In '50s, bicycle commuters were rare

So many people commute on bicycles that it is hard to remember what a revolutionary idea that was a half-century ago.

But here’s evidence: When a wire service reporter happened to see Richard Frisbie (father of this writer) riding his bike to the Arlington Heights, Ill., train station in 1955, the reporter was so amazed that he wrote a report that went out on the national wire.

Newspapers as far away as Arizona (and maybe farther, but there is no easily accessible record now) ran the story and accompanying photograph.

A photograph that amazed the readers of the 1950s: a man actually commuting on a bicycle.

Here’s what United Press correspondent Alfred Leech wrote:

“With a fine disregard for suburban mores and customs, he [Richard Frisbie] rides a bike from his house to the railroad station, padlocking it to a telephone pole.

“This solves the parking problem and lets his wife have the car while he’s at work.”

Only in the 1950s did people need to be told that.

Because it was the mid-20th century, Leech pitched the article toward car lovers, pointing out that commuting by bicycle was a fine way to save money for a second car, an idea reflected in the headline one newspaper wrote: “Will Power, Steady Income And A Bicycle.”

Compare that to the recent observation by Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, that he had seen 250 bicycles parked at just one train station – the Naperville Metra stop. Or look at many of Chicago’s arterial streets during rush hour as numerous cyclists accompany motorists on their way to and from work.

As for Richard Frisbie’s bicycling career, I can report you can still spot him on nice weekends pedaling away on local bike paths.

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