On February 11, 1878, the Boston Bicycle Club, the first organization for recreational cyclists, is formed. The following year, a club is formed in Buffalo, followed by a club in New York in 1880. In the ensuing decades, as middle-class participation in cycling grows, hundreds of cycling clubs are formed across the United States.
The Boston Bicycle Club organized various rides, from tricycle races to 100-mile rides. Less than 20 years after its founding, more than 100 cycling clubs had formed in Massachusetts, according to the Massachusetts Historical Society, catering to rider expertise, gender, nationality and more. Early bicycles featured an oversized front wheel.
In October 1879, Boston Bicycle Club members rode through the city and its suburbs in an event with the Massachusetts Cycling Club—an 87-mile round trip. For short distances, cyclists achieved speeds of 16 mph, according to the Boston Post.
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“Coming through Watertown a gentleman driving a spirited horse engaged in a race with the riders and was beaten by Terront, the French rider, in about three-quarters of a mile,” the Post reported.
In 1896, The Boston Globe highlighted the work of the first club: “The name and fame of the Boston Bicycle Club has gone all over this fair land, and is spreading to foreign shores, whither some ot its members have carried it.”
Early U.S. bicycling clubs advocated for better roads for cyclists and often became a hub for social events. With the rise of automobiles early in the 20th century, the popularity of recreational cycling waned.
In 2020, interest in recreational cycling boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many cyclng shops in the United States reported shortages of bikes, according to Bicycle.com.