Mus­cle on Wheels

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - BOOKS & FILMS - writ­ten by M. Ann Hall pub­lished by Mcgill-queen’s Univer­sity Press re­viewed by Matthew Pioro

Re­tired pro­fes­sor M. Ann Hall’s Mus­cleon Wheels is not only a work of bi­og­ra­phy and his­tory, but of mys­tery as well. Hall chron­i­cles the life of Louise Ar­maindo, a French Cana­dian high-wheel racer who com­peted in events largely in the U.S. and Canada from about 1881 to 1893. The racer got her start in the cir­cus as a strong­woman and trapeze artist. (Sup­pos­edly, her mother was a strong­woman, too.) “Ar­maindo” is a nom de­cir­cus, so find­ing the cy­clist’s real name and place of birth was dif­fi­cult and ul­ti­mately in­con­clu­sive for Hall. It didn’t help that cir­cus per­form­ers of the day of­ten em­bel­lished their bi­ogra­phies.

Ar­maindo moved from the cir­cus to pedes­tri­an­ism, es­sen­tially long-dis­tance walk­ing com­pe­ti­tions. Next, it was the en­durance chal­lenges of high-wheel races as well as trick rid­ing. There were a few other women rac­ers; Ar­maindo com­peted mostly against men, and horses, too. These events could draw crowds of thou­sands.

The Cana­dian rider’s skills seemed to wane in the 1890s, which was also the time that the safely bi­cy­cle, which got its name partly be­cause it was way less treach­er­ous to ride than a high wheel, be­gan to grow in pop­u­lar­ity. Off the race course, Hall doc­u­ments how the safety not only got more women rid­ing, but pro­voked a quick back­lash against those same women. The League of Amer­i­can Wheel­men didn’t seem too threat­ened when there were only a few women rid­ing and com­pet­ing on high wheels. In 1895, how­ever, its rules stated that races wouldn’t re­ceive sanc­tion if they in­cluded women. Still, the rac­ing con­tin­ued. In Canada, the first women’s six-day safety race ran in Win­nipeg, in June 1896.

Ar­maindo’s end is al­most as mys­te­ri­ous as her ori­gins. She was a pa­tient at a hos­pi­tal in Buf­falo June 1, 1890. Then, some­how she got to Mon­treal where she died on Oct. 12. Records show she was buried in the ceme­tery as­so­ci­ated with Notre-dame Basil­ica. Yet, Hall has not been able to lo­cate Ar­maindo's grave.

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