While we’re in the middle of the horrible COVID-19 pandemic, let’s remember the cycling advice during the Influenza of 1918, also erroneously known as the “Spanish Flu”.

Please remember that Social distancing slows the spread of Covid-19. Stay home, stay safe! It’s not just about you, it’s also about everybody else.

Please do NOT take the words below as medical advice.

Bicycling v. Influenza

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Dunlop Rubber Tyre Company placed ads that showed a man on a bicycle and stretched rather far to make a link: “If the influenza fiend has had its grip on you, let your bicycle help you to throw it off. Get out into the fresh air whenever you can and ride gently along…. Dunlop tyres … mean no troublesome tyre worries to interfere with your bicycle cure.”

Spanish Flu - Bicycling v. Influenza
Bicycling v. Influenza. An advertisement by Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd. during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Dunlop’s ad reads as follows:

“Very few of the people who’ve had influenza are regular cyclists. Those who bicycle regularly have been less liable to attack.”

“The clean sweet air on the road is far healthier than the stuffy atmosphere inside the tram, the bus, or the train, and with a pair of Dunlop tyres fitted to your machine, you’re free fro tyre-worry and you’ve reduced the actual effort to cycling to the minimum.”

The first bicycle “tires” were iron bands on the wooden wheels of velocipedes. These were followed by solid rubber tires on penny-farthings. In an attempt to soften the ride, rubber tires with a hollow core were also tried.

The first practical pneumatic tire was first applied to the bicycle by an Irish veterinarian in 1887 who was trying to give his young son a more comfortable ride on his tricycle, in an effort to prevent the headaches his son had while riding on rough roads. This inventive young doctor’s name was John Boyd Dunlop.

John Boyd Dunlop
John Boyd Dunlop was born in Aryshire, Scotland, where he practiced as a veterinary surgeon. His practical ingenuity led him to cut up an old garden hose, make it into a tube, pump it up with air, and fit it to the rear wheels of his son’s tricycle. Dunlop patented his pneumatic tire in Great Britain in 1888 and secured a United States patent in 1890. (Photo credit: H. W. Bartleet: Bartleet’s Bicycle Book London: Ed. J. Burrow & Co, 1931.)

Ride a bicycle and keep well

Another ad during the Spanish Flu pandemic, by the Roanoke Cycle Co. (They forget women, though)

Spanish Flu - Ride a bicycle and Keep Well
Ad during the Spanish Flu pandemic: Ride a Bicycle and Keep Well: As a precaution against influenza, keep out of the crowds; ride a bicycle to and from your work. Just look at the ruddy-cheeked delivery boys riding to and from. They demonstrate what a bicycle will do for YOU. Every man who lives a sedentary life NEEDS a BICYCLE. One will give you fresh air, new blood, a new lease on life. We have a model that will please you and on easy terms that will suit you. ROANOKE CYCLE CO.

Cycling Weekly Spanish flu pandemic advice from 1918

Cycling Weekly Spanish flu pandemic advice from 1918
Cycling Weekly Spanish flu pandemic advice from 1918

“It is generally agreed that prevention is better than cure. Just at present, the daily newspapers are at pains to emphasize this truth in connection with the epidemic of influenza which is ravaging the country. The usual advice for avoiding this plague is to obtain as much fresh air as possible and to keep out of vitiated atmospheres.”

“We are not disposed to quarrel with this suggestion, and we feel that, if people would make a point of obtaining at least their houses and places of business are properly ventilated, they would stand a very good chance of escaping influenza.”

“Obviously, it is wiser to concentrate on avoiding ailments rather than on curing them. Outdoor exercise is even more necessary in the winter than the summer, and everybody should make a point of obtaining a due share at the weekend, if not during the week as well. There is no easier method of achieving this end than by means of cycling. A few hours awheel each week is the best kind of tonic imaginable, and may possibly save many doctors’ bills.”

Spanish Flu

Also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, the Spanish flu was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic. Lasting from January 1918 to December 1920, it infected 500 million people-about a quarter of the world’s population at the time.

The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

To maintain morale, World War I censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Newspapers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain, such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII, and these stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit – and hence the center of the pandemic. This gave rise to the pandemic’s nickname, “Spanish flu”.

Despite there being varying views as to the origin, historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify with certainty the pandemic’s geographic origin.

Spanish flu
Red Cross workers transport a victim during the Spanish Flu pandemic in St. Louis, Missouri, United States.


M. Özgür Nevres

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