Riding a Wheel

Whether riding for pleasure, transportation, or racing, bicycling has long been a part of the fabric of Los Angeles.  Before cars, bicycles were a great advance over horses.  If the good roads movement ("Caminos Buenos" as an advocate signed a  1889 letter to the LA Times supporting building National Boulevard) was not exclusively for bicycles, it was catalyzed by wheelmen's desire for better roads.  At the end of the Nineteenth Century, in the heyday of what historian Luthor Ingersoll called "cycle fever," it seemed that everybody was "riding a wheel."  

​"During the rage of the cycling fever the annual road race on July Fourth was the leading event of the year to bicycle racers.  On those days Santa Monica was crowded with dusty, sweating, red-faced youths, in the most abbreviated of clothes and with the most enthusiastic of yells, greeting each man as he pedaled into view.  A bicycle path to Los Angeles was constructed , bicycle clubs and a club house flourished, and the Southern Pacific spent thousands of dollars on a bicycle race track and grand stand which was probably the poorest investment that the S. P. railway ever made, for almost before it was completed the bicycle craze died out as suddenly and as completely as the various spells of roller skating, which sweep over the country and vanish into space.  The Athletic Park, as it was christened, was used for several years for ball games and sports of various kinds, but it has now become a thing of the past.”  (Luthor Ingersoll, Century History, Santa Monica Bay Cities (1908) pp. 307-308.)
This circa 1895 group photo was published in an April 25, 1934, Herald article with this caption:  "These members of the Los Angeles Wheelmen won fame as bicycle racers in the 'gay nineties.'  Standing, left to right, Tom McAller, who was registrar of voters; Walter Tyler, realty man; Philip Kitchen, banker.  Foreground, left to right, Billy Jenkins, rancher, and Emil Ulbrecht [sic].  Jenkins is the only survivor.  Ulbrecht was killed by a shark in Hawaii 20 years ago. The photo belongs to Tracy Q. Hall, banker, who was one of the wheelmen."  Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library's Herald-Examiner Collection.  
In 1924, racers from those halcyon days began to have reunions as the Wheelmen of the Past Century.    The elder wheelmen met until at least 1953, when famed auto racing champion Ralph De Palma  (1882-1956), Los Angeles auto pioneer Ralph Hamlin  (1880-1974), and USC coach Dean Cromwell (1879-1962) were pictured with  Eugene W. Biscailuz  (1883-1969), who had organized the California Highway Patrol and later became the 27th Sheriff of Los Angeles County (1932-1958).  (Photo courtesy of USC Libraries; left to right:  Ralph de Palma, Ralph Hamlin, Frank Pearne, Floyd Clymer, Dean Cromwell, Earl Le Moyne, Sheriff Eugene W. Biscailuz.)  Though Ralph Hamlin earned his fame racing and selling cars, the LA Times obituary reportered, " his fondest accomplishment, he once told an interviewer, was winning a 1900 bicycle race from East Los Angeles to Corona and back.  He covered the route in 6 hours and 11 minutes ."  Indeed, the April 30, 1900, LA Herald reported, " The sixth annual century run of the East Side Cycling club was made yesterday.  Ralph Hamlin won by a quarter of a minute over B. A. Holmes. Hamlin's time was 6 hours and 11 minutes.  This lowers the former record by 36 minutes. "
​​Though he had not raced in the Nineteenth Century, 1915's national amateur cycling champion, Hans Ohrt (1895-1960), attended  (at least) the  1934 and 1948  Wheelmen of the Past Century reunions.  As shown in the picture below, Ohrt and 1946 national amateur champion Don Hester – along with artist Norman Rockwell ​– were feted at the 1948 affair.  
Hans Ohrt represented bicycling in Los Angeles in the mid-Twentieth Century.  He served as a member of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games cycling committee.  He opened Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles at the corner of Little Santa Monica and Camden Drive in Beverly Hills in 1937.  ( LA Times 12/30/76 .)   The Los Angeles Times covered him in the society page and quoted him often on sports.  
His nephew, Leonard Hearst, took over the business in 1950, and the shop moved to 1071 Gayley Avenue in Westwood to begin 1977.  Helen's Cycles  ( est'd 1936 ) took over the location around 1984.
Hans Ohrt represented bicycling in Los Angeles in the mid-Twentieth Century.  He served as a member of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games cycling committee.  He opened Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles at the corner of Little Santa Monica and Camden Drive in Beverly Hills in 1937.  ( LA Times 12/30/76 .)   The Los Angeles Times covered him in the society page and quoted him often on sports.  
His nephew, Leonard Hearst, took over the business in 1950, and the shop moved to 1071 Gayley Avenue in Westwood to begin 1977.  Helen's Cycles  ( est'd 1936 ) took over the location around 1984. 

Both the Ohrt and Helen's shops sponsored a now-prominent cycling club, Velo Club La Grange , founded by French  Raymond Fouquet in 1969.  Fouquet's friend (and fellow French émigré) Alex Baum, played a prominent role in cycling in Los Angeles in the Twentieth Century.  "As part of the local organizing committee for the 1984 Olympics, Baum helped establish the Games' first women's bike racing events.  They have since become a regular feature at the Summer Olympics.  He also became a board member of the U.S. Cycling Federation – now known as USA Cycling, and was the first American appointed to the board of the Union Cycliste Internationale, a governing body for bicycling based in Aigle, Switzerland."  ( LA Times 3/3/15 .)
Glossary​​​
Bicyclists were wheelmen.
Speedy or reckless riders were scorchers.

Machine was a bicycle.
Wheel  often meant a bicycle (the illustration at the top was entitled "Riding a Wheel for Pleasure").
Bicycle races used handicaps, with slower riders starting minutes earlier and scratch riders starting last.  
The rider with the largest handicap was the limit man.