Joe McKendry

Of all the physical woes attributed to the bicycle as it became popular in the 1890s, the one that most strained credulity was the “bicycle face.” Characterized by wide, wild eyes; a grim set to the mouth; and a migration of facial features toward the center, the disorder was said to result from the stress of incessant balancing. A German philosopher claimed that the condition drained “every vestige of intelligence” from the sufferer’s appearance and rendered children unrecognizable to their own mothers. The bicycle face hung on, too, warned a journalist: “Once fixed upon the countenance, it can never be removed.”

Adapted from The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life, by Margaret Guroff, published by the University of Texas Press in April

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