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Introduced to South Australia in the early 1860s, bicycle design followed North American and European styles. Velocipedes or ‘boneshakers’, with two wooden wheels, iron frames, and pedals on the front wheel, were used for transport and sport by young men. Bicycles were both imported and locally made by such firms as F. Moeller and Duncan Fraser. By 1874 bicycles were sufficiently popular for them to be banned from footpaths.

The ordinary, high wheeler or ‘penny-farthing’, with solid rubber tyres and a large front wheel to provide a higher gear, reached South Australia in the late 1870s. Penny-farthing riders formed racing and recreational clubs, members wearing military-like uniforms. By 1888 Adelaide had four clubs, including the South Australian Bicycle Club and the Norwood Cycling Club.

The advent of the safety bicycle, with smaller wheels and pneumatic tyres, made cycling popular, and also feasible for women. From 1896 to 1899 the SA Cyclist promoted the health benefits of cycling, noting the freedom that cycling gave to women, who now enjoyed their own clubs.

Workers prized bicycles during the Great Depression and the 1940s. Bicycle paths, closed in the 1960s, were built along Port Road and Anzac Highway. Adelaide bicycle manufacturers such as Super Elliotts and Lewis Brothers supported racing events and used prominent cyclists, among them Dean Toseland, to promote their products. Well-known cyclist Bert Standish also turned to making bicycles. The widespread acceptance of the car in the 1950s largely relegated bicycles to children. But in the 1970s the ten-speed bicycle with drop handlebars was the focus of a revival in popularity. Mountain bikes were introduced during the 1990s.

In the early 1980s the state government established the State Bicycle Committee, superseded in 1999 by the State Bicycle Council, to further cycling interests. With its flat terrain and relatively uncongested traffic, Adelaide remains an ideal place to cycle.

By Dieuwke Jessop

This entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian history edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly. Uploaded 10 June 2015.

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Images
Image: man in a top hat and suit riding a velocipede with wooden wheels
Image: group of male cyclists on bicycles at Mount Gambier
Image: three cyclists in hats pose with their bicycles
Image: two girls standing outside with their new bicycles
Image: a woman sitting astride a bicycle, with two younger women alongside
Image: a woman standing beside a bicycle at the side of a stone building

Penny-farthings

Images
Image: a studio group of five members of the South Australia Bicycle Club with penny farthing bicycles; they are wearing the club uniform with helmet hats, one carries a small bugle on a shoulder belt.
Image: young cyclist holding onto the handlebar of his penny-farthing bicycle
Image: 17 year old South Australian champion cyclist, W. Tregonning, on his penny-farthing bicycle
Image: man in a top hat and suit seated on a penny-farthing bicycle

Racing

Images
Image: cycle racing at Adelaide Oval. Two men on bicycles vie for the lead on a tarmac track.
Image: cyclist wearing a cap and the number five on his forearm prepares for a race
Image: three women on bicycles about to begin a race. Men hold the bicycles steady.
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