Science

The Strange History of Bicycle Day

How April 19 became a blissed-out tribute to both two-wheeled transport and medicinal chemistry.

Today is Bicycle Day. Consider celebrating by taking a spin class—or simply lying supine for eight hours with a blindfold and earbuds listening to the Orb’s Orblivion on repeat. Either would be appropriate to mark the two-wheeled-transport and medicinal-chemistry anniversary you’ve probably never heard of.

April 19, as explained in this video from the American Chemistry Society’s Reactions series, marks the day in 1943 when Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first dosed himself with lysergic acid diethylamide 25, or LSD. On the world’s first acid trip, he rode his bicycle home from his lab at Sandoz, since cars were restricted because of World War II. And so began what may have been the most terrifying and/or magical bike ride in history.

“On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly,” Hoffman wrote in his book LSD: My Problem Child.

Hofmann hadn’t set out to create what is perhaps the world’s best known psychedelic. Instead, he had been exploring lysergic acid derivatives of compounds found in the ergot fungus, hoping to develop a new respiratory stimulant. A few days prior to the infamous bike ride, he had been crystallizing a batch of LSD when he was “affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness.” Later, at home he “perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.”

Watch more on the day’s curious history in the video above, and nod to Hoffman, who died in 2008 at the age of 102. Despite his harrowing trip on the first Bicycle Day, he described the aftermath as nothing less than delightful. “A sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me,” he wrote. “The sun shone now after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day.”