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Keep your fad off the sidewalk

Fads come and go — hula hoops, a giggling Elmo and even Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. "Go ahead. Make my day."

Usually they're just a lot of fun, but sometimes there's a hint of danger. Would "pop rocks" really blow up in your stomach if you drank a pop?

It's rare that a fad lasts 20 years and then becomes part of everyday life, but that's just what happened more than a century ago — although, back then, they called it a "craze."

In about 1886, the "wheel" arrived in Jackson County. That's what they called the bicycle and it was an instant smash with the grown-ups.

Medford's physician, Dr. Pickel, promptly smashed his into a wall on his very first ride. The Mail newspaper, a predecessor to the one you're reading right now, called it another symptom of "the bicycle craze epidemic." Get it? Doctor — epidemic?

Local undertaker Isaac Webb caught the fever, too. Even after he managed to smash into a young boy and sprain his own wrist, he was still ecstatic. "Bicycling is the nearest thing to flying that humanity has yet approached," he told a reporter.

Although it's nearly impossible to find a report of a bicycle-riding woman smashing into a wall, to the male critic, it just wasn't ladylike.

One bicycling gal did scandalize Ashland. An accident to her bloomers while riding down East Main forced "the fair proprietor of the trousers to back off for general repairs."

Soon, bicycles were being raced at the county fair. This was too much fun, forcing Medford city fathers to pass a bicycle tax to help build a quarter-mile track on the outskirts of town. When hardly anyone paid, they gave up.

It was time for that "hint of danger."

Bicycle races now ran up the streets and down the sidewalks. A minor war was developing. Wheelmen were forcing pedestrians off the wooden sidewalks and pedestrians were placing tacks on the boards, hoping to pop the careless riders' enthusiasm.

The law was laid down.

"No fast riding anywhere in town. When passing a lady or young child the rider will dismount. Maximum speed is 4 mph on sidewalks. All sidewalk riding on Main St. during the time school is in session, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:40 p.m., is prohibited.

"If you persist in abusing the privilege it will necessitate the prohibiting of riding wheels on the walk altogether."

By 1910, the bicycle fad was over, but the "no-sidewalk" law had been improved and remains. Just a few months ago, Medford Public Works put it in writing, painting a notice on nearly every downtown sidewalk.

But, look closely. Skateboards are banned too. Another fad! Who knows where the next one will come from? And by the way, has anyone seen my Rubik's Cube?

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

Sidewalk bicycle-riding has been illegal in Medford for more than 100 years. This recently painted reminder is near the Southern Oregon Historical Society at Central Avenue and Sixth Street. - Bill Miller