A visit to the Museum of the City of New York to see the exhibition “Cycling in the City: A 200-Year History.”

View Transcript

Good evening and welcome to NYC-ARTS.

I'm Philippe de Montebello at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

On tonight's program we'll visit the Museum of the City of New York at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street.

Here visitors can take in a variety of exhibitions that celebrate, document, and interpret the city's past, present, and future.

On view now, in time for the warmer months in our great metropolis, is 'Cycling in the City: A 200-Year History.'

On view are more than 150 objects including 14 bicycles-dating from 1869 through today.

All are presented on a platform evocative of an historic velodrome.

In recent years, bicycles have become a major presence in our urban landscape.

There are now more than 100 miles of protected bike lanes, making New York City one of the country's most bicycle-friendly cities.

The number of daily cycling trips have actually tripled over the past 15 years.

Here's a look at how the bicycle transformed both urban transportation and leisure time in New York City.

Welcome to the Museum of the city of New York.

I'm in the exhibition cycling in the city, a 200 year history.

The first bicycle, call the Velocipede, came to New York in 1819 200 years ago.

But since then it's been a very rocky road and a real ebb and flow of interest in the bicycle.

It's been a contentious issue all along, where people can bicycle, who bicycles, when you can do it has been contentious.

The big bicycle craze was the end of the 19th century when people rode to work in a bicycle and they also promenaded up the boulevard in the evening, which was Broadway north of Columbus Circle, and it was a big urban spectacle.

The earliest bicycles of the 1870s like we have in the show.

A Pickering, which was a rich man's toy.

It would have cost about a hundred dollars in the 1870s, which would be almost four to $5,000 today, and it was made in New York City, which interestingly was the center of bicycle manufacturing at the end of the 19th century.

The tandem bicycle serve two functions.

One was that it allowed you to ride with a companion, so it made bicycle riding more family oriented, a husband and a wife could ride together, a mother and a child could ride together.

But for the woman who didn't want to ride alone, even though many women did, it was a way to be chaperoned on the public streets of the city.

Well, at the end of the 19th century, women embraced bicycling and it's controversial.

Some people argue that the bicycling woman is abandoning her rightful duty to be a mother and a wife.

But the suffragist Susan B.

Anthony argues that the bicycle will give women emancipation, allow them to be mobile in the city streets on their own.

And this was before, of course, women get the right to vote.

At the time, at the end of the 19th century, the bicycle was new and people didn't know quite how to ride it.

So you went to these cycling academies where you learned how to ride.

There was a woman named Violet Ward, who was a cycling advocate and she writes a book called Bicycling for Ladies, and then you could brave it and go on to the city streets.

Well, bicycle as a spectator sport becomes very popular, there are really, really popular six day races at Madison Square Garden where people speeded along a velodrome for six days.

There were small theaters that were set up as part of Victorian era entertainment systems, and they were curiosities and people would come to see young men who come and do daredevil acts on extremely steep velodromes like almost like fences.

The bicycle messenger, who is delivering telegrams, telegraphs, stock certificates, architectural drawings, legal documents.

Very much in lower Manhattan becomes a public figure, so he becomes so popular that there's a popular game traded around him.

But the bicycle craze ends in America at the beginning of the 20th century.

Robert Moses, the parks commissioner promotes bicycling for recreation only in the 1930s, bicycling is geared largely towards children.

In the exhibition, we have a huffy bicycle, which is quite beautiful, it's red, shiny, it's got streamlined design and it's a kind of bike a kid will have yearn to get for Christmas in the late 1950s.

And then due to the rise of the environmental movement in the 1960s and seventies, Mayor John Lindsay promotes the bicycle and he closes part of Central Park to automobiles on certain days to make it possible.

The bicycle messenger then becomes a much more contentious in the 1980s.

They're kind of daredevils, they're almost a kind of a counterculture group, and Mayor Ed Koch banes bicycles.

In 1987 they protest on the city streets and the bicycle messengers sue the city and they win, allowing them to actually bicycle during the day, and that's a key moment with a bicycle goes from being a mode of recreation to a motive commuting and work as it is today.

You can see the bicycle, this simple device is tapping into these larger social, cultural, political issues.

The most recent chapter in the history of the bicycle really is related to the Bloomberg administration and continues during the De Blasio administration, and then the spring of 2013 the bike share program of Citi Bike is introduced and is now spreading throughout the entire city.

One of the goals of the show was to say- yes, we're going through a bicycle renaissance.

Yes, the bicycle is a contentious issue, but guess what?

It's been a contentious issue all along since 1819.