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The Lost Cyclist by David V. Herlihy

The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance

by David V. Herlihy

The Lost Cyclist by David Herlihy (Photo courtesy of Amazon.com)

It’s the late 1800s and the “safety bicycle” has just been introduced in the USA. The age of the high wheel is quickly coming to a close and America is mad about these new easy-to-ride bicycles, featuring same-size wheels. Bicycle sales triple from 1892 to 1893, spurred by new technology and publicity from magazines and newspapers that feature bicyclists who challenge themselves with around-the-world treks. The Lost Cyclists tells the story of one such adventurer, Frank Lenz. It’s also a recap of the investigation into Lenz’s mysterious disappearance, led by fellow cycle tourist William Sachtelben.  Along the way you will learn about the golden age of cycling, the state of the world in the 1890s, and the technological advancements that made the bicycle the vehicle of choice for the American public.

In 1892 Frank Lenz quit his accounting job and began his 20,000 mile, three-continent journey from Pittsburgh on his lightweight (30 pounds!), nickel-plated Victor bike.  He was a renowned high-wheel racer and had built a reputation as a long-distance cycle tourist.  Lenz requested that the bike come with recently invented pneumatic tires, a front shock absorption system, and a well-sprung and elongated leather saddle. The bike also came equipped with two sprockets on the rear hub so Lenz could flip the rear wheel to engage either a high- or low gear.

Lenz also carried his own adaptation of a newly developed light-weight (20 pounds) Kodak camera on his ride so he could take timed photographs of the journey. In the past, cyclist tourists would sketch highlights of their tours. Lenz was convinced that by becoming a proficient photographer he’d be able to find a sponsor willing to support his travels. The plan worked, and Lenz concluded a deal with Outing Magazine in April 1892. Outing had over 20,000 subscribers but was struggling financially and the editor, James Henry Worman, was sure that by including photographs Lenz’s series would prove hugely popular. The editor agreed to cover $2000 (two times what Lenz made a year at his accounting job) in travel expenses. Lenz also insisted that a $3000 insurance policy on his life be taken out, payable to his mother.

Lenz began his outing in mid May of 1892 and disappeared in Turkey nearly two years later in early April 1894. David Herlihy’s book fabulously describes the pains, dangers and joys of the journey and its preparation in detail. It’s a fun romp across the US in the days before paved roads. Lenz bicycles through Japan, across China, the mountains of Burma, India, Persia, and is just weeks away from the “easy” final leg through Europe when he disappears. The story doesn’t end here though. We follow the investigation into Lenz’s disappearance led by fellow bicycle tourist, William Sachtleben. Turkey is on the verge of collapse, and Sachtleben soon finds himself in danger as cultural tensions explode and hundreds of Armenians are massacred in Erzurum, located near where Sachtleben is staying, in October 1895.

Herlihy’s tale is a richly detailed and fascinating combination of genres –a mystery, a travelogue, and an incredible journey through the early history of bicycling. The Lost Cyclist is set to be published on June 18, 2010 so preorder it at your local book seller today.