Got a bike? You can ride it if you like! Part 1

In anticipation of this Saturday’s Tweed Ride Toronto, this is the first in a series of three posts looking at aspects of cycling in late-1800s Toronto.

Advertisement from the September 9, 1893 Globe.

The first wave of bicycle interest reached Toronto around 1869, with the advent of a bicycle (or “velocipede,” as it then more-commonly known) nicknamed the “boneshaker” due to its riding experience supposedly being quite rickety and violent.  The boneshaker was one of the first bicycles to really arouse interest in Canada, although its utility was ultimately limited due to several factors, including the relatively high retail prices and the poor condition of North American roads at this time.

As such, many Canadian cities (including Toronto) soon had special cycling arenas or rinks, where people could have a smooth track on which to ride. In his book Freewheeling: The Story of the Bicycling in Canada (Erin, Ont.: Boston Mills Press, 1986), William Humber describes Grand’s Riding Academy on Wellington Street in 1869, where “spectators [were] paying twenty-five cents to stand in the centre of the floor and watch the velocipedists circle on the exterior ring.”  Humber also mentions an event given at St. Lawrence Hall wherein a “Professor Frank Marston demonstrated his skill at staying upright.”

Original: Thomson, William James (1858-1927). Reproduced from the Toronto Public Library website.

Members of the public were certainly keen to try bicycles for themselves, and in these years Toronto had other cycling tracks, including the Ontario Velocipede Rink in Yorkville, and the riding rink pictured here at Phoebe and Soho streets.  Although this image has been reproduced in multiple sources, none of these sources have supplied any further information about the “Velocipede Rink and Baths” at Soho & Phoebe Streets, and there does not seem to be anything more known about it.  These first cycling venues appear to have been very short-lived.

The bicycle which one tends to associate with the late nineteenth-century, often known as a penny-farthing (the one with the disproportionately high wheel in front), arrived in North America in the late 1870s, and helped foster a more penetrating interest in bicycles amongst Torontonians.  Other contributing factors at this time were the gradual paving and overall improvement of North American roads, various cyclists publishing accounts of their journeys allowing for circulating knowledge of good cycling routes, and innovative modifications to bicycles which made them more comfortable and, more importantly, more inclined to stay upright.

Part 2 in this series will be posted tomorrow.

For those wondering about the image at the top of this post, “Blood Moon” is another term for the “Hunter’s Moon,” the first full moon after the Harvest Moon.  In 1935 there had also been a lunar eclipse in July; during many lunar eclipses the moon appears to be red.  Either of these might explain the rather startling headline.