Meet Denver’s cycling hipsters of old: the Denver Wheel Club and the fight to bring a national race to the Wild West

Denver has a long history of men with fantastic mustaches riding bikes in large groups.

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

The year was 1893 and the Denver Wheel Club, a burgeoning association of cyclists, travelled to Asbury Park, New Jersey, for the national meeting of the League of American Wheelmen. It would be at this convention that the passionate group of pedaling Denverites would lobby and win the right to bring the national cycling scene to Denver for the first time.

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A Denver Wheel Club illustration in a newspaper clipping. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

“Who are we?

We are the

D.W.C.!

Rub-a-dub-dub,

Denver Wheel Club!”

While you may be familiar with Denver’s modern massive bicycle cruises, you might not know that this town has a long history of such congregation.

Riders on the "Brighton Road." A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western Hisotry Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
Riders on the “Brighton Road.” (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western Hisotry Collection)

The late 19th Century saw the evolution of bikes from awkward velocipedes to configurations that more closely resemble what we ride today. The effects of that streamlining resulted in a hobbyist boon that overtook the nation. Bicycle clubs began to crop up in places like New York and Boston and, eventually, Denver.

The Denver Wheel Club, known first as the Denver Ramblers, operated out of a clubhouse on Evans Avenue that is now a Walgreens parking lot near DU. At one point, says a newspaper clipping in the Wheel Club’s scrapbook, the group boasted over 600 members.

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
The Denver Wheel Club. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

The wheelmen and women were known for their ambitious rides. Some clippings refer to jaunts from Denver to Pueblo and Denver to Cincinnati. In 1891, says one account, the group ascended Pikes Peak for the first time.

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
The Denver Wheel Club. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

They were known not only for their athleticism but also for their impeccable style. Preparing for a trip to Boston, said a newspaper of the day, the Wheelers had prepared “a uniform costume, symbolical of the west, ” the main feature consisting of “an immense sombrero.”

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

They were known for “monthly hops and receptions at the club house” and even boasted a bike club football team.

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
The Denver Wheel Club football team. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

According to one newspaper clipping, the club was “steadily growing to be the largest and most influential bicycle club of the West.”

And in 1893 they headed east to Asbury Park in hopes of bringing the national meet to town.

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

The Denver delegates arrived in New Jersey ready to persuade. “Stretched clear across the stage,” said one account, “was Denver’s big, boasting banner, the sixty-foot bottom from the car — ‘L.A.W. ’94 Meet at Denver!’ It brought down the house.”

At the end of the Asbury Park convention, wheelmen from across the country voted 93 to 70 in favor of Denver.

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
Newspaper clippings in a Denver Wheel Club scrapbook. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

The city rejoiced upon the team’s return to Denver, arriving by train to Union Station.

“The union depot was packed with admirers,” said one clipping, “who fairly raised the roof with their cheers and who could hardly give Mayor Van Horn time to make a brief address of welcome.”

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A newspaper clipping in a Denver Wheel Club scrapbook. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

A marching band, waiting for the riders, led the mass of people through Denver’s downtown streets with joy.

“By all odds it is the greatest thing for Denver since the Knights Templar conclave of 1892,” said another clipping. “The most conservative estimates place the number of cyclists that will come to Denver in August at not less than 15,000, and more than likely nearer 20,000.”

By the early 1900s the Wheel Club had dissolved. Though they left little more than two leather-bound scrapbooks behind, the rambling riders began a cycling tradition that persists to this day.

A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
The Denver Wheel Club. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
An invitation to a monthly reception, for which the Club was known. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
Visions of the future. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
An illustration of a costumed bicycle, part of a parade of “over a thousand bicyclists” in what was described as a “distinctly Denver fete.” (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
Members of the Denver Wheel Club. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
Members of the Denver Wheel Club. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection) denver public library; dpl; denver; colorado; history; archive; bike; bicycle; cycling;
A Denver Wheel Club scrapbook saved in the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection archive. (Denver Wheel Club Records/ Denver Public Library/Western History Collection)

Big thanks to Denver Public Library Senior Archivist/Librarian Abby Hoverstock for telling me about this scrapbook.

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at @kevinjbeaty.