On May 15, 1892, bookkeeper, amateur photographer and bicycle enthusiast Frank Lenz set off on his bike along rail lines in Pittsburgh. He was headed east to New York City on the first leg of his journey to cycle around the world.
More than a century later, cyclists in Pittsburgh will gather Saturday morning at the Pump House in Homestead. They are not headed for New York but rather Duquesne. And the supplies they will be carrying are food donations destined for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
The second Bike to Feed Families event, organized by BikePittsburgh, will travel 10 miles along the Great Allegheny Passage, or GAP trail. Cyclists will deliver food donations gathered by community organizations and workplaces, including 90.5 WESA and its sister station 91.3 WYEP. The first Bike to Feed Families was held last October and was coordinated by a group of volunteers.
That trail was still an active railroad when Lenz started his pedaling. Lenz was at the forefront of the cycling boom that swept the United States in the 1880s. He captained a Pittsburgh cycling club under the banner the Allegheny Racers, and on weekends he logged hundreds of miles on rough roads before quitting his white-collar job to travel around the world on two wheels.
Lauren Uhl, a historian with the Heinz History Center, first heard about Lenz from David Herlihy, who was working on a book about the cyclist and had contacted the center for information. At the time, the only scrap Uhl could offer was a postcard sent home by Lenz that had somehow made it into the archive.
Uhl couldn’t help but investigate further.
“He’s just a fascinating microcosm of his time and place," she said, "and what I’m interested in history is not so much the big, broad sweeping things that you learn in school, but it’s the people. Unfortunately, a lot of times you miss that.”
In his book, "The Lost Cyclist," Herlihy writes that Lenz was not a man who lacked confidence. As Lenz stood downtown, waiting to depart on May 15, he said, “I shall succeed if it takes a lifetime. I have nothing but the most pleasurable anticipation of my trip abroad. Besides, I have never encountered anything yet that I have not overcome.”
After two years of cycling, Lenz disappeared while biking across modern-day Turkey. No one knows where or how he met his end.
The completion of the GAP trail will be commemorated this June. There are plans to install a historical marker for Lenz, a man whom many call the region’s first bike pioneer, and a role model for a city that today is striving to make itself known as bike-friendly.