New York’s Bicycle Speedway, 1896

New York author Stephen Crane won fame and acclaim after publication of his novel Red Badge of Courage in 1895. The following year, McClure Magazine published Stephen Crane’s “New York’s Bicycle Speedway” on the bike riding hipsters who begrimed Manhattan.

The Western Boulevard which slants from the Columbus monument at the southwest corner of Central Park to the river has vaulted to a startling prominence and is now one of the sights of New York. This is caused by the bicycle.

It is a great thoroughfare for bicycles. On these gorgeous spring days they appear in the thousands. All mankind is a-wheel apparently and a person on nothing but legs feels like a strange animal. A mighty army of wheels streams from the brick wilderness below Central Park and speeds over the asphalt.

The bicycle crowd has completely subjugated the street. The glittering wheels dominated from end to end. The cafes and dining rooms of apartment hotels are occupied mainly by people in bicycle clothes. Even the billboards have surrendered. They advertise wheels and lamps and tires and patent saddles with all the flaming vehemence of circus art. Even when they do condescend to still advertise a patent medicine, you are sure to confront a lithograph of a young person in bloomers who is saying in large type: “Yes, George, I find that Willow rum always refreshes me after these long rides.”

It is interesting to note the way in which the blasphemous and terrible truck drivers of the lower part of the city will hunt a bicyclist. A truck-driver, of course, believes a wheelman is a pest. The average man could not feel more annoyance if nature had suddenly invented a new kind of mosquito. And so the truck driver resolves in his dreadful way to make life as troublesome and thrilling for the wheelman as he possibly can. The situation affords deep excitement for everyone concerned.

The girl in bloomers is, of course, upon her native heath when she steers her steel steed into the Boulevard. One becomes conscious of a bewildering variety of bloomers. There are some that fit and some that do not fit. There are some that were not made to fit and there are some that couldn’t fit anyhow. Of course every decent citizen concedes that women shall wear what they please and it is supposed that he covenants with himself not to grin and nudge his neighbor when anything particularly amazing passes him on the street.

This is a partial excerpt. You can read the full article and other stories in Maggie, a Girl of the Streets and Other New York Writings.

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