A Retrospect of the Past Few Years by R. N. Clark
-The First Riders-
The L. A. W. and C. R. C.- Early Wheeling Tours and Races
Source: The Sterling Standard December 11, 1896
"The Rambler Cyclists" - H.J. Flock, Roy Peck, John Bensinger, Fred Wagley, Frank Decker and Peter Lund
The cycling season of '96 is approaching its close, and already the wheeling enthusiasts are looking forward to the new designs and models of the silent steed for 1897.
A retrospect of a few years will perhaps be of interest at the close of this, the most notable of all years to the cycling fraternity.
Beginning as a form of amusement, the wheel has risen to its present position as one of the greatest aids to the business man of the present day.
Photo on the right features H.J. Flock, proprietor of the bicycle shop located at 122 W. Third St. Sterling IL. In 1896 he was an agent for the Rambler Bicycle advertised to be the finest on the market.
The First Riders
Imagine the attitude of a person standing on Third street on a pleasant summer day of 1886 if told that ten years from that date would witness a procession of hundreds of riders mounted on the low framed bicycles moving with the ease and swiftness of the wind. We wonder if the coming ten years will evince as great an evolution. At that time there were about a dozen devotees of the old high wheel who always endured the regular violent contacts with the ground as a part of the sport, and to be enjoyed as such. Among these earlier cyclists we find the names of John Lawrie, Zale Dillon, C. E. Bensinger, John Weaver, James Charter, Jr., Elmer Crawford, and some other minor lights.
First Championship Race
It was about this time that the famous race for the world's (Whiteside county) championship took place between John Lawrie and James Charter, Jr., at the Sterling Fair. The track had been duly cleared, and the crowded grandstand vigorously applauded the contestants, who were mounted on the good old ordinarys, occupying a position about six feet from the earth. But it so happened that John, in the hope of an extra purchase on the pedals, had placed his saddle as close to the handle bar as possible, and as he crossed the line at the start, bending over with the firm purpose to "do" his adversary, the center of gravity was carried too far forward, and the machine played its customary trick, regardless of consequences; and the multitude still applauded. The fallen rider mounted and waving the broken handle bars retired from the track for that occasion only to ride to victory many times in later years, as his numerous diamonds testify.
Advent of Safety
In 1889 the American safety first entered the arena, while with it the contest for supremacy began, and many were the wordy debates between the riders of the "low downs" and the ordinary experts as to the points of merit in each style of wheel. However, the advantages of the safety became too apparent and gradually the ordinary was relegated to the old iron heap, while attention was turned toward the improvement of the former. Spring frames, diamond frames, cushion tires, ratchet gear, up and down turned handles, spring and solid saddles, followed each other in rapid succession, and in 1892 came the crowning invention, the pneumatic tire, made at first so heavy and large that it was about equally serviceable inflated or deflated.
At this period the average weight of the complete wheel was in the vicinity of fifty pounds, and the question of weight was not considered until 1894, when manufacturers began to lighten tubing, tires and equipments until the last year some road wheels scaled only 18 to 19 pounds.
The Initial Wheeling Tour
The initial wheeling tour from Sterling was taken in the fall of 1889 by John Lawrie, Harry Fondersmith and E. G. Hoover, the first two on high wheels and the latter on a solid tire safety. Rockford, sixty miles, was made the first day and the balance of the trip embracing a week, carried the party through Beloit, Lake Geneva, Elgin and Geneva, where the train was taken for home. The advantage of the safety on the hills became very apparent to the riders of the ordinary before the completion of the tour.
The L. A. W.
In the Eastern States, where the cyclists were more numerous, was felt a need for legal protection in the use of the wheel from the assaults of those who disliked the innovation. To this end the "League of American Wheelmen" was organized at Newport, R. I. in 1880. Its membership rapidly grew, at present numbering about 100,000, and with the funds of the organization, case after case involving the rights of cyclists was carried even to the Supreme Courts, if necessary, establishing a precedent and securing the advantages which the riders of today enjoy. Through the efforts of the League the important decision giving the wheelman the equal right to the road that any vehicle enjoys was rendered, and foolish laws, such as compelling the rider to dismount within 100 feet of any team, became void. Among the most recent legal victories for this organization is the passage of a law in New York State, compelling the railroads to transmit wheels free, when accompanied by the owner, subject to the same conditions as other baggage. A law of this kind would be of advantage in the State of Illinois, where, for instance, as at present, the fare from Sterling to Dixon is thirty-five cents, and for the passenger to carry his twenty pound wheel requires an extra twenty-five cents.
The League at present is devoting the greater share of its efforts to the betterment of the public highways and the results are being seen in many places in the form of road laws, convict road labor, and permanent roadways.
