Early Days of Bicycles in Denver and Colorado

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Bicycles provided transportation for everyone. Children, men, and women could now enjoy a leisurely ride. Watching professionals and amatuers race was an exciting sport.

The “Wheel”

The year 1879 saw the first bicycles offered for sale in Denver, Colorado. They were models known as the “Wheel”. The front tire usually measured fifty-six to sixty inches with a much smaller rear wheel. By 1881, there were fifteen of them cruising the streets. Cycling was catching on and, in the 1880s, Bicycle Clubs were forming. The Denver Wheel Club was the first, with the Rambler’s Club, Arapaho Wheel Club, and Burlington Wheel Club, composed of Burlington Railroad employees, soon to follow.

The Safety Bicycle is Introduced

In 1891, the “Safety Bicycle” was introduced. It resembled the modern bicycle with two wheels the same size, a pedal that connected to the rear wheel with a chain, front and rear suspension and was easily mass-produced. You could have a pneumatic “Saddle” and kerosene-burning “Search Light” lantern for night riding. The common man could now afford transportation that did not need to be fed or groomed. Bicycle club membership grew by leaps and bounds, businesses started to use bicycles for delivery and several Police Departments organized Bicycle Corps. In 1894, a message was sent from Washington D. C. to Denver by relays of bicycle riders. The distance of two thousand miles was covered in six days. Also in 1894, Mr. Henry H. Clark, with a companion, rode a bicycle from Aspen to Detroit and back to Aspen.

Wheelmen Rule

Professional and amateur bicycle exhibitions, track races, and road races were favorite family events. In downtown Denver, a skating rink was turned into a professional bicycle racetrack . A popular club-versus-club race was from Englewood to Petersburg (now Sheridan), the losing club buying dinner for the winners. 100-mile “Century Rides” became very popular weekend excursions. Two of the most popular were the Denver-Greeley and the Denver-Palmer Lake routes. In 1898, the League of American Wheelmen’s (L.A.W.) Newsletter, Bulletin and Good Roads, claimed that “the Denver-Palmer Lake cycle-path was destined to become one of the most famous bicycle pathways in the world”. Bicycle clubs were instrumental in paving the path and making it ten feet wide at a cost of $400.00 a mile. To Palmer Lake was a climb of two thousand feet in elevation. Leaving Denver early Sunday morning, the rider could expect to reach Palmer Lake by noon. After a lunch and rest, they could then practically coast back to Denver.

Railroads And Bicycles

The railroads were quick to notice the popularity of bicycling. The Denver Rio Grande, Colorado Midland, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, Chicago & Rock Island, and Missouri Pacific Railroads all competed for the Wheelmen’s business. Bicycles were treated as baggage and a cyclist could carry it on board, ride to Palmer Lake, Greeley, or any other destination, and ride his bicycle back to his original location.

The Automobile Makes It’s Appearance

In 1898, the L.A.W. estimated that there were 25,000 Wheelmen and Wheelwomen in the “Queen City”. The first automobile, a Columbia Electric, arrived in Denver on May 10, 1899. The following year you could walk into the showroom of the Felker Cycle Company, at 417 16th Street in Denver, and purchase a new bicycle for $25.00 or a Locomobile, a steam car, for $750.00. The early 1900s saw the carefully built and maintained cycle paths become automobile roads. The automobile era began and the bicycle “fad” was over.

Sources:

  1. Manufacturer and Builder, Vol. 26, Issue 5 May, 1894
  2. The Colorado Magazine, Volume X Number 6, November, 1933