The invention of the inflatable bicycle tire and the switch from "high-wheel" (the bike with the enormous front wheel) to the modern "safety bicycle" sparked a cycling boom in the 1890s. Frank Lenz, a young Pittsburgher swept up in the excitement of it all, decided that he would circumnavigate the globe by bicycle; he would not be the first to do this (Thomas Stevens had beaten him to it), but Lenz would be the first to bring along the new, lightweight Kodak camera (about twenty pounds) to document the journey. He set out westward in 1892, crossing an America that was still dirt-road at best, finding Portland, Oregon, to be bicycle-mad even then and reaching Asia by ship, while his regular dispatches in Outing magazine dazzled his fellow Americans. And then he disappeared in the Ottoman Empire, throwing his American audience into a panic that lasted for more than a year. David Herlihy retells the tale of Frank Lenz, as well as the dogged search for his body conducted by fellow cyclist William Sachtleben (a native of Alton, Illinois, by the by), in his book The Lost Cyclist. Herlihy visits Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue; 314-367-6731 or www.left-bank.com) at 7 p.m. this evening to discuss his book and the earliest glory days of cycling. Admission is free.
Thu., Sept. 23, 2010