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People On Bikes

The History of National Bike Month

Believe it or not, bicycles used to rule America’s roads.

19th century bicycle design.

As a matter of fact, cyclists were one of the most influential reasons that paved roads were even built in the first place. As an early mode of ground transportation, bikes were heavily relied on by 19th century farmers and city folk alike to get around. However, the conditions of the roads were so deplorable that cyclists began fighting for the right to ride and for smooth roads. And though they happened more than a century ago, the protests and petitions these passionate cyclists produced are a great example of how bike-advocacy works, even today – there’s strength in numbers.

May is National Bike Month, a time when it’s important to take a look back at our roots and not only celebrate the power of the cycling community, but the hurdles we’ve overcome along the way. Throughout the years, Bike Month has brought the nation’s cyclists together and helped give strength to the movement for better bike safety and infrastructure.

The Creation of Bike Month

Let’s start all the way back to the beginning. The first true bicycle was invented in 1860 by Ernest Michaux and Pierre Lallement.

Preceded by several inventions like the laufmaschine that were often dangerous, Michaux and Lallement’s creation, then called the velocipede, was the first form of two-wheeled transportation that was safe for just about anyone to ride.

American Wheelmen Membership Card. Credit: League of American Bicyclists.

Over the next 100 years, cycling became even more popular. Movements pushing government to create smoother roads blossomed out of a need for more comfortable, safe transport. Soon, these movements turned into national programs, like League of American Bicyclists in 1880. Then known as the League of American Wheelmen, the organization garnered the support of over 100,000 cyclists across the country who banded together to demand better roads. In a culmination of advocacy and passion, Bike Month was created by the Bike League in 1956 to showcase the benefits of biking and promote safer conditions.

Bike Month celebrations through the years

A lot has changed in the bike world since 1956. Not only has the construction, technology and manufacturing of bicycles changed significantly, but the way people ride bikes has too. What was once solely a mode of transportation has now evolved into a sport, a hobby, a community builder and so much more. The current structure we see today – Bike Month in May, Bike to Work Week on the third week, and Bike to Work Day on that Friday – has evolved with the diverse uses of the bike at its core.

The first ever Bike Month was created mainly of a need to promote the platform of the Bike League. The dominant themes during the month revolved around children’s safety on bikes. Concerned parents began to speak up about dangerous conditions and complications with cars.

In the 60s, bikes first started to make a major comeback in American culture. Pushed back by the rising popularity of cars in the early 20th century, sales began to rise, and increased advocacy for safety came with that.

A grandfather celebrating National Bike Month with his grandson in 2007.

In the 1970s, cycling in the US hit a peak, and Americans celebrated Bike Month like never before. Linked with the rising environmentalist movement, biking offered a carbon-free, safe commute and was a cheaper alternative to inflated gas prices. Bike sales actually outsold cars in the US in 1972. Throughout the next 20 years, the event became known as National Bike Month, spreading throughout the entire country. In 1981, North Carolina’s Governor James Hunt “emphasized the bicycle’s role as a valuable tool in saving energy resources and money” in a declaration, and shared the opinion with many other national leaders.

Eventually, in the 90s and early 2000s, Bike Month transformed into what we know it as today. A month for cyclists of all shapes and sizes, ages and races to come together to celebrate the bike. Some cycle to commute while others compete to win gold medals,but one thing remains constant: we’re all in it together.

The future of Bike Month

Though we can’t gather to ride together, Bike Month in 2020 is no different than any other year – it’s unique and celebrates the challenges and successes cyclists all over the country have experienced. But for now, it’s as important a time as ever to share your passion for sustainably moving on two wheels. Bike Month is something that will always bring us together, even when we’re apart.  With your help and dedication, this month will continue to bring cyclists together in so many ways for years to come.

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