In the 1890’s, bicycles were more than a hot commodity, but also an obsession– nationally and in ad 1896

A contentious, relevant topic of the era was “Sidewalk Riding.” A May 1896 article lead with: “West Indianapolis bicyclists are rebelling against the strict enforcement  of the law against riding on the sidewalk. They say that the air will be the only place left for them to ride in soon.”

Evidently, navigating horse-drawn wagons, carriages, and street cars on the streets of our city held too many obstacles for bicyclists, so they would ride on the sidewalks. And though that was illegal, offenders weren’t exactly carted off to jail.

“Attorney Stevenson is of the opinion that if bicyclists meet with accident on the over-sprinkled streets, they will have a case for damages against a property owns, the suburb, or both. The suburban bicyclists point to the liberalness of the Indianapolis authorities, who have made no law against riding on the sidewalks, and do not attempt to enforce the State law dealing with the same.”


Bicyclists in 1894; Courtesy Bertie Mynes Sappenfield

Our problems are very similar today: if not the Cultural Trail, Monon Trail, or other greenway, some of our streets are particularly challenging to navigate. Take Delaware Street for example: the street is practically the second speedway of Indianapolis. Especially through Old Northside, the average car speed is high and yet the sidewalks are wide. It doesn’t seem like much of a choice: risk life and limb or risk ticking someone off for using the sidewalk. Self-preservation trumps the rules.

Do you ever bike on sidewalks? Where? And if you stick to the streets, what are your favorite routes?