The Century Road Club
Second in importance as a national organization if the Century Road Club of America, which was orginally formed to encourage long distance roadriding. The emblem of the club is a gold circle surrounding a silver C-100 center. To these are attached the dated gold bars, one being given to each th member who rides the 100 miles, or century,on a country road within fourteen consecutive hours. The club has recently established a bureau for preserving and acknowledging road records, from one mile up to transcontinental distances.
As to local cycling organizations, in Sterling with its 500 cyclists, is as well supplied as any city in the country and in their midst are found the best and most enthusiastic riders.
The Triangle Club
The triangle Club is an outgrowth of the pioneer organization, the Y.M.C.A. Cycling Club, which was founded in 1890, with about fifteen members, mostly mounted on high wheels and the club runs of six or eight miles were sufficiently long enough for the majority of these. In 1894, after four years of various degrees of success, the name was changed to its present form, and the succeeding years have been marked by a number of pleasant events. The present club of thirty members, with C. E. Bensinger, Captain, and W. A. Brown, Secretary, has passed through a successful season; the ladies runs having been especially pleasant.
The Sterling Cycling Cluh was organized in 1895, and while increasing its membership largely last spring, did nothing of especial importance, beyond occasional runs, until the fall of 1896, when a movement was started to secure permanent quarters with the result that at present the club numbers 8O, and occupies a neat suite of rooms in the Academy Block, fitted with the conveniences of a modern club. With these arrangements for consultation and planning, the Sterling Cycling Club will play no small part in the wheeling interest of 1897. Its officers are mentioned in another part of this issue.
The County Cycling Club
The County Cycling Club was organized in the spring of 1896, for the purpose of introducing the wheel as a social feature. The membership of the club is now 10O, about equally divided between ladies and gentlemen. A number of runs were given during the season, the most intertsting being the progressive run, in which the riders changed partners at stated intervals. With the use of the club house, kindly granted by the members of the Sinissippi Club, the Cycling Club was enabled to give a number of wheeling parties and moonlight teas made especially pleasant by the informality of the occasions. The season closed with a well attended party at the Armory, only to look forward to another year of enjoyment. The officers for the year are, R. N. Clark, Capt:; Miss Edith Tracy, Lieut.; Miss Emily Galt, Sec'y; Scott Williams, Treas.
The Twilight Club
The Twilight Club composed only ladies, was organized in the early summer and attained a membership of thirty. Well planned weekly runs interspersed with monthly teas at the home of one of the members, made the wheel a very decided aid in the summer's enjoyment. The officers of the Club are, Mrs. G. B. Dillon, Capt.; Mrs. Charles Mack, 1st Lieut.; Miss Mary Harvey, 2nd Lieut.; Miss Correnne Sheldon, Sec'y and Treas.
In the line of equipments, the cyclometer has proven a valuable adjunct to the wheel, and even the ladies carefully noted the little dials as they registered the increasing mileage. Two or three records of 3,000 miles and over for the season of 1896 have been reached by the long distance riders, and 1,000 miles is an average record. The 10,000 mile cyclometer have proven the favorites for the past year.
The lamp that does not blow or jar out, with a large oil resorvoir, and no tendency to smoke, is the ideal bicycle light. In these the "Search Light" with the innovation of the rigid lamp bracket and protected reflectors, have given the best satisfaction on rough rides.
In tires, opinions are about equally divided between the double and single tube, with a slightly increasing tendency towards the use of the latter, although more extensive and somewhat more difficult to repair in case of repeated puncture.
The fancy enamels, while producing a pleasing effect, have not proven as durable as the black, being softer and more easily discolored.
The models of the 1897 wheels will contain a number of radical changes in the appearance of which will be the introdnction of a D shaped tubing in place of the round for braces. Tires will run from one fourth to one-half inch larger than those used the last season, and weights increased rom one to two pouns. A one piece crank and axle will be seen on most machines, doing away with the outside key.
A new pedal is promised which does away with the toe clip, an adjustable clamp similar to that on a skate, holding the foot in position.
A disposition is shown on the part of the manufacturers to abandon the expensive racing teams and devote the same amounts to other forms of advertising. This will mean slower races, doing away with most of the professional class, but will result in a better grade of amateur contests.
To properly care for the wheel during the winter it should be thoroughly taken down and cleaned, the tires partially deflated, the nickel covered with a thin coat of vaseline, and stood, or better still, hung up, in a dry place to wait for the sunny spring day.
And, as we thus dispose of this most convenient of all man's friends, we should resolve to make the year 1897 a memorable one in the annals of the city, as being full of good works and enjoyment on the part of the cyclists of Sterling.
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