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Belfast’s role in development of modern cycling celebrated

7 May 2014
On the eve of the Giro d’Italia, the pivotal role played by two Belfast men in the development of modern cycling has been recognised.

In 1887, the Scottish-born veterinary surgeon and inventor John Boyd Dunlop developed the first practical pneumatic tyre, when he fitted inflated tubes of sheet rubber to the rear wheels of his son’s tricycle.

The advantages of the new invention were soon to be become clear, when just two years later – on 18 May 1889 – the renowned cyclist Willie Hume, captain of the Belfast Cruisers’ Cycling Club, used them in competition for the first time – and won all four races at the Queen’s College Sports. Hume – who also was the first person to buy a bicycle fitted with the then revolutionary tyres – went on to win multiple races across the island of Ireland and England, establishing their use as the standard for the sport.

Almost 125 years to the day after that first race later, a plaque honouring the role which both Dunlop and Hume played in the development of cycling as we know it today has been unveiled by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, near the spot where that historic event took place, on the Ormeau Road. Among those who took part in this morning’s ceremony were 75 pupils from Scoil an Droichid and Harding Memorial Primary School who have been taking part in Sustrans’ Active Schools Travel Programme.

Although Dunlop’s invention revolutionised and help popularise cycling, it did not make him the fortune it perhaps should have done: after beginning commercial production in central Belfast in late 1890, he later assigned his patent to William Harvey Du Cros in return for 1500 shares in the latter’s company, and he died in Dublin a man of relatively modest means.

However, his memory lives on in the city he adopted: an Ulster History Circle ‘Blue Plaque’ marks the site of his workshop in May Street, and his image appears on the Northern Bank £10 note.
A plaque to John Dunlop and Willie Hume has been unveiled