The Big Issue : Edition 553
18 THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 12–25 JAN 2018 PAUSE THE RACE – it’s time for a detour. There’s so much more to cycling than men with plucked drumstick calves pedalling up French hillsides, their backsides bobbing for the cameras. The bicycle is a technological marvel that completely transformed human societies in the past, and is now an essential tool for a cleaner and healthier future. Let’s take a look. THE SAFETY BIKE THE SAFETY BICYCLE was a simplified version of the diamond-framed bicycles we ride today; it was called the “safety” to contrast with its predecessor, the notoriously dangerous penny-farthing. With the addition of air-filled tyres in the late 1880s – replacing solid rubber tyres, which were preceded by wooden tyres with a band of metal or leather – humans had their second biggest breakthrough in self-propelled transportation. To put this achievement in perspective, the first was learning to walk upright. The device quickly became popular, and a cycling craze swept the Western world. An estimated 200,000 Australians purchased new bicycles during the 1890s. Soon, people of every social class were pedalling. In April 1896, Melbourne journal The Austral Wheel described how a gentleman riding from St Kilda Junction to Princes Bridge passed 40 other cyclists, including “the Government House party, three doctors, four lawyers, several members of Parliament, half-a -dozen society ladies, a butcher in full costume, a carpenter with some timber strapped to his machine, a lamplighter with a long stick for turning out the lights and two Chinese”. Bikes were also essential transport in rural areas because, unlike horses or camels, they didn’t require food or water. Rugged adventurers pedalled across the outback in epic trips from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne, or Perth to Brisbane. Independent shearers would cycle between sheep stations looking for work. These “iron steeds” also played an integral role in our mining wealth. Cycle couriers were the main communication ILLUSTRATIONSBYDANIELGRAY-BARNETT The Best Thing on Two Wheels network during the early years of the West Australian gold rush in the 1890s, quickly spreading word of new discoveries. In 1896, one writer estimated Coolgardie had “more bicycles in proportion to population than any other Australian town”. It also had a few famous cycling priests, who rode thousands of miles each year to visit remote parishioners. The bicycle was so universally popular that in the lead-up to federation one newspaper suggested it should be depicted on the new coat of arms. FROM PENNY-FARTHINGS TO PETROL-RATIONING: GREG FOYSTER SHOWS HOW THE BICYCLE CHANGED OUR LIVES.