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The Lost Cyclist & Tour de France 2010

Frank Lenz set off from his hometown to bike around the world in 1893 and mysteriously disappeared in Eastern Turkey. We retrace his adventure.

Plus, we preview the Tour de France race, which begins on Saturday.

Lost Cyclist (cover detail)

Lost Cyclist (cover detail)

It was the 1880s, an age of invention, discovery and adventure. The bicycle was the thing in modern, fast human transport.

And daring young men set off to travel this country and the world on their bikes. One of them, amateur photographer Frank Lentz, hauled and pedaled his heavy bike and bags over dirt roads and mountain trails across Asia.

But as Europe loomed on the horizon, he disappeared in a remote corner of Ottoman Turkey.

This hour On Point: The story of the modern cyclist lost in the final days of the old world and the search to find him.

David Herlihy, author and expert on bicycling. He won the 2004 Award for Excellence in the History of Science for his book, “Bicycle:  The History.” His new book is called “The Lost Cyclist:  The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and his Mysterious Dissappearance.” (Read an excerpt from the book.)

Also: we preview the Tour de France race, which begins on Saturday.


Bill Strickland, editor-at-large at Bicycling Magazine and author of the new book, “Tour de Lance.” (See Bicycling’s 10 Riders to Watch.) (Subscribe to Bicycling through Amazon.)

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  • http://www.annielondonderry.com Peter Zheutlin

    Dear Jane,

    It wasn’t just women who took to great adventure on the bicycle in the 1890s. Women, too, made history on bicycles. My great-grandaunt, Annie Londonderry, (real name Kopchovsky), left her 3 small children with her husband in Boston and took off from the State House for a 15 month round the world odyssey by bicycle, backed by corporate sponsors, the first woman to attempt the feat. Your guest, David Herlihy, helped me wit research on my book, “Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride,” and your other guest, Bill Strickland, published my first article about her in Bicycling Magazine, an article that was the basis for the book. The bicycle was seen as a tool of women’s emancipation. As Susan B. Anthony said, “the bicycle has done more to emanicipate women than anything else in history.”

    Peter Zheutlin
    Needham, MA

  • BHA

    One thing I find amazing is that his bicycle of 1892 looks remarkably similar to a diamond frame bicycle of 2010.

    Here is a larger picture of the one used on Mr. Herlihy’s book cover:

  • whitney

    Question about the teamwork. How does the team impact a breakaway?

  • Scot Couturier, Jr.

    On Whitney’s question regarding teamwork in breakaways;

    A cycling team is comprised of various specialized riders, usually a climber for the mountain stages, a sprinter to win most other stages, an all-arounder (GC rider) going for the overall tour win, and domestiques, or a rider whose job it is to support and work for other riders in their team (literally “servant” in French).

    A team starts off the race with the domestiques supporting the climbers, sprinters, and GC rider with keeping them off the wind so energy output is low, running food/liquids from the team car, ect. If a breakaway happens, the team has several choices depending on the circumstance. If a sprinter or GC rider is in the breakaway, it is in the best interest of the team to slow the peloton or large, main group of cyclists so as to let the break succeed. (That way, the most time can be gained in the overall tour) But, if a domestique makes the break, then things change; depending on what riders from other teams are also in the break, the domestque can disrupt the flow or efficiency of the break to slow it down and allow the peloton to bridge, or catch the breakaway. In that allowing the sprinter or GC contender from the domestique’s team to gain more valuable time, rather than the domestique. It basically comes down to the overall time of one or two riders from a team, not the total team time, that wins the tour.

    There are many other scenarios, but that’s the basics of it…I hope it makes the otherwise complicated sport of cycling a little less complicated.

    Platteville, WI

  • Caitlin

    I think there is something extremely unique about traveling through places via bicycle. I have found so much joy and peace by riding through countrysides on my bike. I lived on the East coast for a year as a nanny and I would take a bike out during my free time during our summers at the summer house. Now, I live in Idaho and I go on long bike rides in my evenings. Recently I participated in a 60 mile bike tour and it was so incredible being able to go at a slower pace to notice old farm buildings, see snakes, wild turkeys, eagles, llamas, elk, and smell skunks and blooming trees and flowers. We would have missed all of that had we been in a car and I feel that you experience a place at a much more intimate level by biking.

    I am a girl and I think the gender issue related to biking would be an interesting topic for continued discussion. The idea of a girl taking off and traveling across the country by herself is not as socially acceptable as a man doing the same thing.

