Modern Roads Were Made for Bicycles, Not Cars

Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons

Drivers should be thanking 19th century cyclists.

Drivers may act like they own the roads today. But paved roads were around before automobiles. Believe it or not, cyclists are to thank for the modern roads we have today.

Back in the early 19th century, many roads were cobbled or unsurfaced. When railroads started covering the U.S. and U.K. in the 1840s, the coaching trade started dying. Roads fell into disrepair; it started to look like they were a thing of the past. That is, until someone figured out how to make two wheels and a human go real fast without horses or coal.

People started riding bikes in Victorian times, back when cars were a twinkle in sci-fi writers' eyes. And bicycle owners and bike manufacturers wanted nice roads. So large cycling organizations including the U.S.'s League of American Wheelmen and the U.K's Cyclists' Touring Club lobbied politicians for better roads and repairs.

In 1898, the League of American Wheelmen had over 100,000 members, including John D. Rockefeller and the Wright Brothers. The organization is still around; now it's called the League of American Bicyclists.

"The League of American Wheelmen is credited with getting paved roads in this country before the reign of the automobile," says the League of American Bicyclists website.

In addition to campaigning, the cycling organization published pamphlets teaching cities how to improve their roads. Thanks to these efforts, cities ran asphalt trials, county surveyors allocated funds, and roads began to improve.

victorian woman riding bicycle

© Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As we all know, automobiles took over by the mid 20th century. They were the big guys on the block, and they made the roads theirs. Now, cyclists have to daintily ride around cars, strangers in the neighborhood they built.

But perhaps the era of the automobile is coming to an end. Driving a car may have been great a hundred years ago, when cities weren't so crowded and cars were few and far between. But now that cities are huge and so many people own cars, city traffic is a pain. In many cities, biking is faster than driving, not to mention the obvious massive impact cars have on the environment.

So next time a driver complains about cyclists, tell them they should be grateful.