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'Iron Pony' High-Tailed It Out of Utah
Will Bagley
Published: 10/21/2001 Edition: Final Section: Utah Page: B1

When Comte Mede de Sivrac began wheeling his celerifere around Paris in 1791, he had no idea of the contribution he would make to the economy of Utah. De Sivrac's "wooden horse" was the earliest prototype of the modern bicycle. German Baron Karl von Drais added a steerable front wheel in 1817. Two years later, Englishman W.K. Clarkson patented what many consider the first true bicycle, but it was foot-propelled a la Fred Flintstone. Pedals were added about 1839 in Scotland.

The 1865 wooden velocipede (the "boneshaker") applied pedals directly to the front wheel. This led to the design of "high-wheelers," since the larger the front tire, the faster the bike could go. The high-wheeler's high perch and propensity to be flung off the contraption inspired the phrase "taking a header."

In 1866, James Carrol and Pierre Lallement took out the first U.S. bicycle patent. The Terrot Levocyclette, the earliest manufactured bicycle with ten speeds, appeared about 1905. By 1870, the entire world was bike crazy. The modern mountain bike evolved from a balloon-tire Schwinn Excelsior in the 1970s in California to handle the trails of Mount Tamalpais. The mountain bike soon found its natural habitat in the hills surrounding Moab. Now, as the old song goes, Lord, how the money rolls in.

It is hard to pinpoint when the first bicycle arrived in Utah Territory. We know that in 1884, Thomas Stevenson his way from San Francisco to Boston, passed through aboard a nickel-plated Columbia High-Wheeler with a fifty-inch front wheel. The Kansas-born Stevens crossed the deserts of Nevada using wagon roads and followed the transcontinental railroad line into northern Utah, walking about a third of the way. Persistence brought him around the northern Great Salt Lake and, as historian Lyndia Carter noted, "into Mormon farming lands, a Garden of Eden with good meals and a pretty Mormon girl." After 104 days on the road, Stevens arrived in Boston to a hero's welcome. He set out to circle the globe in 1885, crossing France, Germany, Asia Minor, India, China and Japan. After a 13,500-mile trip that lasted two years, eight months and twelve days, Stevens arrived back in San Francisco on January 4, 1887.

The Ute Indians got their first look at a bicycle about 1892 when a maniac from New York set out to beat Stevens' record and got lost at White Rocks Agency in Utah's Uinta Valley. The high-wheeling adventurer stumbled into a sacred dance attended by about 200 Utes. Special Indian Agent E.E. White recalled that the young man "had never seen an Indian, and they had never even heard of a bicycle." The Utes were amazed. The bicyclist "was absolutely terror stricken."

About thirty or forty mounted Utes followed him to the agency, where the rider had to be sedated. The next morning, tribal leaders arrived at the agency for a council. They told White they wanted the man with the iron pony to depart immediately. The curious agent asked, "Why?"

"We never saw a pony like that before," said the Utes, "and we will not run our ponies against it." The Indians were convinced the contraption was part of a devious scheme to cheat them out of their beloved horses. Given their experience over the previous half century, they had reason to be suspicious. The iron pony was gone in twenty minutes.
_________

Historian Will Bagley took a ten-speed Schwinn Varsity from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Santa Cruz, California, in 1970. He didn't get on another bike for twenty years.

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