I always think one of the best things about writing is the research you get to do; justified hours upon the laptop, with Google as your best friend. Screenplays are focused on visual writing especially and since I wasn’t alive in the 1890s when Annie Londonderry traveled around the world, I often take to the internet looking for visual tidbit and historic antidotes to inspire me.
I came upon Carlton Reid’s website, RoadsWereNotBuiltForCars, and was lost in the abundance of history and photos from Annie’s day - a period of time, I’ll now refer to as the “Bicycle Boom” as Reid calls it. I like to think of Annie Londonderry as being part of a Boom. Reid has a new ebook coming out this summer and I really look forward to it.
Interview with Carlton Reid:
You seem very immersed in the cycling world. When did you first become interested in cycling?
CR: I’ve been writing about bicycles for 25+ years. I got a job on a consumer bicycle magazine when I was still at universitLy (studying comparative religion, the course wasn’t very taxing). I became the de facto editor of that mag within months and have never stopped writing about bicycles since. From about the second year of writing about bikes I was given a contract to produce a trade mag and that’s what I’ve been doing since, for a variety of owners and also producing my own trade titles. I created and sold BikeBiz.com a few years back and am an executive editor on that title and also edit a consumer-focused website for the Bicycle Association. This is called bikehub.co.uk and has a navigation app called Bike Hub which I brought into existence. More background here.
What made you focus on the period called “The Bicycling Boom” and is that your term or historic?
CR: The bicycle boom years – roughly the mid 1890s – have always fascinated me. We think of cycling as a minority activity now; back then it was very much the mainstream, and cyclists were highly influential. For instance, in the 1896 US presidential campaign only one lobby group had its own room in the Republican party HQ, and that was the League of American Wheelmen.
Of course, I have to ask, did you come across Annie Londonderry in your research?
CR: For sure, although I guess Nellie Bly is better known. I like ‘Annie’s’ story partly because of her Jewish background. I studied Judaism at university, lived in Israel for a bit, and wrote the Berlitz Guide to Israel way back when.
Being an “expert” of that time, can you speak to the role women played in cycling and vice versa? What role cycling played in changing the social and political landscape for women?
CR: There are now a whole slew of books that feature this important topic, such as the new Bella Bathurst book and an earlier one from UK author Jim McGurn. The famous Susan B Anthony quotesays it all really. My book has a woman on the cover (this is an 1890s painting) but, from what I can gather, women didn’t play a huge role in the Good Roads movement. It was very male-centric.
Your book focuses on ways cycling paved the way for roads and autos. Is this mostly figuratively or physically? Can you share a little sneak peek of some of the points covered in the book?
CR: Both. Without the 30 years of lobbying by cyclists, the early motorists wouldn’t have had the good roads they inherited. In the 1920s, Ford and others said it was the early motorists who created good roads. Not true. Cyclists got there first, as my blog – and the book – explains at length.
What kind of research did you have to do to write the book?
CR: It’s mostly been web and book research so far but I’m in the US next week, visiting places that were key to the topic I’m researching and that’s the influence cyclists had on the creation of better roads, in the US and the UK. Before Detroit became the Motor Town (in fact, it’s the reason it became Motown), Detroit was a hot bed of cycle activism, with many leaders – such as Horatio Earle and Edward Hines – living in the Detroit area. Those two pioneers were cyclists but helped lay the foundations for the US highway network.
I see you have a sponsorship that allows you to offer the eBook for free. Annie Londonderry was all about sponsorship and it seems like it plays a really important role in the cycling community now, at least in racing. Can you speak a little bit about how that first developed and what role sponsorship plays in the cycling publishing community today?
CR: Wow. How long’s a piece of string?! My business model is free distribution, paid for by advertising. This is a trade mag model and has a long history. By publishing my book for free online and via iPads and so on, I get massive numbers of readers compared to books with pricetags. For instance, my Bike to Work Book has had 500,000+ reads and downloads; a paid for cycle commuting book would be doing very well to sell 10,000 or so.
You can see a sneak peak of “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” here and the best part, the eBook will be free. If you’re a cycling fan or even just a history buff, I encourage you to check out his website but be prepared to get lost in it for hours.