The Bike Week movement, which is recognized each May in the U.S. as part of National Bike Month, advocates the importance of cycling as a means of transportation and recreation. Massachusetts is the only state in the nation with a truly statewide bike week, from May 9th to May 17th. National Bike to Work day, encouraging commuters to take to the road through active transportation, is May 15. In the Boston area, cyclists are encouraged to ride with one of ten convoys to City Hall Plaza for a breakfast party and commuter celebration.
Boston has long been the center of cycling enthusiasm – the Boston Bicycle Club, founded in 1878, was the first in the nation, and formed the nucleus of the national organization, the League of American Wheelmen. Cycling was a hotbed for clashes about race, gender, class, ethnicity – even religion. One of a small group of black women cyclists, Kittie Knox of the Riverside Cycle Club attracted much attention as a prominent activist and cyclist. Her insistences on riding a two-wheeled man’s bike and her personally-fashioned knickerbockers were frowned upon by many in the cycling society. But her most important contribution to the cycling craze was her appearance at the 1895 League of American Wheelman meet. The recent institution of a “color bar” prevented her attendance at the meet – however, members of the Massachusetts delegation of the league supported her despite the tension she raised. Her courage and pluck encouraged discussion of diversity in cycling clubs, something the modern community continues to face. Knox’s image is feature on the cover of Finison’s Boston’s Cycling Craze, and has been discussed extensively in Finison’s interview at the Museum of African American History.
Named one of New England’s Best Books of 2014 by the Boston Globe, Larry Finison’s Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880 – 1900 tells a story of race, sport, and society. In addition to being a UMass Press author, Finison is a founding member of Cycling Through History and has presented several papers at the International Cycling History conference in recent years. Thomas Whalen, author of Dynasty’s End, wrote that Boston’s Cycling Craze “not only is . . . an informative history, but a compelling morality tale that meditates on the important intersection of sport, race, and gender in the broader spectrum of American culture.” For more information on his book, please visit our website. You can follow Finison on twitter at @ljfinison.
Emily Esten is an Editorial Intern at UMass Press. She is a junior History/Digital Humanities major at UMass Amherst.