1886: The Launch of a Formidable Bicycle Club in the Garden State

March 11, 1886

A bicycle club known as the Atalanta Wheelmen was launched in the city of Newark, New Jersey, with a total of 10 charter members. The organizational meeting for the new club took place at the home of Arthur W. Snow.

“After much palaver a club was formed, but, as is usually the case, the debate over an appropriate name for the organization was long and heated,” recounted longtime member William V. Belknap in a New York Times interview eight years later.  Belknap said that what ultimately happened was that “a member was consulted who was well versed in mythological lore and his proposal of assuming the name of that fleet-footed goddess Atalanta, who could outrun all the young men of the time, met with enthusiastic and hilarious approval.” 

With its name as well as constitution and officers in place that evening, the Atalanta Wheelmen soon became a force to be reckoned with in the bicycling community in New Jersey and neighboring states. The number of members quadrupled within two years and, by the time a three-story brownstone house in Newark was purchased in 1891 to serve as the club’s headquarters, the membership had jumped to approximately 130. 

During this period, the Atalanta Wheelmen became increasingly involved in local rides and races. One of those races is depicted in the above image that was published in an 1893 issue of the Wheel and Cycling Trade Review. On the right side of this image, a spectator is perched up high on a telegraph pole as he cheers on competing cyclists on the road below.

The Atalanta Wheelmen gained further recognition by organizing two major regional bicycling competitions — a 100-mile (160.9-kilometer), round-trip Newark-to-Princeton race in 1893; and a 150-mile (241.4-kilometer) relay race between New York City and Philadelphia the following year. “The Atalanta Wheelmen were the elite in bicycle road riding circles in the latter part of the last century, when riding was at its height,” proclaimed the Newark Evening News in 1926 in an article commemorating the club’s 40th anniversary.  

Image Credit: Public Domain

Additional information on the establishment of the Atalanta Wheelmen is available at The Cycle – 2 April 1886

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