City Paper: A new book explores a 118-year-old bicycling mystery with its roots in Pittsburgh

Lenz, at left, stands next to Charles Petticord on the Smithfield Street Bridge in August 1891, as they depart for New Orleans.

The Lost Cyclist
By David V. Herlihy
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, 336 pages

If you think biking in Pittsburgh is difficult these days, consider the travails of 19th-century wheelmen. The roads were as illogical as they are now, and the ever-more-popular Belgian blocks used for paving were scant improvement over unpaved roads.

Standing apart from the early cyclists of Pittsburgh was German-American Frank Lenz, who came to fame as champion racer and captain of the Allegheny Cyclers. By day a bookkeeper at a local bronze works, as well as a skilled photographer, Lenz would be subsumed in the wanderlust that transformed many into itinerant adventurers.

Departing Pittsburgh in May 1892, he traveled westward, seeking to circumnavigate the globe by bicycle. By the spring of 1894, he had successfully crossed China, India and Persia. He would disappear in Kurdistan (now Eastern Turkey, but then still part of the greater Ottoman Empire). In The Lost Cyclist, author David Herlihy weaves several stories beginning with Lenz’s early career and leading to his quest to cycle the world.

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Herlihy will be in the South Side on Saturday, August 14 for two events.

David Herlihy, author of The Lost Cyclist, South Side events

Saturday, August 14

5:00pm: Speaking and book signing at Joseph Beth Booksellers, 510 South 27th St, SouthSide Works

6:30pm: Afterparty at the OTB Bicycle Cafe, 2518 East Carson St.  There will be drink and food specials and prize give-aways including books, OTB gift certificates, East End Brewing Company Big Hop cycling jerseys and more!

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