‘Around the World’ tells true story of bicyclist’s trek


Around the World on Two Wheels tells the truly amazing true story of the ahead-of-her time 19th century super-cyclist, Annie Kopchovsky Londonderry, who in 1894 set out to circle the globe on a bicycle. Annie’s story has been lovingly and painstakingly brought to life by Peter Zheutlin, the great-nephew of the protagonist of this true-life tale.

Zheutlin points out that until 1894 there were no female sports stars in any field in the United States, “no endorsement deals, and no young mothers with the chutzpah to circle the globe on a bicycle. Annie Kopchovsky changed all of that.” Annie was a Jewish immigrant and working mother of three living in a Boston tenement with her husband, a peddler.


Annie seemed doomed to be stuck in poverty and to be blocked from the “American Dream” in the land which immigrants believed was “paved with gold.” Annie’s life was to change forever when she read a newspaper article about “one of the strangest wagers ever made,” which the author describes as a “high-stakes bet between two wealthy merchants that a woman could not ride around the world on a bicycle, as the male cyclist Thomas Stevens had a few years before.

Annie stepped up to the plate and pledged to finish her 15-month trip with an incredible sum of $5,000 which she raised by selling advertising space on her bike and her clothing, making personal appearances in stores and at bike races. Five thousand dollars in 1894 was truly a staggering amount of money, and Annie’s idea of selling ad space on her bike and clothing was done more than a century before it became standard practice at NASCAR races and other major sporting events. A major corporate sponsor, the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company of New Hampshire became one of her first major sponsors, and in tribute to the company’s generous support, Annie changed her immigrant name to Annie Londonderry, “and a legend was born.”

Like the other “Annie icon” of the 19th century, Annie Oakley, the heroine of Around the World on Two Wheels “turned every Victorian notion of female propriety on its ear,” writes Zheutlin. “When Annie left Boston in June 1894, she was a brash young lady with a 42-pound bicycle, a revolver, a change of underwear and a dream of freedom,” he continues.

This fast-moving and evocative book, which reads more like an exciting novel than dry history, traces Annie’s long and sometimes dangerous journey “from a frigid ride through France to an encounter with outlaw John Wesly Hardin in El Paso, a journey which “took the connection between athletics and commercialism to dizzying new heights and turned Annie into a symbol of sexual equality,” years before women would finally get the right to vote in U.S. elections.

Zheutlin himself is an avid cyclist who worked tirelessly for four years to trace the story of his great grand-aunt. The freelance journalist’s work appears regularly in the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor. He has also written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, AARP Magazine, Bicycling, the New England Quarterly and other publications. He resides in Needham, Mass. All of the many strands of Zheutlin’s interests in cycling, popular history and real-time journalism are used to great advantage as he tells the story of his remarkable ancestor, in this delightful, informative, humorous and inspiring book.

PETER ZHEUTLIN, author of “Around the World on Two Wheels,” published by Citadel Press, will speak with author Rochelle Saidel during the “Biography” program moderated by St. Louis Post-Dispatch Book Editor Jane Henderson at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Admission: $15 or free with festival series ticket.