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Founding of the Launceston Bicycle Club

Launceston was in the midst of a cycling craze 140 years ago when the town’s first bicycle club was formed and started organising night rides into the country.

The Launceston Examiner reported that “after a little discussion” a meeting held on Monday, February 26, 1883, at the residence of Mr A. Wallace it was decided to form a club to be called the Launceston Bicycle Club.

They adopted the Melbourne Bicycle Club rules and that club’s uniform of grey nicker-bockers and coat with dark blue stockings and cap with silver badge.

Notices in Launceston newspapers invited riders wishing to become members to meet at the Mechanic’s Institute, in Cameron Street, on Wednesdays at 2.15pm.

After a night ride on Wednesday, August 14, the Daily Telegraph’s cycling writer “Coventry” said a party of nine cyclists, and several non-members, departed the Mechanics' Institute at 7.30pm under the leadership of Mr A. Hart for a run to Perth, a distance of 11 miles.

“The party looked very pretty as they wheeled away for their destination, their little red and green lamps and bright steeds showing up to advantage.”

The riders arrived at Perth at about 9.30pm and after a few minutes rest and a little refreshment headed for home, arriving in town at 11 p.m., “thus ending one of, if not the best country trips this season.”

In September the Daily Telegraph said that overseas the cycling craze had even extended to women riders with the Canadian cyclist Louise Armando winning the gruelling Chicago 72-hour race in America.

After the Launceston Cricket Club gave permission for the construction of a track around the cricket ground the Launceston Bicycle Club announced on October 19 that it would hold its first race meeting on the afternoon of the Prince of Wales birthday holiday (Friday, November 9, 1883).

As well as races over one, three and five miles there were three novelty races: a “race without hands” over half a mile and a “slow race” over 100 yards.

The Examiner on Saturday, November 10, said the first race meeting of the Launceston Bicycle Club was very successful with competitors from as far afield as Hobart.

Between 1,200 to 1,500 spectators watched the racing with the main events won by Launceston Bicycle Club members Herbert Cato and W. Cox, “the former mounting after a fall in the three miles handicap, and winning a good race.”

The general verdict was that the track was very bumpy.

As more women took up cycling Launceston draper Edward Dease, of the Golden Fleece store in Brisbane Street, advertised a cycling skirt that “combined comfort with safety and that gave a graceful appearance on or off the bike.”

Advertisements in the Examiner in 1896 said the cycling skirt wouldn’t get fouled in the spokes and could be made to order on a day's notice, “every lady cyclist should have one.”

The Launceston Bicycle Club flourished under various names up to World War II and organised many longer road events, including the Launceston to Hobart bicycle race.

Images -- TOP: A racing cyclist c1900. Image courtesy of QVMAG (QVM 2012 P0135). MIDDLE: Female members of the Church Street Cycling Club, Launceston, Tasmania, 1904. Image courtesy of QVMAG (QVM 1991 P1879). BOTTOM: Competitors in the Launceston Cycling Club’s 50-mile race, from W. J. Neeson’s Racecourse Hotel at Mowbray to Lefroy and return, on Saturday, September 26, 1914. Image from the Weekly Courier of October 1, 1914.

Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in The Sunday Examiner, on 31 December 2023.

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