<p>Members of the Italian cavalry cycling corps climb with their folding bikes strapped to their backs in a photo from a 1910 issue of <i>National Geographic</i>. Bicycles were popular in many armies during the 1900s.</p>

Here Comes the Cavalry

Members of the Italian cavalry cycling corps climb with their folding bikes strapped to their backs in a photo from a 1910 issue of National Geographic. Bicycles were popular in many armies during the 1900s.

Photograph by Paul Thompson, Nat Geo Image Collection

A Century of Bicycling History in 16 Pictures

As cyclists of the 102nd Tour de France begin the epic race, we look at the world of cycling through history and around the globe.

Professional cyclists from all over the world hit the starting line this Saturday in the first stage of the unrelenting, three-week-long Tour de France. Starting in Utrecht, Netherlands, the epic course will cover a total of 3,360 kilometers (about 2,088 miles), raced in 21 daily doses called stages, through gusting winds, up steep mountains, and at breakneck speeds down harrowing hairpin turns.

This year marks the 102nd tour held since the inaugural 1903 race. In the pre-Spandex era of the Tour’s early days, bike frames were made of heavy steel, and riders handled their own repairs, carrying extra tubes and tires wrapped around their shoulders and waists.

Historically, bicycles have served many roles—from military transportation to an emblem of the women's rights movement in the United States.

And they come in all shapes and sizes—from steel-framed workhorses to featherweight carbon fiber racing machines.

Cycling "is part of the childhood ritual," says Kate Powlison, a spokesperson at PeopleForBikes, which promotes the development of a nationwide cycling community. ”Even if people get older and stop riding, that nostalgia for the freedom of riding is something you don't forget."

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