12 September 2012

The FIrst Bike Lane?

Now  here's an interesting way to commute by bicycle.

Arthur Hotchkiss envisioned this monorail for bicycles as the future of getting to and from work when he built it during the 1890's.  Most roads then would make today's potholed city streets seem like magic carpets; amazingly, many cyclists still pedaled "high-wheelers" or "penny farthings, which were much less stable  and were more likely than today's bikes to be toppled by ruts and potholes.  Hotchkiss' bike "railroad" spanned muddy fields as well as a stream. 

Hezekiah Smith backed the project.  He owned a factory in a western New Jersey hamlet--named for him-- that, at the time, was making about a quarter of America's woodworking equipment.  Poor conditions, particularly when it rained, caused tardiness in his workers.

The bicycles that glided along the rail bore little resemblance to today's two-wheelers.  They had two mismatched wheels (one 20 inches in diameter, the other 12). Instead of pushing on pedals, the cyclist had to repeatedly depress a ratchet mechanism as if he were pumping air into a tire.  

There was only single rail.  So one cyclist had to dismount and allow the other to pass before resuming his trip.  As you can imagine, head-on collisions were frequent and tempers flared.

But these problems were not the ones that doomed the "railroad."  Rather, the introduction of the "safety" bicycle (with both wheels the same size, along with improving road conditions, made bicycle commuting more feasible.  So, the railroad's ridership declined and it went bankrupt in 1898.  No trace of it--or Smith's factory.  His company didn't survive the Great Depression.

It's interesting to think of what bike lanes would be like today if Hotchkiss and Smith's "railroad had survived a few more years.

1 comment:

  1. Well, with the benefits of cycling, it's no wonder why many people decide to have their own bike. And by reading your post, they will surely appreciate the origins of biking! Bravo!