Last Friday evening, I went searching for Frank Lenz, one of Pittsburgh’s most notable cyclists. To be fair, Lenz went missing almost 120 years ago, in Erzurum, Turkey, so I really didn’t have much hope of finding anything, but I figured I’d give it a shot.
I headed over to the Brew House Art Gallery on the South Side, where David Herlihy, the author of The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance, was slated to give a talk about Lenz’s journey by bicycle around the world, his disappearance, and the adventures of William Sachtleben, another cyclist who had ridden around the world, and who was sent to find Lenz. Prior to Herlihy’s talk, I had not heard of Lenz or Sachtleben, but a worldwide cycling tour intrigued me, and plus, who doesn’t liked those old-timey, big-wheeled bikes?
Lenz and his companions, rocking the big-wheelers
Lenz was apparently a big fan. Born in Philadelphia, he moved to Pittsburgh and became an accountant by day, and a weekend warrior who captained the Allegheny Cycle Club. He organized and competed in his fair share of big-wheeled bike races, and pioneered the burgeoning field of cycle photography—an impressive feat, considering that cameras were just as cumbersome as bicycles at the time. Lenz developed a way to transport camera equipment on his back while riding, as well as a method of taking pictures of himself on his bicycle, by placing a trigger on the road, which would activate a camera on a leading car when his front tire (the big one) rolled over it.
Lenz used his growing portfolio to convince a magazine called Outing to fund his trip around the world. Outing agreed, on the condition that he give up the big-wheeler for the newer version, called a “safety bicycle,” which is similar to our modern one. Lenz reluctantly agreed, and, in May of 1892, he set off. Beginning at the Smithfield Street Bridge, Lenz rode for Washington, D.C. to pick up a passport, and then to New York City. He then crossed the U.S. in about five months, then sailed to Japan, and braved tough conditions in China and India before heading to Turkey. In May of 1894, almost two years after his departure, Lenz disappeared. Hoping to find him, Outing sent William Sachtleben, who had completed a similar journey, to Turkey. Sachtleben discovered that Lenz had apparently insulted a chief in nearby Kurdistan, who had ordered him murdered and his body buried by a riverbed. After some wrangling, the Turkish government paid Lenz’s mother $7,500 as a reparation for her lost son
Today, Lenz is commemorated with a sign on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, the final leg of the Great Allegheny Passage, which connects Pittsburgh with Cumberland, Maryland, and which mirrors the path that Lenz took on the first leg of his now legendary trip around the world.
This sign can be found on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail
This was sent to us by one of the organizers – not only do they have one fine looking event flier but they have put together a really neat event that shows off Pittsburgh and supports the Greater Pittsburgh Community Foodbank.
Bring your donations for the food bank and meet at the The Pump House (880 E. Waterfront Dr. Munhall, PA) then the group will hop on the bike trail and ride to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne.
The ride is suitable for all levels of cyclists.
The food bank is most in need of:
High fiber cereal
Canned tuna & salmon in water
Diapers & toilet tissue
The organizers have requested that you not bring items in glass. This pretty poster was created by Joe Mruk.
I don’t know if you saw this story in the news last week or not – last Wednesday a cyclist was violently attacked by a driver on the South Side. Please take a moment to read the story in the Post-Gazette here - they have released a description of the driver who has still not been identified.
The cyclist, Colin Albirght, has been in the hospital but he will be okay. I have seen some photos of his injuries, I don’t think it is appropriate to share those with out talking with him first – but shocking is not strong enough of a word to describe the photos.
Some friends of the cyclist are organizing a raffle and event to raise some money to help with expenses and recovery. This is where Pittsburgh is awesome – already numerous businesses and organizations have donated raffle prizes.
This is an opportunity to not only support Colin but to support the cycling community in Pittsburgh. Bikes are a good thing for Pittsburgh – less people in cars is a good thing for Pittsburgh. And the cycling community here has come together to do really good things for others in Pittsburgh – if you aren’t familiar with groups like Bike Pittsburgh, Free Ride, Flock of Cycles – please visit their websites and learn more about them. I also just learned about the Positive Spin program from the MGR Foundation that is working to provide city youth with cycling mentors.