Bicycles in Marquette: Yesterday, today, tomorrow

A pair of cyclists is seen on the bike path along U.S. 41, looking northeast in 1976. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Marquette County and the bicycle have a longstanding history. Reviewing research material for this article, the bicycle has been a popular topic of many articles in noted publications during the past century. Reading through them, each author had a somewhat different twist on the topic, however, all came back to why the bicycle was so popular and continues to be today.

The bicycle, known as the safety bicycle due to a change in tire material, first became popular approximately 123 years ago, and it was said to have “exploded” onto the Marquette County scene during the summer of 1895. Tire and wheel technology continues to evolve with different diameters, “29,” 27.4″ and the fat tire bike. Everyone wanted a bike. Everyone who could afford one had one and those that couldn’t rented one. Hardware stores and jewelry stores added bicycles to their inventory and quickly learned how to fix and service them. Today we have four downtown Marquette bike shops that keep the locals geared up and riding the latest versions from national brands with expert mechanics servicing them.

By the early 1900s, there were organized clubs formed in all the major cities, Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming. Club members had social events and also challenged each other to competitions seeing who could ride the most miles as measured by a cyclometer. Three men from Gladstone rode to Marquette, 70 miles, in 11.5 hours and a man rode from Republic to Marquette in 15 hours. Today there are smart phone apps that compare to the cyclometer. A popular choice is called Strava. A cyclist can claim a KOM/QOM, King/Queen of the Mountain, by being the fastest on a designated trail or section of trail. Photos of people with their bike are linked with nearly every article written. There are riders today that will stay in a crash position to “pose” for that perfect photo opportunity to post on social media.

Speeding ordnances were put in place to slow down the “scorchers” and protect pedestrians and slower riders. Shortly after the summer of 1895, special bike paths were constructed for better and easier riding to beautiful places like Presque Isle. Today we have the smooth, paved Holly Greer bike path. Events were organized, social and competitive. Photographs of cyclists at these events, and photos of race winners had locals in various dress. Early stories noted women changing their full skirts and foundation garments to bloomers. And an article in The Mining Journal dated June of 1983 quoted a Marquette General Hospital ER nurse who only suggested bikers should consider using bicycle helmets as a precautionary measure against head injury. No longer is a helmet suggested, it is a required piece of equipment.

One bicycle event happening in the late ’60s that seemed to have the community’s interest was a bike-a-thon or bike marathon competition. Several groups of boys and girls in their pre-teen and early teenage years wanted to break the world record of hours spent on a moving bicycle. The record to beat was 250 hours. This story was followed and updates were written almost daily on the progress. A group of boys, the High Fliers, made their home base at a grandparent’s house on Albert Street, broke the record with 423 hours and 20 minutes. A group of all girls, the Challengers, reached 364 hours, a record in the female category. It seems skunks, hitting telephone poles, slippery railroad tracks and falling asleep on the ride were the cause to falling short of the record or ending chances to add to new record totals.

Boys popping wheelies in 1978 are shown. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

As early journalists noted, the bicycle is here to stay. It will be interesting to see what the next century holds.

A man with his bicycle on the beach is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)