I thought of that while riding my bike
-Albert Einstein, on the Theory of Relativity
The tightly knit pack of bikes are currently bounding through the town of Reims, the town where kings were crowned for over 1300 years; Le Tour de France is in full effect. Le Tour de France is one of the more exciting international markers of July, and provides us with a wonderful opportunity to explore the visual history of cycling through our original vintage posters.
The French love of bicycling traces back to its inception in 1806 by Baron von Drais. Though instantly accepted as a fun trend, the original forms of bicycles were very crude and uncomfortable to ride. It wasn’t until improvements in comfort were made in the 1890s that the bicycle became a unifying staple of French society. People of all ages, and (significantly) sexes were now able to participate in the same fun mode of transportation. The bicycle evolved to become comfortable enough for women to ride in their long skirts, and played a large role in the developing suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony went so far as to assert that, “the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.” The way women dressed was even changed; corsets and bustles were tossed aside to make way for faster bicycling. Evidence of one such trailblazer can be seen in our below original vintage poster from the era:
By the time Le Tour de France was devised, the French public was completely obsessed with all things vélo. Adding in a race that twisted and turned its way through the Pyrenees and Alps, ending in the Champs Elysees was just about all French cycling fans could take. Over 100 years later, fans still enthusiastically dot the 2,200 miles of French countryside and cities to watch the cyclists rip past.
A Short History of the Tour de France
This famous cycling race began in 1903, as a commercial promotion for a failing sports magazine, L’Auto. L'Auto was not the success its founders and investors dreamed of. Stagnating sales lower than its rival led to a crisis meeting held in November, 1902 at the magazine's headquarters in Paris. The last to speak was the most junior there, the chief cycling journalist Géo Lefèvre. Lefèvre suggested a six-day race of the sort popular on the track but all around France. Long-distance cycle races were a popular means to sell more newspapers, but nothing of the length that Lefèvre suggested had been attempted. If it succeeded, it would help L’Auto match its rival and perhaps put it out of business. It could, as Desgrange said, “nail Giffard’s beak shut.” Desgrange and Lefèvre discussed it after lunch. Desgrange was doubtful but the paper’s financial director, Victor Goddet, was enthusiastic. He handed Desgrange the keys to the company safe and said: “Take whatever you need.”L’Auto announced the race on 19 January 1903.
The first winner of the Tour de France was Maurice Garin, who was awarded a significant monetary prize as well as claim as the first title holder of the now infamous race.