Dunlop and Hume: Belfast's Contribution to Modern Cycling
Did you know that the Giro d'Italia race route in Belfast will pass the site of a milestone in modern cycling history? Read on to learn how a story of local innovation and sporting achievement led to a world revolution in the use of bicycles.
Day One of the elite cycling's race's Grande Partenza or 'Big Start', the Team Time Trial on Friday 9 May, will take bring the competitors along the city's Lower Ormeau Road. This was the site of the old North of Ireland Cricket Club grounds, where a local event of world significance took place almost exactly 125 years before the Giro rides into town.
On 18 May 1889, local cyclist Willie Hume took part in a series of races at the grounds. His 'safety bicycle' was fitted with pneumatic tyres – the first time such tyres were used in a competitive event anywhere in the world. Hume had purchased them from John Boyd Dunlop, a Scottish veterinary surgeon based in Belfast, whose development was the first practical application of a pneumatic bicycle tyre.
Image: Dr. John Boyd Dunlop
Hume was not one of the better riders yet he won all the races he entered. His competitors rode 'ordinary bicycles' (better known as Penny Farthings), which until then were the fastest in racing and general use.
The pneumatic tyred safety bicycle went on to become the first practical cycle to have widespread appeal beyond the racing scene, and is the direct ancestor of modern bikes. According to local cycling campaigner Roy White, while the creation of a faster bicycle was significant enough, Dunlop and Hume's real legacy was in influencing social change – "in helping enable cycling for all, male and female, young and old, fast and slow."
So it's only fitting that the cream of the cycling world will descend on Belfast this May, on the 125th of anniversaryof the city's contribution to the development of modern cycling.