Punch Melbourne, on Thursday 18th November 1869, predicted the demise of the Velocipede (bicycle) Mania, having died in its infancy.
How wrong they were, with the 150th anniversary of the first bicycle seen in Stawell having just passed.
On the 24th July 1869, "a bicycle troop gave a great deal of amusement to the 'small boys' at the efforts of riders", it is likely these machines to have been "Boneshakers".
The boneshaker was invented by Pierre and Ernest Michaux in 1863, who named it the velocipede. They are regarded by some as the first true bicycles.
These machines were popular in the 1860s but, as the name suggests, they were uncomfortable to ride, heavy and under-geared.
There were many Boneshakers in Australia, especially around the goldfields, including Ballarat where several fine examples have been reported. During the subsequent Penny Farthing era of the 1880s, Boneshakers were kept and used to teach novice riders balancing skills.
The velocipede industry in Australia was initially centred around Ballarat, in Victoria, during the 1860s
The velocipede industry in Australia was initially centred around Ballarat, in Victoria, during the 1860s. It had had been a gold-mining centre on a massive scale in the 1850s, leading to many subsidiary industries such as the manufacture of steam engines and cast iron foundries.
On the 10th July 1869 at least 12,000 people crowded in to and around the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch a bicycle race in celebration of Separation Day, there were 16 bicycles entered and 13 tricycles. Finlay's Barb Velocipede (bicycle) was first, and it was this great race which proved to colonial Melbourne that the bicycle had come to stay.
The Pleasant Creek News and Stawell Chronicle, on Saturday 24 Jun 1882 reported that a meeting of those interested in the formation of a bicycle club was held at Simpsons Commercial Hotel last night.
Mr. F. Thornton was unanimously elected captain, Mr. A. Sparey vice-captain, and Mr. W. A. Whitehead hon. secretary and treasurer. It was decided that the uniform be navy blue, and the annual subscription 7 shillings and 6 pence. This club continued until the late 1890s running both social and racing events on a regular basis.
The first long ride by ladies on tricycles in Victoria was conducted by the club in October 1885, as follows: "The Misses Thornfeldt and Fawcett, of the Stawell Cycling Club, recently decided on essaying a trip from their town to Ballarat, a distance of seventy-four miles. A start was made on Friday afternoon from Stawell, and a pleasant; though rather warm; ride of eighteen miles brought the fair cyclists to where they were met by some friends, with whom they stayed for the night. On Saturday they effected a start from Ararat shortly before six o'clock, and reached Beaufort about 11 o'clock. At one o'clock they were again journeying gaily along; and reached Burrumbeet a little before four o'clock. At the lake township, they were met by members of the Ballarat Bicycle and Tricycle Club, who escorted the tricyclist's into Ballarat, which they finally reached a few minutes before eight o'clock."
In another long jaunt "Messrs. M. Thornfeldt and J. Lyon of Stawell, Victoria departed for Sydney, New South Wales, 8th March 1886; the former riding a tricycle and the latter a safety-type bicycle. These two gentlemen were over 50 years of age, taking the trip entirely for pleasure. They completed their plucky ride reaching Sydney on 25th March, riding close to 800 miles (1300 km)."
By 1886 a separate tricycle club had been formed, and cycle racing had commenced in earnest across the district, a popular route being from the Stawell Post Office to Great Western and back.
It was not uncommon for cyclists during this time to commute long distances. M. Isaacson set forth on a trip to Melbourne, in 1886. He reached Ballarat in the same evening, acting as representative of the Stawell branch at the A.N.A. ball. He then pushed on to Melbourne the following morning, where stayed for a few days, before starting on the return journey.
Both cycling for pleasure, transport and racing grew throughout the latter part of the 1880s and into the 1890s and it was considered on a par with other sporting codes such as football and cricket within the community.
In 1894, 25 years after the first bicycle arrived in Stawell a deputation of the football, cricket and bicycle clubs went to council with a view to inducing that body to effect certain improvements urgently required in the central reserve, notably to erect fencing and develop a cycling track. The request was rejected. This is not the end of the story, but the beginning of the next great era for cycling in Stawell.