"The Church or the Wheel?" Religious Institutions Respond to the American Bicycle Boom.pptx

Research output: Conference PosterPresentation


“These bladder-wheel bicycles are diabolical devices of the demon of darkness.” Thus railed a Baltimore preacher against the massive wave of popularity for the safety bicycle in the mid-1890s. From a 21st century perspective it seems quaint that American religious institutions felt threatened by something so mundane as bicycles. At the time though, easy-to-ride and relatively cheap safety bicycles presented a direct challenge to many established cultural and social norms. Women cyclists gained independent mobility and were able to press for dress reform. Physical health became a priority for city-dwellers. Christian churches and pastors primarily criticized the bicycle for encouraging desecration of the Sabbath. In an era when many worked six days a week, cyclists were faced with a choice between Sunday morning services or a Sunday morning ride. An alarming number were choosing the latter. Church leaders were also concerned about how the bicycle undermined rigid Victorian courtship practices and even enabled elopement. At the time, these issues were so divisive that some priests were removed from their parishes for supporting bicycling.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - Jun 27 2016
EventInternational Cycling History Conference - London, England
Duration: Jun 13 2018 → …


ConferenceInternational Cycling History Conference
Period6/13/18 → …


  • History
  • bicycle history
  • religion history


  • History of Religion
  • History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • Social History
  • United States History

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