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  • The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance
  • Duncan R. Jamieson
Herlihy, David V. The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. Notes, illustrations, and index. Pp. 326. $26.00.

David Herlihy, author of the much-acclaimed Bicycle: The History (2004), reveals the life of Frank Lenz as a bicycle racer and world traveler along with the subsequent search for his remains and his killers by fellow around-the-world rider William Sachtleben. Herlihy spent five years in intensive research on three continents to piece together Lenz’s experiences. In addition to Lenz’s own articles that he sent to Outing as well as Allen and Sachtleben’s narrative of the Asian portion of their journey, Across Asia on a Bicycle (1894), Herlihy combed newspapers, magazines, and government archives to fill in more of the blanks. Though the precise circumstances of Lenz’s disappearance and death remain largely a mystery, Herlihy weaves into his narrative information from the earlier tour of Allen and Sachtleben as a prologue for the latter’s search for Lenz’s remains and his killers.

The commercialization of sport can be seen in “Lenz’s World Tour.” While he never made much as a racer, Lenz negotiated very favorable terms as a world traveler. Outing’s interest in Lenz was clearly to ratchet up their sales as they had earlier with the world circumnavigation of Thomas Stevens. Lenz himself was paid $2,000 a year, significantly more than he earned as a bookkeeper in Pittsburgh. In 2009 dollars that equals nearly $50,000, pocket change for superstar athletes but still 25 percent more than the 2009 median income for bookkeepers.

Among his heroes was Thomas Stevens, the first to bicycle around the world. While Stevens rode a high wheeler, the next two Americans to complete a similar, though longer, journey were young college graduates, Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben, who rode English safety bicycles with cushion tires. He knew of them as well. Though he had ridden and raced high wheelers, he was taken with the safety bicycle, similar to today’s standard bicycle, and was especially interested in Dunlop’s inflatable tires. With this in [End Page 148] mind, Frank Lenz approached both the Overton Bicycle Company and Outing to see if they would sponsor his around-the-world bicycle adventure. With these endorsements in hand, Lenz set off in 1892 from his Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home, bound for Washington, D. C., where he would pick up his passport before wheeling to New York City for the official start from Outing headquarters. From there Lenz rode across North America, through the United States and Canada, to reach San Francisco and a ship to carry him and his wheel to Japan. Following a pleasant traverse of Japan he slogged across China. He knew in advance of the adversity he would find there and believed it to be the worst experience he would face in the journey. Surviving China he crossed Burma and bowled through India on the Grand Trunk. Now in the Middle East he followed a caravan route to Teheran, and from there he turned his wheel toward Constantinople and a return to “civilization.” He never made it. When Frank Lenz disappeared in eastern Turkey, cyclists followed with interest the inquiries and search for him. Through delays and false starts William Sachtleben finally went to eastern Turkey where he recovered sufficient evidence of Lenz’s murder to force a trial as well as an indemnity for his grieving mother.

Given the vagaries of communication at the time, it took a while for people first to realize Lenz was missing and then to mount a campaign to determine his whereabouts. Outing undoubtedly dragged its feet, perhaps interested in milking the disappearance as a means to increase circulation. While a speedier search might have resulted in a better result legally, nothing would have prevented the death of the unfortunate Frank Lenz. A serious rivalry existed between the United States and Great Britain, and in an interesting turn of phrase, the English press indicated that Lenz was in large measure...


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pp. 148-149
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