On Sunday, January 28, Leo Landis presented a program at the Heritage Center called "Bicycling Through History: Iowa's Love Affair with Two-Wheeled Travel."

His presentation was extremely informative as well as being amusing and bringing chuckles and guffaws from the audience at times.

Landis is particularly well-informed because he is the Museum Curator of the Iowa State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines. He also is the person responsible for permitting the Marion Heritage Center to display the steam car and a number of bicycles on loan from the Des Moines location.

Landis told how cycling started as a pastime of wealthy men and then became a recreational opportunity all Iowans can enjoy. It seems only fitting that he made this presentation the afternoon after the route for this year's RAGBRAI was announced, since he also talked about RAGBRAI a bit and has ridden on it.

It was especially interesting that some members of the audience, both men and women, had ridden on RAGBRAI a number of times, and Landis had seen their names in record books, etc. One gentleman was in his 90s, and another had been on the famous ride across Iowa, missing only a few days in all his years.

The first people to experiment with bicycles lived in Europe, mostly France.

Here in America, it became popular to be a member in a bicycle club, with a constitution and bylaws, and even uniforms. Each community seemed to have its wealthy members with a wheeled conveyance, such as the Spalding family in Grinnell and the jeweler who lived in Keokuk and was recorded as riding a velocipede in 1869.

Landis reminded people that Iowa was only 14-and-a-half years old when the Civil War started. After the war, there was a lot of technical catching up. He also reminded the audience that the first bicycles had no springs; they had wooden frames, wooden wheels and wooden spokes. In the late 1860s they were called "bone shakers."

From 1865 to around 1872, it was almost entirely wealthy white males who rode bikes. One example is B.F. Allen, who built Terrace Hill in Des Moines. Another documented person was a man whose last name was Redhead and also lived in Des Moines.

There is a story of a person in Pella who owned an early bicycle, but that has not been documented.

The first bicycles did not have any kind of braking system. However, inventors experimented with ways to slow them down. One method, a metal spoon-shaped device, did the trick as did pushing down on the handlebars.

Another discovery was that a larger pedaling wheel would help you go faster.

As the sport of riding became more widespread, it was common for bicycle clubs to travel some distance on an excursion. One of the photos Landis showed was of a club from Des Moines which posed before a ride to Spirit Lake. The men had similar outfits, hats and shoes. According to Landis, the picture was from 1883 and they were going to a State Bike Convention.

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