This Week in New England History: The League of American Wheelmen


By Carla Charter

NEWPORT, R.I.-Newport has a long history of bicycle advocacy stretching back to this week in 1880 when the League of American Wheelmen was founded there by Kirk Munroe and Charles Pratt.  Along with planning rides together, the Wheelmen’s advocacy efforts included gathering signatures for a petition to be sent to Congress asking for roads to be paved for bikes. “Roads were first paved for bikes not for cars,” said Bari Freeman, Executive Director of Bike Newport. A monument to this first meeting stands today at Touro Park. By 1898 the league had 100,000 cyclists, including such well known people as the Wright Brothers, Diamond Jim Brady, John Jacob Astor and John D. Rockefeller. This league was the predecessor to the current League of American Bicyclists.

These days the city is still building on its bike friendly roots with Bike Newport which was formed in 2011. The group concentrates on three specific areas, education. infrastructure and ridership.    Bike Newport runs a community bike project where they collect bikes, restore them and get them to people who want them. “We probably give away 300 to 400 bikes a year. We loan bikes to our summer employees and give bikes away for the summer season. We have a huge influx of tourists during the summer.”

Bike Newport also operates a Bike Library Center located in a limited income neighborhood. “We open it after school, on the weekends and during the summer. Kids come and borrow bikes to ride, said Freeman.

She continued that this program is currently in the midst of expansion.  “We just secured a significant amount through grant funding to purchase two newer 40 foot containers to paint. We are calling them the Big Blue Bike Barn. The housing authority gave us land adjacent to Miantonomi ark. There are bike trails throughout park. We are excited to give kids a safe place to ride and learn and have adventures.”

Bike Newport also operates ‘Park and Bike’ lots for both the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival, as well as creating signs to guide people to these venues.  The last Newport Folk Festival attracted 10,000 visitors a day and the group parked 1,400 bikes on  each of these days, according to Freeman.

Bike Newport also coordinates group rides Recently they held a Full Moon by the Ocean at Night ride. “Biking is better for the environment, for the economy and better for our health and happiness,” Freeman said.

More information on the Bike Newport can be found at www.bikenewportri.org.  More information on the League of American Bicyclists can be found at www.Bikeleague.org.  More information on the Newport Jazz Festival can be found at  www.newportjazz.org. More information on the Newport Folk Festival can be found at www.newportfolk.org.