Boston's Bike History

As one of America's largest cities in the nineteenth century - and a port city with relatively easy access to European markets - Boston holds a unique spot in national bicycle history. Early models of European-designed two-wheelers were exhibited here, and local industry jumped to develop the bicycle trade in the United States before most other cities had even seen a bicycle. By the late nineteenth century, Boston had seen the nation's first bike race, its first bike club, and first collegiate cycling team. The foremost captains of this burgeoning industry located their headquarters and factories in and around the city, making Boston the hub of the bicycle manufacturing trade in the "bike boom" of the late nineteenth century.

Boston Bike Timeline


An early two-wheeled riding machine, called a "velocipede," is built in Boston by Ambrose Salisbury. It lacks pedals and is propelled by the feet. The public shows little interest.


The first ever patent for the basic pedal bicycle with two equal-size wheels is filed in the United States by Frenchman Pierre Lallement, who lived in Connecticut and later in Boston, where he died in 1891.


Two schools teaching velocipede riding are established at rinks in Harvard Square. People are temporarily entranced but soon move on.


An imported "ordinary" or "high wheel" bicycle is first seen in Boston, demonstrated on a stage. This model has a large front wheel with pedals and a smaller rear wheel.


A year after English high wheelers are demonstrated at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, Frank Weston of Boston begins importing them for sale, opens a riding school, and founds the American Bicycling Journal.


The first bicycle race in America takes place on May 24, 1878 in Beacon Park (now Beacon Park Freight Yard). A Harvard student wins the race. Entrepreneur Albert Pope sells imported English high wheelers, and then founds the Pope Manufacturing Company, headquartered in Boston, to build his own domestic models. The Boston Bicycle Club, the nation's first sporting club dedicated to the bicycle, is founded.


The City of Boston sponsors a bicycle race on the Fourth of July. The Harvard Cycling Club forms. A two-day bike tour, the Wheel Around the Hub, draws 40 prominent men on high wheelers to participate in a 100-mile ride around Boston and the South Shore over two days. A first six day race (so named because competitors pedals for six days straight) is held in Boston under a covered tent, with English and French champions riding Pope's bicycles.


Pope founds the League of American Wheelmen, a national organization and lobby group supporting cyclists; at its second annual meeting, a stream of more than 800 cyclists pedals down Commonwealth Avenue. The group publishes maps and a newsletter, and presses for a federal highway program (soon to become the Good Roads Movement).


The first bicycle ride across America concludes in Boston in 1882. It took 103 days to ride the locally-made "Expert Columbia" bike over 3,700 miles.


The Overman Wheel Company of Chicopee Falls, Mass. introduces the first American-made tricycle, preferred by those put off by difficulty of balancing a large front wheel on rough roads.


The Boston Bicycle Club opens a three-story clubhouse on Newbury Street in Boston.


The Overman Wheel Company and the Pope Manufacturing Company, the nation's two largest companies, produce their first "safety" bicycle. Copied from a British design, it is a low-mount bicycle with a chain-driven rear wheel and pneumatic tires, roughly the same as modern bicycles. The bicycle boom begins.


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