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Eugene C. Sawyer (2nd from left) and friends, July 4, 1895

There has been a long history of
biking in the mountains of Transylvania County that goes well beyond that of
the mountain biking that we think of today. Looking back, we can see examples
of groups getting together for a social ride as early as the 1890s, such as
this scene that is part of the NC Room collection depicting Eugene C. Sawyer
and friends. The inscription on the back of the photo gives some information.
The photo was taken on July 4th, 1893 at Carrier Track (presumably
in Asheville, as Eugene was a resident of Buncombe County). Sawyer’s half mile
time is listed as 1:19 and stamped information indicates that A.B. Pope was the
photographer for this staged, professional photo.

Although this image is more closely
related to Buncombe County history, there is a connection to Transylvania
County. Eugene Sawyer (2nd from left) is a young man in his early
twenties in the photo who went on to pioneer the introduction of automobiles in
Asheville. Sawyer started out as a bicycle merchant with his shop, Asheville
Cycle Co., located on Church Street. He was a mover and shaker in the popular
bicycling scene and staged a bicycle parade with his bike in the lead sporting
eighteen paper lanterns.

An innovative engineer, Sawyer
designed a gasoline-powered car in 1900 and sold it to the son of President
Rutherford B. Hayes. The success of this sale led him to abandon bicycles and
convert his shop into an automobile showroom in 1907. The building still exists
today on Coxe Avenue in Asheville as condominiums. Other well-known clientele
included Tench C. Coxe of the Coxe family that later purchased land in what is
now the Dupont State Forest area in Transylvania County.

Bikers outside Pisgah Tavern, 1942

The tradition of bike racing in the
mountains lives on with events like the Assault on the Carolinas, a fundraiser
for the Pisgah Forest Rotary Club now in its 21st year. Riders flock
from all over the world to this area, drawn by the ideal conditions for both
trail and road riding.

Photographs
and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina
Room, Transylvania County Library. Visit the NC Room during regular library
hours (Monday-Friday) to learn more about our history and see additional
photographs. This article was written by Laura Gardner, Local History
Librarian. For more information, comments, or suggestions contact Laura at
[email protected]
or 828-884-1820.

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