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 meant 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 Boulevard and Camden Drive in Beverly Hills in 1937. ( LA Times 12/30/76 .) 
The plaque that hung over the outside main entrance at Hans Ohrt's Beverly Hills shop:   "MY NOTION IS THAT MANKIND WOULD BE BETTER MORTALS IF THEY ALL RODE BICYCLES."  It is now displayed in the Helen's Cycles  Santa Monica store.
Hans Ohrt with his wife Ida in front of Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles
In the above obituary, American Bicyclist and Motorcyclist Magazine recounted of Ohrt that "motion picture stars he tutored in cycling were Clark Gable , Tyrone Power , Robert Taylor , Bob Hope , Jerry Colonna Rita Hayworth , Linda Darnell , Zachary Scott , Loretta Young and Greer Carson ."  The Los Angeles Times covered Hans Ohrt in the society page and quoted him often on sports. 

Ohrt's nephew, Leonard Hearst , an avid cyclist himself, took over the business in 1950, owning and managing Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles stores in Beverly Hills, Westwood and Los Angeles until 1984.  The Westwood shop opened  at 1071 Gayley Avenue in 1977.  Helen's Cycles ( est'd 1936 ) took over the Westwood location on Hearst's retirement.
Both the Ohrt and Helen's shops sponsored a now-prominent cycling club, Velo Club La Grange , founded in 1969 by Frenchman  Raymond Fouquet  (1920-2013).  Fouquet is memorialized by Raymond Fouquet Square  at Westwood Boulevard and La Grange Avenue.  Every Sunday, Raymond Fouquet Square is the starting point of the " Nichols Canyon Ride ," which Fouquet started to and from his nearby  La Grange Restaurantrestaurant in 1969.​​
Raymond Fouquet's friend (and fellow French émigré) Alex Baum (1922-2015) 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 .)  Baum also championed (among other projects) the Los Angeles River bike path.  His advocacy was recognized with the 2002 Alex Baum Bicycle Bridge across Los Feliz Boulevard, rededicated to him in 2012 .  (Alex Baum 1922-2015 – Los Angeles City’s Stalwart Bicycling Advocate Streetsblog LA 3/2/15 .)
Since this is a Palms/Cheviot Hills-centric site, it's worth noting that one of the oldest bike shops in Los Angeles (maybe the oldest) currently operates as The Bike Shop California  in Palms, which, incidentally, is the Birthplace of BMX .   In about 1930, the Bobier Family moved its Culver City bike sales operation to Bobier’s Bike Shop (3550 Motor Avenue) selling Schwinns there in the 1950s .  (At some point, it began operating as Palms Cycle.)   Cap Rancier’s family bought the bicycle operation in 1964 and ran it through 2018.
Glossary​​​
 Machine = bicycle
Wheel  = bicycle (the illustration at the top was entitled "Riding a Wheel for Pleasure")
Wheelman = bicyclist
Scorcher = speedy or reckless bicyclist
Scratch rider = a bicyclist without a handicap, i.e., an earlier start in a race.  (Slower riders started minutes earlier so they had a chance to finish at the same time as the scratch riders.)
Limit man = bicyclist with the biggest handicap