Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The high tech alternative to horses. . . . the bicycle

It's strange to think of it now, but at the turn of the prior century it wasn't the automobile that was seen as the modern alternative to the horse, but the bicycle.

Bicycles were all the rage.  They took cities by storm as average people saw them as a cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, alternative to walking, or in some cases riding, that didn't require any feed.  Their advance was so extensive that they were even adopted by Armies, with even the U.S. Army trying them out in the West.  Indeed, probably to the surprise of most modern Americans, some European armies, including the German Army, continued to use bicycles for some troops up to and through World War Two.  The Swiss Army still has bicycle using units, and the U.S. Army has very recently experimented with a bike that can fold up into a small portable size.

The early bikes compared very favorably with the automobile too. They were not a great deal slower and they were much, much, cheaper to own.  And they were much quicker than walking, which is actually how most town and city people got around.  Contrary to the popular imagination, while there were thousands of horses in the cities, most average city and town dwellers did not ride, and did not own a horse. They walked.  Bikes, therefore, looked pretty good.

All things being equal, a visionary of 1900 would have had every reason to look forward and see a future with lots of bicycles, a few automobiles, and fewer horses.

We've linked in a couple of interesting blog sites this morning dealing with the U.S. Army and bicycles.  The Army's experimentation with bikes didn't last long, that go around, but it shows how in vogue they were.

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