Bicycle Day: Celebrating the Birth of LSD

This year, on April 19th, marks the 77th anniversary of a day that has come to be known as Bicycle Day. However, it is not a cyclist’s convention, nor a day of worship for the two wheeled vehicle. Bicycle Day actually marks the first intentional LSD trip ever taken, which featured— you guessed it— a now historic ride on a bicycle.

The Birth of LSD

LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-25) was first synthesised by chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938. Born in Switzerland in 1906, Hofmann grew up exploring the picturesque countryside of Baden, where he first developed his love of nature. On graduating from Zurich University, Hofmann was employed by a laboratory in Basel, who tasked him with creating a compound that would aid those with respiratory and circulatory issues. On his 25th attempt, LSD was born. When given to the lab animals, it did not produce any notable results, save signs of excitement and exhilaration. This was not considered enough to warrant continuing the exploration of the substance, so LSD-25 was shelved for the time being. 

The Trip Begins…

5 years later, the compound was still in the back of Hofmann’s mind. So in 1943, he decided to synthesise it again for his own research. During the process Hofmann accidentally ingested some of the substance (remember to wash your hands kids!), and began to feel strange. This intrigued him— so three days later, at 4:20pm on April 19th 1943, Hofmann took the first ever deliberate acid trip. Taking what he considered a small dose, of 250 micrograms, Hofmann was soon feeling the effects. Later to work out that 20 micrograms is actually the threshold amount, Hofmann kept note of his experience, recording as the LSD began to take effect:

“Beginning dizziness, feelings of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.” 

Now worried, Hofmann decided he must go home. Due to war time restrictions, cars were not permitted, only bicycles. Hofmann’s lab assistant offered to accompany the now thoroughly tripping chemist on his cycle home. Despite the journey being quick, and on the surface uneventful, to Hofmann it was anything but. 

“Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux”

Enter the Doctor

On returning home the intensity only increased— Hofmann could barely stand, he saw his neighbour as an evil witch, the furniture twisted and threatened him. Fearing he was dying, he called for a doctor. The doctor, however, could find nothing physically wrong or unusual, except for Hofmann’s extremely dilated pupils. Learning he was not in danger, Hofmann began to enjoy the sensations he now realised were not a threat. 

The next day, having come down, Hofmann was struck by the beauty of the world, stating:

“Everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created.”

How Bicycle Day Began

So, now you know about the first LSD tripper’s infamous trip! But, It wasn’t until 1985 that Bicycle Day became the yearly celebration it is today. Professor Thomas B. Roberts, of Northern Illinois University, first decided he wanted to observe April 16th as the day of festivities (the day Hofmann first accidentally ingested LSD), but that year it happened to fall on a weekday. Presumably so the party could carry on later, Roberts settled for the day of Hofmann’s first ‘official’ trip, which luckily fell on a weekend— the 19th. Of course, that day featured Hofmann’s wild ride home, so Bicycle Day was born! Through word of mouth, and later through internet posts, the idea picked up speed, and now is celebrated on a much larger scale.

Today, you don’t have to be a psychedelic adventurer to be part of Bicycle Day festivities. Most people do not take LSD on Bicycle Day, rather use the day to remember a substance that changed the face of both popular and alternative culture, while also opening doors in the medical and scientific fields. Listening to psychedelic music, watching trippy movies and simply going on a bicycle ride are all ways to observe the day. What with the revitalised interest and promising results in the field of psychedelic research, the celebrations are sure to grow year on year.  

Happy Bicycle Day!

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