  • Mary Ann Zaggy

    Just an afterthought–as the Mom of a girl who is 13, and the Mom of 3 sons who are in their early 20′s, I must say that 10 years agom I never worried about whether my sons would become fat–actually, with all of their activity, and their UN-Plugged status–no computer access, very little access to TV, and a LOT of activity–swimming 4-5 times per week, and days full of running, climbing, and playing actively (wow-I was a lot more tired than they were at the end of every day) well, I have not seen that level of activity in my daughter’s generation now 10 years later. I do believe that the sedentary lifestyle of our kids is a huge factor, well beyond what and how much they eat.
    Our kids today are NOT active. That is a huge problem. We can’t just obcess about how and how much they eat, but about what they do not do–all day, every day.
    My sons are all healthy athletes (and college students.) I do hope that my daughter is healthy and that she and her peers assume the active lifestyles that the generation immediately before her has developed.
    Mary Ann Zaggy, University City, MO
    Thank you again for this opportunity to share.

  • joshua

    I cycle in mid-southern china. It is very difficult. The sun is scorching. The traffic is horrendous–pollution, noises–incessant honking, no rules of the road or regulation and no courtesy of drivers, especially truckers. The road system in china is underdeveloped, which is a good thing and a bad thing because you can find lovely country lanes, narrow lanes wide enough for a cart, but nothing is direct or logical–the roads evolved organically and its extremely difficult to reach point B. natural areas, lakes, etc are usually enveloped by small villages and farms that have no access or thruway. Its a adventure, and still very dangerous. The sun and heat alone is enough to kill in the first ten miles. Summer time is not a good time to bike. Winter is windy and uncomfortable. China is a harsh country naturally and socially. For Frank Lentz to make it thru China is truly a heroic unbelievable feat which goes way under-appreciated!

  • RS

    I was fascinated by the story about Frank Lentz. I would have liked to have heard a little bit more about how he dealt with “roads” that were probably mostly singletrack footpaths and occasional wider carriage paths in those days. It’s amazing how he got around at nearly 30 miles/day without a multiple-geared, knobby-tired mountain bike! How was he able to find pathway or carriage route connections between remote towns? Did he follow the old Pony Express routes?

    With regard to the Tour de France, first of all I support Lance! I really don’t understand how the team works in racing, as I’ve always just ridden my bike for fun by myself or with one or two other people. I don’t understand NASCAR all that well, either.

    Second, I believe the discussion of bicycling needs to evolve to a new paradigm. We need to be a little less critical of our bicycle heroes! Rather than worry-warting over doping in the sport of bike racing, let’s discuss how the popularity of bike racing can lead to more people riding to work and on errands. It strikes me that America is way past overdue on getting commuters out of their cars and SUV’s and onto bicycles, at least for those short 10-mile and less commutes.

    The oil mess in the Gulf of Mexico should be telling us loud and clear that it’s far more important to promote bicycling as a mode of transportation than to worry whether or not someone in a race is taking something to enhance their performance. Even a bicyclist who is “cheating” isn’t demanding the gasoline that BP was so happy to provide using risky deep-water drilling technology! If we want to talk morality, which is what is implied in a “doping” discussion, let’s talk about the morality of what has been happening to the Gulf of Mexico. If it weren’t for all of the cars and SUV’s burning all that gasoline, BP wouldn’t have been drilling out there in the first place.

    One has to conclude that the “dirtiest” bicyclist is cleaner than an SUV! And, yes, I believe that pollution on that catastrophic scale is indeed a moral issue that far overrides the importance of Jeff Novitzky’s morality plays.

  • Bryan Germany

    I was fortunate to hear a lecture recently at the Little Rock Tour de Rock given by Stan Havlick, the first person to bicycle across six continents. Quite amazing stories and photographs! The perseverence and logistics are daunting.
    I wonder what the quality and workmanship was like on Frank Lentz’s bike. What processes were used to construct frames, chains, and gears to make them reliable? I wonder too, what kind of tires, tubes, and stems were used in that period. I remember patching tires and tubes as a kid using a bucket of water to find pinhole leaks. Now I just change a tube on the road and move on.

  • http://thesusanbanthonycoin.com Susan B Anthony Coin

    Significantly, the Eisenhower dollar was the last mintage to have base metal content proportionate to lower coin denominations. Its cupronickel content for instance is ten times that of the Roosevelt dime, four times that of the Washington quarter, and twice of the Kennedy half dollar.

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