Cycling in the City: A 200 Year History

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With 100+ miles of protected bike lanes, a flotilla of Citi Bikes, and the robust Five Boro Bike Tour, New York City ranks as one of the top 10 cycling cities in the country. In fact, the nation’s very first bike lane was designated on Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway in 1894, and the city’s cycling history reaches back two centuries. Beginning March 14th, the Museum of the City of New York will celebrate and explore that history in the new exhibit, “Cycling in the City: A 200 Year History.”

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The exhibit–which features more than 150 objects, including 14 bicycles–will be organized into three sections: Cycling Cultures, Cycling Machines and Cycling Landscapes.

In Cycling Cultures, you’ll meet the “wheelmen” of 19th century Brooklyn, and the “New Women,” of the suffrage movement who took to cycling as a means of self reliance and liberation. Alongside them, newer cycling subcultures, such as ethnic cycling clubs, racing clubs, or delivery associations take their place in the city’s diverse cycling history.

Cycling Machines will explore the technological evolution of the bicycle. Turns out New York’s cycle craze began in 1819, when the very first human-powered two wheel machine, known as the “velocipede,” a contraption without pedals, allowed riders to coast down hills by pushing off the ground. By the 1860s, “pedal machines” hit the scene, and New York became the center of the nation’s bicycle industry. Bikes as we know them date to the 1890s, but the exhibit will also focus on transformative models from the 20th and 21st centuries, such as fixed-gear bikes, folding bikes, pedi-cabs, ride-shares, and even the “bespoke” bikes of today’s Brooklyn.

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Finally, Cycling Landscapes will consider the bicycle’s role in the city’s complex web of concerns including street safety, environmentalism, and mobility.