Category Archives: History

The Goonies

What have you thought when reading the title of this post: The Goonies? You have probably thought about adventure, freedom, friendliness, risks and nostalgia. The Goonies was an iconic movie in the 80’s which marked a whole generation with other materials by George Lucas, John Carpenter or Stephen King. The four friends plus a three-people group of teenagers faced an impressive quest: To find a treasure of gold and diamonds which was hidden by the pirate One-Eyed Willy. The magical quest starts and finishes with bikes as powerful symbols. Remember some other movies from the 80’s such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, It or BMX Bandits.

Nostalgia is also powerful since we can say that The Goonies is the seed of the series Stranger Things. Besides, nostalgia made Youngbuck to create an internet forum called BMX Musem ( in which he wants to get the necessary accessory to build the four bicycles that appear in The Goonies like the fabulous Wester Flyer Invader Mag of Mickey.

The Goonies, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, BMX Bandits and some other movies from past decades in which actors and actresses move by pedaling are impossible to make because of cities which have made compulsory bike helmet no matter the biker age. Most of urban bikers have learnt riding a bike without wearing it. Most of us do not pedal like mad people and respect other actors in street, specially the pedestrians. Besides, making it mandatory reduces the number of cyclists as were the cases of Australia and New Zealand. Moreover, in a crash between a bike and a car, the decisive factor in determining whether or not the biker dyes is not the helmet, but the car speed. Numerous studies demonstrate that if the car speed is above 50 km/h (31 mph), most of the time the cyclist dyes. Thus, authorities should focus on preventing too fast cars by using radars, speed bumps or winding car line designs.

Stolen childhood

The New York photographer Lewis Hine took photos from child messengers at the beginning of the XX century. He showed how widespread child labor was at that time as well as some other habits like child smoking that we consider disturbing today. These children were used as couriers to deliver goods from newspapers to medicines from small and big businesses. They worked as small ants coming and going which preoccupied the most progressive sectors in the American society.

In 1908 the National Committee for Child Labor hired the photographer and sociologist Lewis Hine in order to document the labor conditions of such small people. He traveled the USA for nine years with a humble equip consisting in a 13 x 8 cm camera, an unstable tripod and a magnesium flash. Such effort was the start of considering Hine a pioneer of social photography.

What Hine found was worse than he had imagined. Children suffered from leonine working conditions, starting working at the age of nine, they often pedaled until dawn and slept under a bridge. The luckiest ones combine school with long hours of pedaling. Some times they entered the worse neighborhoods in which arms dealers, drug addicts and pimps operated. Some others worked for unscrupulously bosses. Hine wrote a sentence in their photos which summarized what was behind every picture. This fact allowed people understanding the real feeling they passed on them.

The situations that Lewis Hine shot were extensible to both large cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Houston or New York to small localities, and no matter how big a firm was i.e. giants like Western Union as well as small courier business were involved.

After taking the photos, Hine presented them to the Committee which used them as arguments in order to reach the dreaming Keatings-Owen Law in 1916. This established restrictions as it comes to legal working age and work shifts. However the Supreme Court repealed it, the spirit of the original Law influenced the New Deal which did not allow for child labor in the 1930’s.

The history of Hine continued by being part of the Red Cross in the First World War which allowed him traveling in Europe and taking lots of photos. Nevertheless, he ended his days in the same poverty that had been denounced in his pictures. He left 5,000 photos which were donated to the Photo League by his son. The Photo League was dismantled in 1951 and the Museum of Modern Art of New York considered them as irrelevant and refused them even though the enormous social value they had. So discouraging. Finally, they were donated to the International Museum of Photography George Eastman House in Rochester where you can see some of them.

Thomas Stevens

Thomas Stevens (1854 – 1935) is known for being the first documented person in riding a round-the-world-tour. He started this amazing trip with some socks, a spare shirt, a raincoat, a sleeping bag and a revolver as baggage on the 22nd April 1884.

His family migrated from Berkhamsted, UK, to the USA when he was a child. So early, he came into contact with a bicycle in San Francisco. The very first year of his fabulous trip, he bought a black, nickel wheels, 50 inches Columbia Standard bike on which he left Sacramento to the East of the USA. However, he encountered serious difficulties such as lack of roads which made him to walk for more than one third of the 6,000 kilometers until he arrived in Boston on the 4th of August. For these four months after the first riding, he enjoyed large parts of the country which he did not know at all as well as interesting persons, particularly the native Americans.

But he did not stop here. He spent Winter in New York and then embarked to Liverpool in the Spring of 1885. On 4th of May, hundreds of people said goodbye to him in the Edge Hill church. Then, he crossed the English Channel in order to pedal on France, Austria, Hungary, the Balkans and Turkey. He rested in Istanbul and continued to Anatolia, Armenia, Kurdistan, Iran and Iraq. Even if the Thomas Stevens adventure was covered in newspapers, he still faced problems. He was denied a permission to travel on Siberia, was expelled from Afghanistan which obliged him to detour to cross the Red Sea and had troubles of having to explain himself in China. As a result of this last point, he was almost lynched since Chinese people confounded him with a French man (at that time France was in war).

