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Ever Wanted to Ride an Old-Timey Tricycle? You Can at Old World Wisconsin

Ever wondered how people got up on those old-timey high-wheel bicycles in the days of yore? Now you can find out how - and try yourself - at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle.

The living history museum has opened a new interactive experience that it hopes will help participants "Catch Wheel Fever." Old World director Dan Freas says participants will get to ride an old-style tricycle and pose atop a stationary, replica high-wheel, while learning about the bicycling boom of the late 19th century. 

Freas says bicycling was more of an urban past-time in 19th- and early-20th-century Wisconsin, with many clubs like the Milwaukee-based Badger Wheelmen Cycling Club coming out to rural areas for a day of riding.

"Wisconsin, to some extent, mirrored what was going on in the rest of the country," he says. "I think the thing that made a big difference here in Wisconsin was very quickly the bicycling movement equated into improvements in the road system."

Credit Brooke Dowden
A recreation broadside announces the "Catch Wheel Fever" experience, featuring items the real-life Milwaukee-based Badger Wheelmen Cycling Club might have had.

Interpreter lead Ryan Schwartz says those high-wheel bicycles were an innovation, but it wasn't until the more modern-looking and more affordable "safety bicycle" came out that bicycling really took off.

The safety bicycle and the tricycle also provided an opportunity for women to enjoy the past-time, who could now cycle in a "dignified manner" despite their heavy dresses. Schwartz says bicycling was an important part of the women's rights movement of the early 20th century as the new transportation gave them newfound mobility and freedom.

Old World Wisconsin will also be hosting a special event on July 19th featuring the Wheelmen, a group of antique bicycling enthusiasts. Visitors can sign up to take a 10-mile ride alongside these high-wheel bicycles, watch a mock high-wheel bicycle race or watch demonstrations.

And if you just can't get enough of old-timey bicycles, you can enter to win one of several editions of the new Wisconsin Historical Society Press's Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State.

Audrey Nowakowski and Brooke Dowden assisted in the production of this story.