According to the website for the Le Tour de France (Letour.com), the final, 21st stage of this year's 101st edition of the famed European bicycle race will take place on July 27. For the riders, it will mark the end of a journey of 3,664 kilometers, from England to Paris by way of much of France, that began on July 5.
Did you know that a number of celebrated bicycle races took place in Carroll County, years before the Tour de France began in 1903?
In Carroll County in the late 1890s, bicycle races, tours and clubs were quite the rage.
Cathy Baty, curator for the Historical Society of Carroll County, reported in a July 28, 2013 program, "Old Roots, New Roots," on WTTR, that "The first machine that we would recognize as a bicycle was developed in 1865.
"Called a velocipede, it had a front wheel only slightly larger than the rear. The pedals were on the front wheel and there was no chain connecting the two wheels. In the 1870s, designers realized that the larger the wheel, the farther you could travel with each rotation of the pedals… These bicycles were very unstable and hitting even a small obstacle such as a stone or bump could send the rider tumbling over the handlebars onto his head."
According to an article in the April 1896 Democratic Advocate newspaper article, "The Bicycle is a foreign invention. Those sky-scrapers, with one large wheel and a little one behind, with the riders up in the clouds, were of English invention, and were first imported in this country about twenty years ago. … (They are) dangerous, and yet their use was spreading..."
In September 1897, a local bicycle club, the Cycling Ramblers organized one of the many bicycle races of the day, the "Century Run" race from Wrightsville, Pa., and back — a distance of 106 miles. According to the September 25 issue of the American Sentinel, the outing was a success with 50 of the 55 riders completing the trip in the required time — 16 hours or less.
Interestingly, in Carroll County in the late 1800s, "cycling wasn't just for men," says Baty. "Having two wheels of equal size allowed women to ride and still keep their legs covered with long skirts. But bustles and corsets weren't practical when riding so simpler clothing became fashionable. And cycling provided many women with freedom of movement they had never known. In 1896, Susan B. Anthony said 'the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.'"
Today, bicycling is just as popular in Carroll County as it was back in the 1890s. Only a few weeks ago, the "Race Across America," a bicycle race with an international following, traveled through Westminster and Carroll County. "Pippa" Middleton, whose sister, Kate, is married to an heir to the British throne, Prince William, was among those who dashed through Westminster on June 20.