Editor’s note: This excerpt from Better Country Beyond is a continuation of our focus on transportation, as seen in the Dec. 8-14 edition of EXTRA!. Click HERE to read that story.
Bicycles and trails
A recreation hallmark in DeLand was the completion of a 4-mile stretch of a 4-foot-wide clay path connecting DeLand to Lake Beresford that was the city’s first-ever planned bicycle trail.
This achievement likely was brought about through the efforts of the newly formed DeLand chapter of the “League of American Wheelmen” (a forerunner of today’s “League of American Bicyclists”).
One of this group’s main missions was to lobby for improving the crude trails through the woods that cyclists had to forge for themselves.
The new smooth-surfaced bicycle path got heavy use even in the area’s warm climate.
It was cleverly designed to lead directly to a site on the lake where cyclists could refresh themselves with water from a cool spring that, unlike the water stored in household cisterns, did not have to have the “wigglers” strained out of it before it could be drunk.
Killing the corset
From the late 1870s onward, the front wheels of bicycles had been increasing in size. Manufacturers realized that the larger the wheel, the farther one could travel with one rotation of the pedals.
However, safety had been sacrificed for improved efficiency, and the bicycle seat now sat so high above the center of gravity that hitting a rut or a stone in the road could cause the entire apparatus to rotate forward on its front axle, dumping the rider to the ground with the potential for serious injury.
By the 1880s, however, everything in bicycle construction had changed.
Improvements in metallurgy enabled a chain and sprocket mechanism to be attached to a smaller and lighter frame. The gear ratios of the chain and sprocket multiplied the revolution of the pedals, allowing both wheels to be of equal and manageable size.
Losing the sky-high front wheel meant riders’ feet were closer to the ground and the apparatus was easier to stop. Ride-cushioning pneumatic tires began to be used as well.
These new “Safety Bicycles,” as they were called, were a practical investment for a workingman’s transportation and recreation purposes.
For women, the invention was even more of an advancement. Some social historians contend that the bicycle was “what made the Gay Nineties gay.”
This claim is based on the fact that the bicycle-riding craze effectively killed the wearing of a corset and bustle.
Before safety bicycles made bike riding less difficult and dangerous, women had to be content with taking a few turns around a park on heavy adult tricycles. But once they saw the pleasure men were now having riding their safety bicycles out into the countryside, women only needed to discard their movement-restricting stays and don “sensible clothing” in order to partake in the fun as well.
In 1896, suffragist leader Susan B. Anthony would unequivocally state, “The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.”
As a result of the appearance of safety bicycles, one of the favorite pastimes for DeLand “wheelmen” (which now included women), was to take an exciting “roller coaster” trip along the Downtown streets.
Starting at the highest point on the knoll where the Parceland Hotel stood, the cyclists took their feet off the pedals and let gravity carry them down the incline, along New York Avenue, and across Woodland Boulevard to the low point (Persimmon Hollow) at Florida Avenue.
It was only when they arrived at the slight rise in front of Putnam House that their joyride slowly came to a stop.