Brooklyn bicycles: A look back at the bike mania that gripped the borough in the 1800s

Today’s Brooklyn bicycling boom isn’t the first time that the borough has caught two-wheeled fever.

Nearly 150 years ago, a curious new mode of personal transportation from France was introduced to New Yorkers with great fanfare by a famous acrobatic troupe known as the Hanlon brothers. This early version of the bicycle, known as the velocipede, would become a Brooklyn sensation.

The Hanlons even hired a Brooklyn company, the H.B. Witty Carriage Manufactury, to produce a modified version of the French velocipede by 1868. The brothers then toured the East Coast, showing off the bicycles, wowing audiences wherever they went and getting rave reviews in the press.

By the end of the year, “velocipede mania struck Manhattan in earnest,” wrote historian David V. Herlihy and then “quickly spread to nearby Brooklyn,” which was the country’s third largest city with a population of about 400,000.

Herlihy, the author of “Bicycle: The History,” is scheduled to give a talk on bicycling in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Historical Society, co-presented by the New York Cycle Club, on Tuesday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m. But if you can’t catch him in person or just want a preview, Herlihy has shared some highlights of the early history of bicycling in Brooklyn with amNewYork.

So sit back and enjoy this ride in celebration of #NationalBikeMonth.

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