Now and Then: New Orleans’ Cycling Past and Present

I’ve been talking to a lot of folks in the cycling community in the past few weeks about the connection between the earliest cyclists and cycling clubs of New Orleans and the present day. Here is an article I wrote a few years ago that speaks to that.

“Out in the Street: The Cycling Community Gains Ground in New Orleans” in Urban Velo by Lacar Musgrove.

Image: Lady Robin

 

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Ritchie Betts: Founder of LCC and Father of American Motorcycling

Ritchie Betts

Louisiana Cycling Club Spokes Scrapbook, accession 98-62-L,Williams Research Center, The Historic New Orleans Collection

R.G. “Ritchie” Betts, the first president of the Federation of American Motorcyclists, got his start as a bicycle activist in New Orleans. In 1887, the 17-year-old founded the Louisiana Cycling Club. The LCC was the second major cycling club formed in New Orleans, the first being the New Orleans Bicycle Club, formed in 1881. Under the aegis of Betts, the LCC grew quickly into a lively organization that soon overshadowed the NOBC.

For the first years of the 1880s, bicycles were  unpopular with the public as a strange new machine that many found intrusive and even dangerous on the streets, which were otherwise dominated by pedestrians and merchant carts. Betts and the LCC worked to convince the public of the utility of the bicycle as legitimate private transportation (as well as exercise and enjoyment), to advocate for the rights of cyclists to public roads, and to encourage the city to improve the conditions of city streets. In the spring of 1887, with Betts as Captain, the LCC joined forces with the NOBC to hold the first cycling track races in New Orleans at the Audubon Park Driving Track and the annual racing meet of the League of American Wheelmen’s Louisiana Division (the racing league to which most members of both clubs belonged) beginning that fall. The annual cycling league races at Audubon became one of the most popular spectator events in New Orleans.

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