The Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club (twbc.org) was founded in 1888 for men who rode high wheel bicycles, or penny farthings, as the ungainly predecessors to the modern bicycle were known. Both concepts — a bicycle club for men only and high wheels — are long outdated, but the Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club is still around (and no longer just for men), albeit after being reborn in 1974 thanks to the oil crisis. Bob Myrick, director of community and government affairs, said the original club’s demise came with the ascendancy of the automobile, somewhere around 1915. That was typical of bicycle clubs that faded away across the country, according to Myrick. Still, it was a good run for the nearly 30 years the Tacoma club lasted in its first iteration. One of the most interesting aspects of the original club, Myrick said, is that club members typically learned to ride the high wheeler in an auditorium. “We have pictures where you can see where the floor has a circle worn into it where they would train,” he said. Why would club members learn to ride inside? “It rains here.” Before its demise not long after the turn of the century, the Tacoma Bicycle Club had some impressive achievements. One was the longest, highest, and only exclusive bicycle bridge in the world, according to Myrick. The bridge, for high wheelers only, spanned a big gulch just outside of town and was 440 feet long, 127 feet high, and 12 feet wide. “What you would do is you would go south from the downtown, and then you would go across this big old bridge, then you would get on the Tacoma water ditch path,” Myrick said. The high wheelers had an arrangement with the city that allowed them to ride on the path next to the ditch, which brought water into the city. “That’s how they would get south out of town,” Myrick said. The destination? Mount Tacoma, more commonly known today as Mount Rainier, the 14,411-foot active volcano that caps the Cascade Range, about 50 miles southeast of Tacoma. Club members would ride the 50 miles to Longmire, a homestead and mineral springs resort established by James Longmire. When Mount Rainier National Park was established in 1899, Longmire became its headquarters and the launching point for ascents of the peak. After spending the night at the hotel in Longmire, Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club members would ride back the next day. “They’d do a 100-mile weekend on old primitive bicycles on old primitive roads, like gravel grinders today,” Myrick said. Around 1925, a decade after the demise of the original club, two women rode a tandem to Longmire, then had a donkey service take them to Paradise, a staging area at just over 5,000 feet for climbing Rainier. Next the women continued on to Camp Muir, a climber’s camp at just over 10,000 feet. From there, a guide led the women to the summit of Mount Rainier, according to Myrick. “They came back to Longmire, got on their tandem and rode back to Tacoma,” Myrick said. Myrick joined the Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club in 1983, nine years after it reemerged during the bicycle boom of 1974, after nearly 60 years of dormancy. “We used to ride all over the countryside on the county roads,” Myrick said. “I’ve been involved in our trail building for at least 30 years. That goes back to the 1985–1990 time period.” Myrick is a former employee of Tacoma Water, the public utility that brings water to the city. He said establishing many of the 12 bicycle trails in the network the Tacoma club established took 30 years to bring to fruition, just like building a big water line. “What happened is the first federal law came out subsidizing bike paths and trails as alternative transportation,” Myrick said. “All of these (bicycle clubs) wanted to leverage that money. I was on a regional committee that met up in Seattle.” Myrick estimates the Tacoma club leveraged some $60 million of federal money from programs like the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 — known by its acronym, ISTEA — to build its network of 12 paved bicycle trails covering about 100 miles. Myrick said representatives of the state transportation department used to tell him they could build the trails for about $50,000 a mile if not for the government regulations that drove the cost up exponentially to about $1 million a mile. “I feel so glad because we have these 12 trails,” he said. “Rails to trails is a big deal now. Just in our area we have 12 trails that did not exist 30 years ago. Our club and myself have a big legacy. You have to have a few advocates to keep asking for these kinds of things.” Most of the trails follow rights of way, according to Myrick, whether for a power line, an old streetcar line, or even that water ditch the original Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club members used to follow south out of town more than 100 years ago. Myrick said the trails are well used, especially now with the pandemic. The most used of the trails, according to Myrick, is the Foothills Trail to Orting, a town of about 8,500 people with a spectacular view of Mount Rainier, which sits roughly 30 miles distant. The trail is about 20 miles one way, so you get a nice 40-mile ride round trip. Sadly, the Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club is in the midst of a second demise, according to Myrick, who is 76 years old. For 40 years, from its rebirth in 1974 to 2014, the club would put on a series of event rides, the biggest one called the Daffodil Ride in the Orting Valley, which would draw as many as 2,000 riders. After 2014, the event rides disappeared because there weren’t enough volunteers to make them happen, Myrick said. “Event rides in the region have fallen down with small clubs,” he said. Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club still has about 300 paying members, as well as 4,000 Facebook followers. “Most of them you don’t see,” he said. “They’re hanging on the edges.” The Tacoma club’s new strategy to remain relevant is to support five organizations that are doing good things for cycling, including a nonprofit bike shop and a group of cyclists who rebuild bikes for children, called Bikes4Kids. “Our new game plan is to support all five at the $500 level, $2,500 a year,” Myrick said. “I figure we can do this for at least 10 years. As time goes on, we’ll evaluate if we’ve been able to gain new members by having them support our giving.”
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Pierce County Council adopted 10 year Parks Plan yesterday.
Note this: 3 new projects came from Elected Council; Yelm to Roy Prairie Line, Flume Trail near Buckley and White River Trail. It pays to Advocate your Elected Officials. Signature project is Tacoma Water Pipeline Trail, also as a result of Advocacy starting 15 years ago.
- Bob Myrick, TWBC
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Foothills Trail - Orting/South Prairie WA
Missed y’all on the Labor Day ride and I was bummed I couldn’t make it, so I made up for it the day after on our beloved Foothills. ❤️
It’s much more fun with a group, especially when you can let the riders in front eat all the spiderwebs.
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