Red Deer’s long history of biking

Tomorrow (Sept. 5) the Tour of Alberta International Pro Cycling Race will make its way to Red Deer from Devon, Alberta as part of the week-long competition.

On Saturday, as part of Red Deer’s centennial celebrations, there will be a bike parade, starting at the Red Deer Farmers’ Market site at 2 p.m. and then proceeding to Barrett Park and the bike trail system.

Red Deer has a long and interesting history of bicycling.

The origins go back to the 1890s during the start of what is often referred to as the Golden Age of bicycling.

The chain rear-wheel-drive models replaced the early styles of bicycles, which could be cumbersome and at times dangerous to ride. These new style of bikes were such an improvement that they were dubbed ‘safety bicycles’.

Moreover, tire manufacturers, chiefly Dunlop, began to produce pneumatic bicycle tires. These air tires made rides much smoother and safer, particularly on the dirt and gravel roads found in Central Alberta.

Bicycling, as a widespread recreational activity, first made its appearance in the community in the spring of 1896. Although winter lingered with a heavy snowstorm hitting on May 4, the Calgary Tribune soon reported that many people in Red Deer had purchased and were learning to ride their bicycles.

At the time, the hamlet had a population of 150.

People quickly became more adventuresome with their new form of transportation.

In August, J.E. Graham made a trip by bicycle from Edmonton to Red Deer. The route was the old Calgary-Edmonton Trail, with lots of ruts, water-filled potholes and other obstacles and challenges.

In the spring of 1899, Reg Burch and Tom Gaetz made a round trip to Edmonton on their bicycles to attend the Dominion Day (July 1) ‘Potlatch’ celebrations.

At the same time, 15 Red River carts made their way up the Calgary-Edmonton Trail to the same celebrations.

One of the most remarkable features of the new sport of bicycling was that it was not limited to men. Despite the usual attitudes of what was acceptable in Victorian times, women took up the pastime with equal enthusiasm.

This was not an easy feat.

The long full skirts of the era could make it difficult to pedal. Nevertheless, bicycling gave women a socially acceptable and rather liberating activity, which they could enjoy with friends as well as their husbands, children or young beaus.

In June 1900, Red Deer celebrated the capture of Pretoria during the Boer War with a parade that included a fife and drum band and also a procession of ‘ladies and gentlemen” riding on their bicycles.

On the most popular brands of bicycles for the pioneer cyclists was the Cleveland, made by the H.A. Lozier Company of Ohio.

Another popular bicycle, particularly for women, was the Hyslop, which was Canadian-made. In the early part of the last century, the Canadian Cycle and Motor Company (C.C.M.) was formed and eventually commanded 85% of the Canadian bicycle market.

Bicycles could cost as much $40 to $50, a considerable sum during early cash-strapped days. However, good quality used bicycles could usually be purchased for $8 to $10 each, often at a hardware or second hand store.

As the biking pastime grew, bicycle races became an integral part of the annual Dominion Day sports events and Red Deer Fair as well as the annual Anglican Church ‘Fetes’ which were also held at the Fairgrounds.

As time went on, longer races of one mile or more became common.

As the century progressed, there was a shift in biking. It came to be considered primarily as a pastime for children, and not for adults. Fortunately, in the past few decades there has been a shift back again so that it is a popular activity for people of all ages.

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