The Possibility of Mobility:

Negative Reactions

Although by now one should have a sense that not everyone in the 1890s was pleased with the onset of the bicycling craze, it's nevertheless easy to underestimate the fury with which many greeted this new technology. Often, this debate centered around the fact that more and more people were now cycling at the expense of other activities, be it attending church or quaffing pints at the local pubs. Others simply grew resentful of the cycle's unwelcome intrusion into the public sphere--whether on crowded city streets or bucolic country roads. Indeed, for all those whom championed the rise of the bicycle, there were still a great many cursing its ubiquity.

Much of the scorn came from merchants who were watching their business plummet as more people saved money for the still relatively expensive bicycle. Perhaps hardest hit were the horse dealers and those who made a living on the upkeep of horses. These people watched with dismay as the demand for their products and services dropped sharply; and any hope that the horse might gallop back into vogue as the bicycle fad waned were crushed with the advent of the automobile. As the bicycle industry grew into a behemoth by 1896, a host of industries experiencing a lag in sales began to blame the two-wheeled menace. Tailors complained that the demand for fine clothing had plummeted, as those hesitant to wear expensive dress on the their bikes made do with cheaper fashions. Other luxury products also suffered, with sales of everything from watches and jewelry to pianos down considerably--and all blamed in large part upon the bicycle. One wonders if the decline of such items doesn't have less to do with increased bicycle consumption and more with the general economic downturn that hit the country in the 1890s.

As leisure time increasingly became defined in opposition to the hours of the workday in America, people frequently recognized the weekend as their "time off". This spelled bad news to those urging Americans to keep Sunday as a day of worship and rest, especially when the day could be spent out on the open road--on a bicycle! Indeed, one observer remarked that the bicycle was to be "the first big-scale assault of technology on institutionalized religion."(Dodge, p. 120). We would assume that the bicycle would be coexisting peacefully with religion were people using their bicycles to travel to church, but they were not. Church was often forgotten as cyclists took to the country for leisurely rides or worse still--races! For those who shook their heads in disapproval at these cyclists, it surely must have seemed that they had found a new supreme being to worship--one with pneumatic tires and handlebars.

Perhaps the other large faction of people angered by the meteoric rise of the bicycle were those forced to share the road with these new contraptions. Particularly in the already over-crowded urban centers, the bicycle proved to be one more annoyance taking up space. It is little wonder than, that mischievous children and even ill-willed adults were known to impede the cyclist in any way possible, from simply pushing them over to throwing tacks in hopes of blowing out their tires and keeping them off their sidewalks and roads.(Smith, p.190). Although much of this scorn seems to have been directed at the reckless cyclist, he who would tear down the streets at unsafe speeds, much of it also finds roots in a public unwilling to adapt to a new technology.

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