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BPW Club learns about high wheelers

Published March 14. 2011 05:00PM

"Greatest pinnacle of sophistication."

That is how guest-speaker Donald Serfass of the Victorian Highwheelers described the transformation and growth of women's rights and transportation.

Serfass was talking to members of the Tamaqua Business and Professional Women's Club recently, at the La Dolce Casa Restaurant in Tamaqua, as part of its women's history month meeting.

Serfass, who brought an 1889 Victorian high wheel, talked about how the use of these high wheelers played a key role as one of the stepping stones and catalysts that led the way for women's rights and equality.

Serfass, who has been riding high wheelers for over 10 years, mentioned that women in the late 1800s and early 1900s started their own high wheel bike riding clubs; being one of the first of these types of woman-only clubs.

Serfass also talked about famous women in history, such as Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer. Anthony was an American civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the 19th century women's rights movement to introduce women's suffrage into the United States.

Bloomer was an American women's rights and temperance advocate, whose name became well known for a style of pants called bloomers, which were named after her early and strong advocacy.

Woman high wheelers opted to wear bloomers to prevent their clothing from getting caught in the spokes and to prevent the tire from rubbing their skin.

Serfass, who has broke numerous bones in his body from riding high wheelers, said there are only about 5,000 left in the world. Most were melted into bullets and other uses during the war. He also mentioned that these bikes were usually reserved for the wealthy, as they usually would cost about a six-month salary of between $125-$135.

In the United States, Bostonians such as Frank Weston started importing bicycles in 1877 and 1878, and Albert Augustus Pope started production of his "Columbia" high wheelers in 1878, and gained control of nearly all applicable patents, starting with Lallement's 1866 patent.

By 1884 high wheelers and tricycles were relatively popular among a small group of upper-middle-class people in many countries, the largest group being in England. Their use also spread to the rest of the world, chiefly because of the extent of the British Empire. Even so, bicycling remained the province of the urban well-to-do until the 1890s.

Serfass added that it was hard for people to accept the idea of riding low to the ground, as they were used to riding high in carriages and on horses, thus resulting in the high wheeler's large and small wheel design.

High wheelers led the way for better modes of transportation and less diversified mixtures of social groups.

For more information about the Victorian Highwheelers visit

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