Early days of cycling in Melbourne

Early days of cycling in Melbourne
Jeff Atkinson

In the 1890s, the riding of bicycles became a popular activity for Melbournians. Unlike the earlier and rather dangerous high-wheeled “penny farthing” bikes, the newly introduced “safety bicycles” with their pneumatic rubber tyres and chain drives could be ridden by almost anyone.

They were widely adopted by a broad cross-section of Melbourne society as an effective and efficient mode of self-propelled transport. Even the Governor of Victoria, Lord Brassey, and his wife were keen cyclists and could sometimes be seen cycling along St Kilda Rd.

There were around Melbourne a number of bicycle touring clubs that organised outings into the countryside for their bicycle-riding members. Out of this grew the sport of cycle racing, which took place either around a circular track or over long distances on roads.

One of the earliest and most successful of the racing clubs was the Carlton Cycling Club, which began in the 1890s. It organised regular races for its members, usually out in the countryside at Campbellfield, and fielded teams in competitions with other clubs.

In June 1896, for example, a club race was organised that started on the corner of Elgin and Lygon streets, Carlton, went out to the eleventh mile post on the Bulla Rd, and back to Queens College in Carlton. According to a newspaper report at the time, “Great interest was taken in the race, some 300 or 400 people witnessing the start”. Cycle racing was, at this time, a popular spectator sport, even more popular than football.

It is not clear where in Carlton the cyclists had their club rooms, but wherever they were, they were well equipped and offered members a wide range of sporting and social activities. A 1909 newspaper report noted that in the club rooms: “the punching ball, home trainers, and other athletic appliances are in great demand”, and that “the new hot and cold showers have proved to be a great boon to the pedal pushers”.

In the 1890s many of the cycle clubs had a Cycle Polo team. This was a game similar to the horse mounted one but played on bicycles. An 1899 article in the Ballarat Star noted that the Carlton Cycling Club’s polo team, “reputed to be one of the best teams now playing for the metropolitan premiership”, was coming up to Ballarat to play a local team.

When Lady Brassey, wife of the Governor of Victoria, died it was noted in her obituary that one of her hobbies was playing cycle polo on the lawns of Government House. 


Photo: State Library of Victoria.

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