Annie Londonderry

– the first woman to go around the world on a bicycle

Archive for the category “Touring”

Interview with Carlton Reid

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 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 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.


Cycling The Freedom Trail

Map of the “Underground Railroad” from Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, The Macmillan Company, 1898

For a country founded on the principles of freedom, many had to unjustly battle to gain theirs in the United States. Annie Londonderry’s cycling trip helped with the women’s suffrage movement back in 1894 and now people can cycle another “freedom trail,” The Underground Railroad.

This month the Adventure Cycling Association revealed a new map section for their 2,000-mile Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) created five years ago. You can read the full press release here.

Running through many smaller communities in northwestern Ohio, southern Michigan, and southern Ontario, the Detroit Alternate creates a cultural heritage corridor that not only offers education and recreational opportunities for people of all ages, but also promises increased tourism to the communities along this iconic corridor.

According to Jenn Milyko, cartographer, the Detroit Alternate will create numerous options for wonderful one and two week loop rides.

Highlighted stops along the Detroit Alternate include:

  • The Oberlin downtown historic district, Oberlin College, and the Oberlin Heritage Center, which showcases the abolitionist and UGRR history of the community.
  • In Adrian, Michigan, visit the Lenawee County Historical Museum, which houses thousands of documents relating to the UGRR, and the Laura Haviland Statue (100 E. Church St.).
  • In Detroit, cyclists can explore the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the largest museum in the world dedicated to the struggles and perseverance of African Americans, the Historical First Congregational Church, also known as The Living Museum, which offers the Underground Railroad Flight to Freedom Program Tours, a “storytelling” simulation of a slave’s journey to freedom, and the Gateway to Freedom Monument at Hart Plaza on the Detroit Riverfront, which marks the crossing of thousands of freedom seekers into Canada.
  • A partner monument in Windsor, Ontario, is visible across the river. Known as the Tower of Freedom Underground Railroad Monument, this sculpture depicts the refugee’s arrival into Canada and their overwhelming emotion upon encountering freedom.
  • In Chatham, Ontario, visit the First Baptist Church Chatham where American abolitionist John Brown held the last in a series of clandestine meetings to plan his “slave rebellion. At the Chatham Kent Black Historical Society you can experience a self-guided exhibit containing numerous artifacts, an audio-visual presentation, and an interactive display honoring black residents.
  • Cycling on to Dresden, Ontario, you can visit the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site/Josiah Henson House, which was the home of Rev. Josiah Henson and houses exhibits, period buildings, and an interpretive center. Rev. Henson, a fugitive slave who found freedom in Ontario in 1830 via the Underground Railroad, established the Dawn Settlement. Henson’s experiences were the reference for the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
  • Between Sombra and Owen Sound, there are only a few historic landmarks, however cyclists can enjoy the beautiful Lake Huron waterfront for many of these miles. The historic highlights along this stretch include the Wilberforce Settlement Plaque found at the Lucan post office, which commemorates the establishment of the settlement in 1830 by a group of fugitive slaves with the assistance of Quakers from Oberlin, Ohio.
  • In Owen Sound, be sure to visit the Grey Roots Museum and Archives, and its exhibit, FromSlavery to Freedom, African Canadians in Grey County. Established in 1856, the BME Church (241 11 St. W.) served the needs of former slaves arriving on the Underground Railroad and parishioners are considered the founders of the Annual Emancipation Day Celebration, which is held the first weekend in August each year. In August 2012, the celebration marks its 150th Anniversary, making an attractive end-date for cyclists touring the new alternate or the main Underground Railroad route, which also terminates in Owen Sound.

NPR did an interview with a group of cyclists that completed the 2,100 miles along the Underground Railroad from Mobile, Ala., to Ontario, Canada. The tour was six weeks long and the average age of participant was sixty, proving one is never to old for adventure!

You can listen to the audio of the interview below:

There is also a nice article from the National Parks Conservation Association about a group of students making the trip.

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