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How a Canadian Brought the Bicycle to North America

How a Canadian Brought the Bicycle to North America

By Chris Houston, Director of Marketing for DK Canada

When I was a kid, there was no greater thrill or feeling of independence than getting on my bicycle and lighting out for parts unknown in and around my suburban Montreal neighbourhood. And no one seemed happier to see me make use of my trusted Raleigh Chopper bicycle than my father, himself an avid cyclist.

I was delighted to see that our new book Bicycle: The Definitive Visual History actually includes a 2-page profile of a bike very similar to mine. Though not orange like mine was, seeing it again did send me down memory lane.

My Dad would often say that a love of biking ran in the family, but it was only recently that I learned that his great grandfather, A.T. Lane, was responsible for introducing the bicycle to North America. Indeed, Karl Kron’s 1887 book Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle notes that the first ever tire tracks “made on this continent by the rubber tire of a modern bicycle” are accredited to A.T. Lane.

Mr. A. T. Lane and bicycle, Bicycle Club, Montreal, QC, 1885 / Wm. Notman & Son
II-78677.1 / © McCord Museum. /

This historic ride happened in Montreal on July 1st, 1874, creating a sensation in the streets as A.T. Lane rode the first bicycle ever seen in North America. Lane’s bicycle was described at the time as a “plain bearing, socket steering high wheeler” or what we would call a Penny Farthing style of bicycle. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, A.T. Lane so impressed the mayor of Montreal with his bicycle that the mayor proclaimed a half-day holiday so that Montrealers could see A.T. Lane ride through the streets of the city.

Here’s a spread from Bicycle: The Definitive Visual History showing some great examples of A.T. Lane’s style of bicycle. The bike he rode on that July day in 1874 was a UK model built in Coventry, similar to the one on the lower left.

Within only a few years of his inaugural ride through the streets of Montreal, A.T. Lane had become a founding member of the Montreal Bicycle Club. Although two other North American clubs were already in existence by that point in Boston, Massachusetts, and Bangor, Maine, by the 1890s the Montreal Bicycle Club was the oldest bike club still in existence. This was handy as A.T. Lane was by that point also the proprietor of Canada’s main bicycle and tricycle import agency.  

A.T. Lane’s bicycle adventures continued throughout the remainder of the 19th century. In July 1886, nearly three hundred racers attended the Canadian Wheelman’s Association’s annual race in Montreal, where A.T. Lane won the one-mile tricycle championship in record time (3 minutes 51 seconds). A few years later, A.T. was also one of the more than two hundred riders that took part in a relay ride from Sarnia, Ontario, to Montreal as part of the Canadian Wheelman’s Association’s meet.

Neither I nor my Dad have ever done a ride that long, but hopefully we can both inspire my children, A.T. Lane’s great, great, great grandkids, to tackle some big rides in the future. In the meantime we can sit together with Bicycle: The Definitive Visual History and enjoy the rich history that A.T. Lane helped bring to Canada. 


Chris Houston is the Director of Marketing for DK Canada. Reading Bicycle: The Definitive Visual History not only sparked an interest in his own family history, but has also encouraged him to consider purchasing a new bicycle, one that his great great grandfather might approve of. 

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