The shades of night were coming down
As swiftly racing through the town
A youth whose strength could scarce suffice
To keep him on that strange device
(Hawaiian Gazette, July 21, 1869)
Everett & Co noted in an early advertisement, “Offer for sale the cargo of the ship “Medora,” just received from Boston, and adapted for the Islands, Oregon and California markets, consisting of … (under ‘Furniture’) ‘Velocipedes.’” (Polynesian, October 23, 1847.)
Velocipede (Latin for ‘fast foot’) was an early term for a human-powered land vehicle with one or more wheels. The most common type of velocipede today is … bicycle.
Bicycling didn’t really catch on until the late-1860s, and within a few years, hundreds of thousands of people on the continent had become enthusiasts. (It had some interesting early spelling, as you will see in the newspaper quotes.)
The word ‘bicycle’ first appeared in English print in The Daily News in 1868, to describe “Bysicles and trysicles” on the “Champs Elysées and Bois de Boulogne.” In the Islands, they were talking about velocipedes and bicycles in 1869.
“There is no use in trying to plod along in the old way. Walking is getting to be ‘vulgah,’ and he or she that cannot wriggle a by-circle is no body. … it is certain that such a manner of locomotion can never become fashionable until a wheel or two is added to the accomplishment and a new coined word, ending in “cicle,” given to it.” (Hawaiian Gazette, April 21, 1869)
An editor of the local paper wrote of his first experiences, “(i)n order that my readers may more perfectly understand the difficulties involved in (riding a bicycle.)”
“Receiving the loan of a velocipede day before yesterday evening, and being in full sympathy with the progressive instincts of the age, I immediately commenced to learn to ride it“.
“(L)et me first remark on a few of the tricks that the animal is addicted to: first and worst, it betrays an unaccountable disposition to lie down in the middle of the street or anywhere, and at all times and without warning.”
“It also often turns, what would be its head if it was a horse, back as if to bite the rider’s feet, in reality to rub the dust off from the wheel rim to his pants. Thus it is quite unmanageable till one gets used to it.”
“My memory of what followed is much blurred; a general, unreal and unpleasant impression, which I am as yet unable to analyze, of whirling spokes, pedals, bumps, bangs, shouts, hats in the air, stars, a shock, cold water and taro.”
“As far as my experience is worth anything, I am of the opinion, that, although pounded raw taro may possibly be a good application for sore head, which I am inclined to doubt, it is generally unsafe to pound it with the head.”
“The bicycle question with me is still unsettled. One thing is certain; I shall never ride the above mentioned one again, if I can help it; but should I ever find one that had a reliable reputation as a quiet family velocipede, I think I might be induced to tempt fortune once more.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, June 12, 1869)
Others have other opinions. “For many years the bicycle was looked upon as a worthless development of the old velocipede, at best only Interesting as a childish toy. … That day has passed.”
“Bicycle riding is a good, healthy an invigorating exercise, and is especially valuable to those whose lives are sedentary. Boating, baseball and lawn-tennis are all excellent forms of recreation; but in the wide complexity of modern life there is plenty of room for the wheelman with his graceful steed.” (New York Tribune, September 21, 1883)
Then, people saw the need to accommodate the bikes: “The reason why there is no bicycle club in this Kingdom is that a portion of Queen street is about the only course in the realm where the two wheels safely run away with a man.” (Daily Herald, April 14, 1887)
“Honolulu being the metropolis and furnishing, as it does, means for the entertainment of visiting wheelmen and all others interested in good roads a home for them is desired where they can receive hospitable entertainment; where they can gain much information of value as regards good roads on the other islands; the resources and sights of Hawaiʻi and also enjoy club privileges.”
“Through the medium of cycling particularly can much be accomplished towards better roads, and it is the intention of this club to bring together the numerous cyclists of this city and throughout the islands, and to secure the cooperation of kindred organizations in the formation of a guild, having for its purpose the development and perpetuation of the good roads idea.”
“All we ask is the thorough sympathy and support of the public who are interested in bicycling and good roads and we assure them that there will be no lack of effort on our part and no dearth of results in the direction towards which we aim.”
“To this end all those who are interested in the better and permanent improvement of our public thorough fares, whether they be riders, drivers or wheelmen are cordially invited to unite and cooperate with this organization.”
“One great organization, composed of the rapidly increasing riders, drivers and wheelmen and the public-spirited citizens, can carry out any movement far more successfully than can any number of smaller organizations of a similar character working independently of each other.” (Honolulu Road Club, Hawaiian Star, September 30, 1895)
The legacy of ‘good roads’ called to attention by the Honolulu Road Club over 100-years ago lives on – today, we call them ‘Complete Streets.’
Complete Streets (also called Livable Streets) are road networks that are designed to be safer and more attractive to all types of users and commuters, which include bicyclists, public transport users, pedestrians, motorists and riders of all ages and abilities. It is designed with all types of users in mind, not just vehicles.
On the continent, the first Complete Streets policy was adopted in 1971, but Hawaiʻi only recently adopted Act 54 in 2009. Hawaiʻi law states, “The department of transportation and the county transportation departments shall adopt a complete streets policy that seeks to reasonably accommodate convenient access and mobility for all users of the public highways … including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, motorists, and persons of all ages and abilities.”
Owen Miyamoto says
Great article. Thank you.
Carolynn Griffith says
Mahalo, good reading the history of old and more modern Hawaiian history.
Wendy Tolleson says
Honolulu jumped on the proverbial bicycling craze with the opening of Cyclomere Park by Desky within his new subdivision in Kakaako. The rink was the scene of many bicycle races, including velocipedes. Opened on October 13, 1897, if featured well attended Saturday night races, with international racers. There is a 1900 photo by Brother Bertram in the Hawaii State Archives taken from the slope of Punchbowl at Chinatown just after the fire. In it the Cylomere appears off to the left. Though there are drawings [as shown in Peters February 2020 post] It is the only known photo of the rink. The bicycle racing craze collapsed, and Cyclomere Park closed in 1900 after the subdivision was taken over by financier Bruce Waring and divided into lots for sale.