October 22nd, 2015
by Kipp Normand
Those of you who are up on these things will know that Indianapolis was once a Mecca of Bicycling. Yes, indeed, the Great Bicycle Craze of the 1890s was in full flower right here in our fair city. Indianapolis was home to many bicycle manufacturers and dealers, and over the 20 years between 1890 and 1910 the general population of Indianapolis developed a deep passion for the quick transportation and freedom afforded by the new safety bicycle. The flatness of the terrain and the abundance of paved streets made Indianapolis a center for bicycle culture throughout the Midwest. One of my favorite passages in “The Magnificent Ambersons,” (Booth Tarkington’s ode to old Indianapolis) is a section early in the book where Tarkington describes a typical fall evening in an elegant Indianapolis residential neighborhood in 1905. People sit chatting on their porches as dusk settles and the street lights are lit. Through the increasing darkness groups of bicyclists roll silently over the pavement, the only sound is their laughter and the tinkling of bells. Occasionally an expert rider with hands free strums a mandolin as he glides past. Suddenly all this ephemeral loveliness is spoiled by roaring motors and clouds of dust as the streets fill with the noise and confusion of early automobiles. In “Ambersons” Tarkington mourned the passing of a genteel city forever changed by industrialization and the automoble. I love this stuff, and so should you.
To get a taste of Indianapolis’ bygone bicycle culture, you may wish to visit the Major Taylor Vellodrome, or stop by the venerable Athenaeum Building to see an architectural remnant of the bicycle craze. The Athenauem was built in 1892 as a German athletic and social club. An original feature of the grand staircase that runs from the street door to the old Rathskellar in the basement is a wide wooden ramp for rolling bicycles to the lower level storage room. Bicyclists could bring their machines indoors, enjoy some refreshment and then roll their cycles back up to the street. Looking at the bicycle ramp is marvelous, but really the best way to connect with Indianapolis’ turn of the last century bicycle culture is to LIVE IT by attending the 6th annual Indianapolis Tweed Ride this Saturday, October 24th.
Gadzooks, what is the Tweed Ride? The Tweed Ride is a very proper and extremely enjoyable slow ride through some of the most interesting historic neighborhoods in downtown Indianapolis. There are plenty of stops for refreshents and other amusements. Tweed Ride enthusiasts enjoy dressing for the occassion and admiring all the delightful bicycles. If you have a vintage bicycle, this is your chance to get it out and show it off. if you don’t have a vintage bicyle, don’t let that stop you. The Tweed Ride is for everyone and it really is tremendous fun. Show your love for good old Indianpolis by leaving your spandex at home. Don some thrift store woolens, dust off that 3 speed with the fenders and come out to the Tweed Ride this Saturday, October 24th. Mr. Booth Tarkington would be very pleased.
The 6th Annual tweed Ride is organised by Indy Cog to benefit their bicycle advocacy programs. There is a $20.00 fee to participate. The ride begins with a picnic on the lawn of the Benjamin Harrison Home at 11:00 a.m.
You can find more information about the Tweed Ride here.
You can find a copy of The Magnificent Ambersons and lots of other information about our fascinating city at the Central Library.