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December 14, 2007

Saluting Thomas Stevens, Cycling Pioneer

123 years ago a brave man took a ride into history, a ride that changed the activity of Bicycling forever.

How many cyclists are even aware of his story.

I wasn't, until I finally joined the Adventure Cycling Ass. this morning.


From a report in the August 30, 1884 Harper's Weekly:

On this page we give the portrait of Mr. Thomas Stevens, who started from San Francisco, California, April 22, with the avowed intention of riding around the world (barring the Oceans) on his bicycle...

Emigrating to the far West in 1871, he had not been east of the Mississippi until he started out on his famous bicycle ride across the continent. Seven men have within the last three years attempted the same feat, but the great difficulties encountered in crossing the 1500 miles of rocky mountain, barren deserts, and bridgeless streams between California and the Missouri River have invariably turned them back.

More than one-third of the route followed by Mr. Stevens had to be walked. Eighty-three and a half days of actual travel and twenty days stoppage for wet weather, etc., made one hundred and three and a half days occupied in reaching Boston, the distance by wagon-road being about 3700 miles. He followed the old California trail most of the way across the plains and mountains, astonishing the Indians, and meeting with many strange adventures.

The page from which this excerpt was taken is here.

He continued his journey all the way around the world!

On a PENNY-FARTHING, a HIGH-WHEELER (A Columbia Standard) ??

Damn straight! ;-D

He was the First. ;-D

At Project Gutenberg you can read Volume 1: San Francisco to Teheran, and Volume 2: Teheran to Yokohama of his books (1000+ pages!) about his journey, free online. ;-D

Jim Langley has some thoughts about this event, and other stories about cycling journeys, here.

NPR has a 4 minute, Jan. 2007, interview with the man who wrote an intro to a re-issue of the Books (First Re-issued in 2001, in 1 volume, then re-re-issued in 2 volumes in 2006, with all versions available at Amazon.).

If you can read German the folks at the great Penny-Farthing Riders website have a page devoted to Stevens, from which I found the picture. ;-D

December 14, 2007 in Voices From The Open Road | Permalink


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Two other notable cyclists from the winter of 1899-1900 are Max Hirschberg and Ed Jesson, who made separate bicycle trips in the dead of winter down a frozen Yukon River and up the frozen Bering Sea from the gold fields in Dawson, Yukon Territory, Canada, to a new gold discovery in Nome, Alaska, a distance of more than 1,200 miles on ice. A group of three cyclists -- Andy Sterns, Frank Wolf and Kevin Vallely -- recreated the ride in 2003.

Posted by: WayUpNorthInAlaska | Dec 14, 2007 9:31:10 PM

Interesting. Just walked by a Sporting Goods store in Cologne, Germany (Dec 15th) and they had a new Penny-Farthing for sale. The For Sale sign proclaimed in English: "The Gentleman's Bike"...

Posted by: Randy Eady | Dec 15, 2007 1:37:37 PM

Our club's logo is a graphic of Stevens as he departed San Francisco on his epic journey. www.knickerbikers.com

Posted by: Ken King | Apr 1, 2008 3:20:27 PM

Dear Cycling Dudes,

Just found out today about the intriguing Thomas Stevens, the round-the-world Cycling Pioneer. Image doing such a tour on the bike he used and considering the road conditions at the time is remarkable to begin with.

I'm in the advanced preparation to my proposed half-way-around-the-world / 43 degrees south to 43 degrees north Cape to Cape Tour which will take me from South East Cape, Tasmania to Cape Finisterre, Spain in three stages. The 5000KM Melbourne to Darwin leg completed in 2002. While I expect to encountre some hardships on the way, testing my endurance levels, I'll just have to read Stevens accounts first to realise how so called adventerous travel today has become accessible to so many.

Posted by: Sean Deany | Jun 15, 2008 9:12:53 PM

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