Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.


Bicycling adventurers in the 1800s

variety of cyclesRolling hills with challenging climbs, wildflowers, and moderate climate draw bicyclists from near and far to California’s beautiful Central Coast. Major events include The Great Western Bike Rally, the Central Coast Double Century and Eroica California as well as charity rides and the Tour of California which pass through from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

My husband and I are no strangers to the sport. As I write he is climbing the hills not far from our front door. He rides to work and participates in century and double century events. For years I joined him on weekends and for century rides along the coast and alongside landscapes carpeted with wildflowers. We’ve bike camped and participated in week long supported riding in Idaho and Montana.

I was surprised to learn that cycling has been a popular sport in our area since the late 1800s when bicycles were a fairly new mode of transportation. Several times in 1897 and 1898 a young man named Fred Smith rode his bike from Palo Alto to his home in Paso Robles, about 200 miles, in one day. This is a challenge for anyone, even today with our lightweight bikes with 25 speeds, pneumatic tires on paved roads, as opposed to one speed on solid rubber tires over rough dirt roads.

On November 6, 1897, Eddie Kragness, who was riding a bicycle for the Olympic Club of San Francisco, covered the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles in a little over two days. Fred Smith joined him at Chualar and rode as guide as far as Paso Robles. They rode the railroad ties for several miles because they found that it was easier than riding on the sandy road. At the lunch stop in King City they ordered one dozen soft boiled eggs for their meal. Fred’s brother, Paul, joined them in Paso after dark and they rode together as far as San Luis Obispo. Kragness finished the ride the next day. His record was not broken until sixty years later with the aid of paved roads and improved gearing.Paul Smith on bike with Clark S. Smith

Fred’s brother, Clark, who owned a bike and gun store in town, took four days to ride his 51-inch big wheel from Oakland to Paso Robles. Not the most comfortable mount for such a long journey. Clark’s most memorable competition took place on the 4th of July 1895 when he raced through town against strong competition, having trained by going without ice cream and pedaling to his dad’s ranch each day. The young man took a late lead to win the three mile race and claim the six-dollar prize.

Leave it to the young men to prove their strength by pedaling up hills, endurance by distance riding and speed by racing. For that, times have not changed, but we notice there are many more gray-haired riders enjoying the sport nowadays. Here’s to the health and happiness of all who enjoy pedaling in our great outdoors.

The top photo shows the B.H. Franklin store in Cambria, California, first used as their high school in 1890. Note the various types of bikes and riders. Bicycling was not only a practical means of getting from place to place before automobiles but soon became a popular sport. 
Paul Smith is shown on bike with his brother Clark S. Smith

Photos courtesy of Gary Smith