Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have noticed a steady increase in the number of people cycling in my neighborhood. Cycling has always remained a popular hobby in the Richmond area, from cyclists enjoying leisurely rides to cyclists who viewed their ride as a sport. A newsletter from a local bike shop confirmed what I was noticing in my neighborhood as well as other regions in Virginia. Not only are people taking their bicycles out of their garage to re-discover bicycling, but bicycle shops are dealing with an increase in the purchase of bicycles. Many shops are selling out of bikes and turning away customers as well as staying fully booked for maintenance appointments. My curiosity led me to wonder if communities witnessed a similar increase in the popularity of bicycles during uncertain times such as the Flu Pandemic of 1918 and World Wars I and II.
Looking at newspapers published during the 1918 pandemic and both world wars, bicycle advertisements reflected a similar drive to get more people on bicycles and to meet the increase for demand. Whether it was for health reasons, rationing of resources that were needed for war, or as a leisurely hobby to escape the stresses during these events, bicycling was a way of surviving uncertain times.
In the summer of 1939, William Egelhoff of Richmond, Virginia, embarked on a bicycle trip across Europe with his friend, John Notman. Egelhoff and Notman traveled through England, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and France. Egelhoff documented his experiences during the trip in a travel journal in the months leading up to the beginning of war in Europe. The bicycle trip allowed Egelhoff and Notman to see the beginnings of war in small towns and connected the human experience of large events such as wars and pandemics.
Even though there may not be an opportunity for us to bicycle through Europe right now, there is an opportunity to document the experiences you have while riding a bicycle throughout your community during the COVID-19 pandemic.