The year was 1893 and the Denver Wheel Club, a burgeoning association of cyclists, travelled to Asbury Park, New Jersey, for the national meeting of the League of American Wheelmen. It would be at this convention that the passionate group of pedaling Denverites would lobby and win the right to bring the national cycling scene to Denver for the first time.
“Who are we?
We are the
Denver Wheel Club!”
While you may be familiar with Denver’s modern massive bicycle cruises, you might not know that this town has a long history of such congregation.
The late 19th Century saw the evolution of bikes from awkward velocipedes to configurations that more closely resemble what we ride today. The effects of that streamlining resulted in a hobbyist boon that overtook the nation. Bicycle clubs began to crop up in places like New York and Boston and, eventually, Denver.
The Denver Wheel Club, known first as the Denver Ramblers, operated out of a clubhouse on Evans Avenue that is now a Walgreens parking lot near DU. At one point, says a newspaper clipping in the Wheel Club’s scrapbook, the group boasted over 600 members.
The wheelmen and women were known for their ambitious rides. Some clippings refer to jaunts from Denver to Pueblo and Denver to Cincinnati. In 1891, says one account, the group ascended Pikes Peak for the first time.
They were known not only for their athleticism but also for their impeccable style. Preparing for a trip to Boston, said a newspaper of the day, the Wheelers had prepared “a uniform costume, symbolical of the west, ” the main feature consisting of “an immense sombrero.”
They were known for “monthly hops and receptions at the club house” and even boasted a bike club football team.
According to one newspaper clipping, the club was “steadily growing to be the largest and most influential bicycle club of the West.”
And in 1893 they headed east to Asbury Park in hopes of bringing the national meet to town.
The Denver delegates arrived in New Jersey ready to persuade. “Stretched clear across the stage,” said one account, “was Denver’s big, boasting banner, the sixty-foot bottom from the car — ‘L.A.W. ’94 Meet at Denver!’ It brought down the house.”
At the end of the Asbury Park convention, wheelmen from across the country voted 93 to 70 in favor of Denver.
The city rejoiced upon the team’s return to Denver, arriving by train to Union Station.
“The union depot was packed with admirers,” said one clipping, “who fairly raised the roof with their cheers and who could hardly give Mayor Van Horn time to make a brief address of welcome.”
A marching band, waiting for the riders, led the mass of people through Denver’s downtown streets with joy.
“By all odds it is the greatest thing for Denver since the Knights Templar conclave of 1892,” said another clipping. “The most conservative estimates place the number of cyclists that will come to Denver in August at not less than 15,000, and more than likely nearer 20,000.”
By the early 1900s the Wheel Club had dissolved. Though they left little more than two leather-bound scrapbooks behind, the rambling riders began a cycling tradition that persists to this day.
Big thanks to Denver Public Library Senior Archivist/Librarian Abby Hoverstock for telling me about this scrapbook.