Finally, he crossed the Japan Sea and took a ship to California where he was received as a hero. Yet, his impressive life continued as he formed part of the Henry Morton Stanley team to explore the East Africa and became the manager of the Garrick theater in London.

Soldiers and bicycles

If a person thinks about the Overlord operation in the Second World War, he probably imagines soldiers, ships, tanks, guns and so on. Very rarely would he come across bikes on battlefields, and they were indeed because armies have been using the most advanced technologies close at hand in modern wars.

Britain paratroopers landed with folding bikes beyond Germany lines in the D day. They weighted about ten and a half kilograms plus guns, military uniforms and additional equipment. Imagine how strong they were. The Airborne Folding Paratrooper Bicycle was the chosen bike model to produce sixty thousand of these bikes between 1942 and 1945. They participated at least in the D day and in the Arnhem battles, and were used by British and Canadian soldiers.

Why did they used bicycles in such important days? Bikes are ideal vehicles to cover large distances without being identified. Thus, they contributed to win these battles. In some occasions, bicycles were abandoned in the middle of nowhere when soldiers considered them nuisances. Once paratroopers landed, special bike supports allowed guns to be attached and even fired in seconds.

The Canadian 9th Brigade Infantry landed directly riding bikes. Canadian soldiers had successfully used them in the Sicily invasion in 1943. Indeed, British and Canadian soldiers were not the only armies that used bikes in the Second World War. Japanese servicemen advanced long distances in Malaysia with heavy loads thank to bicycles in 1942. German soldiers used them in Poland back in 1939. However, nazi soldiers bound bikes with ropes to motor vehicles in order to tow them without making effort.

All in all, the Normandy invasion was the operation in which bicycles were used in a massive scale. A lot of these bikes were abandoned in battlefields in France and Norway, and you can find them in museums and private collections.

Rosario Pino

Rosario Pino (1870-1933) was a bike pioneer in Spain at the end of the 19th century. She worked as actress and first appeared in a painting in the magazine El deporte velocipédico (The Velocipede Sport, a velocipede was a type of 19th-bicycle) in February 1896. At that time, bicycles were expensive devices that only high-class people, mainly men, could afford it.

Her image represented a terrible blow to the macho and patriarchal mentality since they claimed against women in trousers on infernal machines. The very same magazine published where Rosario appeared also showed a journal article in which the French doctor Lèon Petit explained a positive view of women riding bikes. For instance, he denied the absurd legends of relating women infertility, hirsutism and lack of sexual desire to bicycle. To the contrary, he approved women on bikes in order for them to enjoy a healthy life which in turn will contribute to bring more babies to the world.

The provocative picture of Rosario Pino boosted the Spanish women to use bicycles and is considered part of the fight for female civil rights. In fact, Susan B. Anthony, the American Suffragist Association president, affirmed “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood”. Bicycles are symbols of equality because if men could make bike rides, women also could. For example, Marthe Hesse ascended the mythic Tourmalet mountain, France, without setting foot on the ground in 1902. Moreover, there were female bike competitions in Buffalo, Paris, Aix-les-Bains (France), Manchester (England) or Glasgow (Scotland). Female racers used the bloomers trousers, by Amelia Bloomer. In Spain, the first female bike race took place in 1935. The Ventas Cyclist Club organized the 22 kilometers race and Angelita Torres won it.
However, Rosario Pino rode in a relaxing way to go to wherever she wanted without the help of a man. She rode to the end of her days.

The Wright brothers

The Wright brothers are world-widely known as the aviation pioneers in America, generally credited with inventing, building and flying the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane. Thus, initiating the race to conquer the skies. What most people, even most bikers, do not know is that Orville and Wilbur delved into the passionate area of bikes.

They opened a bike shop in 1892. The business was called Wright Cycle Exchange and located in 1005 West Third Street, Dayton, Ohio, USA. Here, they repaired and sold first and second-hand bicycles. Thanks to being extremely restless and technology passionate, they expanded their business and created a bike factory in 22 South Williams Street, Dayton, in 1894. The Wright Bicycle Company saw the birth of the opulent Van Cleve bicycle, named in honor of their great-great-grandmother, as well as the more available St. Clair. They built about 300 bicycles per year with prices between $42.5 and $65. Furthermore, those bikes experienced technical improvement due to the technological advancement of the Wright brothers. For example, they implemented sophisticated backpedal brakes or a special lubrication system because of the Dayton streets dust.

However, their interest in the bicycle world diminished little by little and it changed to follow the primary feature of birds: The flying capacity. Some points made it available. On the one hand, Orville and Wilbur competed in a saturated market in which brands allowed little space to craftsmen. Dayton saw Wright rivals like George P. Huffman who created the Dayton Special or the Dayton Racer. These both resulted in the legendary Huffy Bikes. On the other hand, the Wright brothers continued following their interests and variability. Hence, they moved forward to the next step.

