreshments were served at Muhlhauser’s farm in Butler County and a good dinner was provided at the St. Charles Hotel in Hamilton for the hungry cyclists. Everyone who was on that run has always cherished a most happy recollection of the pleasant time he had. It was in 1885 that the first safety bicycle came to this city. It was a Rover and was imported by Emil Delni [sp?] When he first came out everybody hooted at him and made all sorts of queer remarks at its awkward appearance, but he has lived to see his prophecy come true that we would all see the day when the safety would be the only wheel ridden. He was a wise prophet.
THE NORTH SIDE CLUB
Of Cumminsville dates back to this year and among its members were Robert S. Crawford, Ed Williamson, Asher High, Geo. Taylor, and others. Their rooms were situated on the Hamilton Pike and was a sort of stopping point for cyclers as they wheeled by.
The improvements of the streets in the city, the improvements in wheels and the introduction of the safety have had their tendency to increase the quantity of riders to a large proportion so that to-day Cincinnati numbers nearly 5,000 riders.
Of the later clubs which are now existing and which have sprung to light within the past few years are the Crescents of West Seventy Street, the Athletics, who hold forth on Court, near Plum, and the Porkopolis Wheelmen , whose headquarters are on Elm, Near Ninth. This club was organized by Dr. William Kempton, and through his untiring efforts he has brought the small number of original members to quite a large club. There are a number of smaller clubs.