The Two-Wheeled World of George B. Thayer

The Two-Wheeled World of George B. Thayer

The Two-Wheeled World of George B. Thayer

The Two-Wheeled World of George B. Thayer


Cyclotourism has recently risen to prominence with growing national media coverage and thousands of participants taking to America's roadways on two wheels and under their own pedal power.

But the concept is not new. More than a century ago, George B. Thayer took his own first "century," or one-hundred-mile bicycle ride. The Two-Wheeled World of George B. Thayer brings to life the experience of late nineteenth-century cycling through the heartfelt story of this important cycling pioneer.

In 1886, just two years after his first century, Thayer rode his high wheeler across the United States, traveling from his home in Connecticut to California and back. Thayer took an indirect route without any intent to set speed records, but his trip was full of adventure nonetheless. Thayer loved going downhill, his legs over the handlebars, risking life and limb atop the large wheel on often rough and muddy roads. With aplomb and humor, he dealt with the countless other hazards he encountered, including dogs, mule teams, and wild hogs. Even bad weather and poor sleeping conditions could not keep Thayer down.

After his epic tour across the United States, Thayer had the urge to cycle abroad and eventually toured England, Germany, Belgium, and Canada on his bike. His later travels were in part aided by his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, which was the epicenter of American bicycle manufacturing in the late 1890s. In addition to telling Thayer's cycling story, Kevin J. Hayes brings to life the culture of cycling and its rise at the end of the nineteenth century, when bikes became more affordable and the nation's riding craze took off.


Cycling south through Florida many years ago, I entered the Everglades the week before Christmas with my friends Andy, Gary, and Kyle. Near sunset we reached Long Pine Key Campground in Everglades National Park. As soon as we dismounted, hordes of mean- spirited mosquitoes attacked our bare limbs. We erected our tents, jumped inside, zipped the flaps shut, and then smashed all the mosquitoes trapped with us. Once the last tent- bound bug had met its maker, we grew bored. Unwilling to spend hours within our tents awaiting sleep, we braved the mosquitoes again to pedal to the bar we had passed a few miles back. Returning to the campground after last call, we rode through dense clouds of mosquitoes that stretched across the road. Those menacing little monsters bounced off our arms and legs and hands and faces. As we approached Long Pine Key, Kyle risked a mouthful of mosquitoes to yell: “I feel like Ian Hibell in the Darien Gap!”

We instantly knew what Kyle meant. Ian Hibell, the greatest cyclotourist of his generation, was one of our heroes. He had made a name for himself cycling through the Darien Gap, across the Sahara, and into many other remote places.

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