Arturello di Pópolo

Arturello di Pópolo is one of the most impressive bikeclowns. This Argentinian man plays a show which is highly influenced by La Bicicleta, an originally humor, piece of art developed by Joseph Francis Jinarek. This Austrian bicycle winner suffered an almost crash when competing, i.e. the handlebar of his bike came off from the frame at high speed. Fortunately, thanks to a series of pirouettes and his balance skill, he could stop his bike, put his feet on the ground and open his arms. The public clapped enthusiastically and La Bicicleta show was born.

Arturo Chillida del Pópolo (Arturello di Pópolo) knew about La Bicicleta when he saw Jinarek son (Joe Jackson Jr.) performing it in a awards gala with the best bikeclowns back in 1976. He was so impressed that decided to perform its own La Bicicleta.

La Bicicleta consists in a two-characters play in which no word is pronounced. This apparently drawback does not avoid collecting a lot of laughs. It starts with a beggar clown who finds an alone bike. After checking the owner is far, he retains it. His funny problems start from this point, and I am not going to spoil them.

The impact of Arturello di Pópolo on La Bicicleta is considerable as the original play lasts about twelve minutes, whereas the di Popolo adaptation extends for forty minutes. However, their essence remains the same: Making people laugh similarly as all the other bikeclowns like Álvaro Neil do.

Here you can see some of his shows.

Artistic cycling

Artistic cycling is a 130-year-old sport. Yes, you have read 130 years. Cycling races began to hit their stride in Paris in 1868. Then, Nick Kaufmman showed audiences a different way to enjoy bicycles. He performed acrobatics on his bike. People were left with their mouth opened when admiring this new sport. Kaufmann expressed so much emotion and people helped by cheering him up, so that he made the connections he needed to organize a competition about artistic cycling. Indeed, he became the world champion of Professional Cycle Trick Riding, as it was known, in 1888.

This sport has been evolving over the years and now is really popular in Europe, and specifically in Germany. Competitors demonstrate several tricks indoors to judges, thus earning points as they perform. Similarly as ballet or gymnastics, participants compete in rounds of five minutes. Multi-person teams also compete by using multiple bikes, switch, ditch…

To perform the balancing tricks and backward motion, these artists use fixed-gear bikes with a gear ratio of 1:1, and tires of proportionate size. To enhance maneuver, the handlebars are similar to those used in racing bicycles, but upside-down in comparison. Moreover, the front wheel should be free to spin 360º.

By combining these outstanding bikes and long hours of practice, riders perform handstands, wheelies, body-surf, and attempt as many other tricks as they can in their allotted time. Hence, innovation is rewarded by judges who also take into account the number of tricks, execution, form and degree of difficulty.

Bicycles and women

The bicycle birth had an impact on both women and men. Both genres benefited from it, but women did it more intensively. The American magazine Munsey wrote this in 1896:

“To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they new in their work and in their play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.”

Such was the consciousness awakening of women’s empowerment. This new vehicle allowed them to acquire independence and did not need men for some trips. Some have argued that this invention constituted the most important technology which has been helping women through centuries. Indeed, Susan B. Anthony said in 1896:

“ Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

I talked about the history of the bicycle with the draisine at the beginning, but it did not reach real popularity until the invention of the chain and the use of rubber in the second half of the 19th century. The life for women at that time was tremendously unfair. They spent their time inside home, tea houses or social parties. The bike democratization was a ray of sunlight. Not surprisingly Frances Williard (president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, an important American suffragist organizations in the 19th century) experienced a freedom feeling which made her a reference activist while riding a bike at the age of 53. Even more, she dedicated a whole book to the bicycle.

Probably the clearer change the bike caused was the use of trousers since women had been using skirt and other garment. Thus, baggy pants popularized to make pedaling easier and more comfortable. Both men and women criticized the new behaviors without realizing the changes were going to be permanent.

Bikes and wars

A bicycle is much more than a machine for transportation. It has been used in a variety of ways since it was invented. The ancient prototypes were used mainly for sports and bourgeoisie entertainment, but bike history is much more than this. Today I am going to write about bikes and wars.

Bicycles were initially used back in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 71) when the French troops were the first to use them on the war field. Imagine how uncomfortable was ride high-wheel bikes on dirt roads and mud paths. Some 30 years after, the British experienced with the bicycles during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) in South Africa. Contenders looked for mobility.

During the First World War, the Belgian, German, Italian, British and French armies used bikes with unequal success. The Italians were who most employed them. Their elite light infantry Bersaglieri regiments made used of them in order to improve mobile tactics and flashy incursions. In addition, scouts and messengers were among the top bicycle users. Soldiers could attach rifles down the tube or swung across their back. The British bikes were manufactured by Birmingham Small Arms Company which was a major British arms and ammunition producer since the Crimean War (1854 – 1856). Millions died in the Great War and among the casualties were 15 cyclists who rode in the Tour de France in 1914.

Bicycles were used again in the Second World War. British and American paratroopers realised bikes offer advantages for reconnaissance. On the other side, Japanese dealt with rubber shortages and rode the rims without tyres on rough jungle rails.

The bicycle simpleness made transportation quick and reliable. Even in 2008 the Australian Military used it in East Timor to improve flexibility of field patrols. The unit was the Bicycle Infantry Mounted Patrol.