Bicycles and Broken Legs

I would love to say that while I was writing BIRTH OF THE BICYCLE (Candlewick, 2024), I was taking inspiration from an old-fashioned set of wheels, pedaling around town with a sense of self-powered freedom. . . It’s a fun picture, but that’s not at all how it happened.

In August of 2018, I fell down a hill. It was an extremely small hill, but the path was covered in gravel, and my foot slipped. My left leg twisted in a strange way, and crack — it was broken. Suddenly, I was stuck at home packed in ice cubes. After two weeks of feeling (let’s face it) a little sorry for myself, I decided I needed a project — a research project — something for my brain to do besides wait and worry.

Fortunately, from my spot on the sofa, I happened to watch a documentary about the 1800s that included a quick photo of a lakefront parkway filled with old-timey bicycles and riders. The narrator briefly mentioned “the 1890s Bicycle Craze,” then moved on to other things — things I don’t remember at all because I was busy thinking: How have I never heard about the bicycle craze?!

In a flash, I knew exactly what to do with the rest of 2018. And thank goodness, because for much of it, I was still very much packed in ice cubes.

Though I set out to learn about the Bicycle Craze of the 1890s, I was quickly caught up in the 70 plus years of bicycle history leading up to the Craze. Wooden wheels, no pedals, pulleys and cranks, solid iron tires, high wheels and three wheels . . . each new invention was a step toward a more functional, fast moving bike. At last, bicycling bloomer girls filled the turn-of-the-century streets. Soon they filled my psyche too.

In fact, bicycles and bloomer girls helped me heal my worried mind and perhaps my injured leg. And so in this one way, breaking my leg turned into something good. I will try very hard to never break my leg (or anything else) again, but I will also try to make lemonade out of life’s lemons . . . because life (at least mine) is full of lemons.

So deep breath and on to the next story.

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