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VERY early bicycling

This article, published in 1896, describes bicycling in what HE describes as "the early days"  - so EVEN before my time !

 

Stage 1 - The Velocipede

 

and then they invented pedals :-

Stage 2 - The true bicycle.

 

But it was soon apparent that the rider needed to go further for each turn of the pedals.  The easy solutiion was a bigger driven wheel - and hence the Penny-farthing:-

Stage 3 - The Penny-farthing

 

And some afficianados still use them today - but not often :-

and eventually the bicycle developed into an "every day" machine :-

THE
BADMINTON MAGAZINE
OF
SPORTS AND PASTIMES
  
EDITED BY
ALFRED E.T. WATSON


 Volume II
JANUARY to JUNE 1896

LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
LONDON, NEW YORK, AND BOMBAY

1896
All rights reserved



THE EARLY DAYS OF BICYCLING

BY T. MAXWELL WITHAM

I was walking a few Sundays ago along a road leading from London which is a favourite resort of bicyclists, and as I met and was passed by hundreds of young and middle-aged men and women on bicycles, it struck me that it might interest the present generation to know something of what cycling was like at its earliest inception.
About the year 1866 a cousin residing in Paris used to write to me about a wonderful new velocipede, and tried to explain it; but I quite failed to understand the machine, and thought he was romancing when he said that it consisted of two wheels, one following the other, and that the rider sat upon a saddle fixed to a spring which was above the wheels, and drove the machine by pushing round, with his feet, cranks attached to the front wheel.  
"How", I said to myself, "can anyone retain his position on such a machine as this?" and I dismissed the matter from my thought as absurd; but shortly afterwards I met a friend who was, he said, going to Spencer's Gymnasium in Old Street, St. Luke's, to see a new velocipede that had lately come from Paris, and which was being tried at the gymnasium. And what a curious sight greeted us ! 
Some half a dozen men were learning to ride ; apparently the process seemed to consist either in running into each other, and collapsing in a heap of struggling arms, legs, and wheels, or running boldly into the wall. Some who could go a few yards were learning to mount, and as the early bicycles had no step, this was accomplished by taking hold of the handles, running along-side the machine, and vaulting into the saddle.   That was what 

190                           THE BADMINTON MAGAZINE 

was aimed at; but the timid did not give a sufficient spring and if they did not hit their knee against the end of the spring and come to grief, they landed, not on the saddle, but on the back part of the narrow spring to which the saddle was fixed; and the bold jumped too vigorously and perhaps landed on the npring in front of the saddle, or even on the handles themaelves, and the lucky ones who made a good shot and actually landed on the saddie felt frantically for the pedals, which they mostly failed to catch, and down they came sideways with a fearful clatter. Oh, that gymnasium was a most exhilarating place for onlookers! I attended there every day and went through the same process as the others, and, at the end of a week, although black and blue all over and sore in every joint, I could occasionally land on the
saddle and wobble round the room. That was enough to fire my ambition, and I at once wrote to my cousin in Paris to send me one of Michaux's machines. It duly arrived, a model of beauty and lightness (it only weighed about 140 lbs.!). 1 unpacked it and took it out into the road to try it, and decided to walk it some distance, till I came to a gentle decline where mounting would be more easy. The extraordinary appearance of the machine, the like of which had never been seen before, attracted a crowd of small boys, and the general opinion amongst them was that I was an official measuring the road; but when I came to the decline, and, jumping, luckily landed in the saddle, and went wobbling all over the road down the hill, a shout of admiration broke forth from my following. The way I grasped those handles, coupled with the awful bumping I experienced from the iron tyre over the badly constructed macadam of the Edgware Road, so different from my previous experience on a boarded floor, perfectly paralysed my arms, and at the end of half a mile I was obliged to come to a halt and recover myself. I had told a friend that I was going through the turnpike that then existed in the Edgware Road opposite to the entrance of the West End Lane, and shortly after he arrived there and said to the toll-keeper, 'Have you seen a gentleman riding on a funny-looking machine go through the gate ?' 'Yes,' he said, 'a gentleman as seemed to me a riding on two 'arf-crowns went through the gate half an hour ago.' 'Did
you charge hie machine any toll?'   'No, I didn't; it hain't get no blood in its weins !'  For weeks I straggled along, every day acquiring skill, and every day holding the handles less tightly — indeed, I could soon go on a level road without holding the handles at all; but the shaking and bumping were terrible, and my usual ride to Barnet and hack quite exhausted me.   There were other 

 

                               THE EARLY DAYS OF BICYCLING                     191

enthusiasts of the new machine, mostly Skating Club men, and we  formed ourselves into one of the first, if not actually the first club, and styled ourselves the Amateur Bicycle Club, or, shortly, the A. B. C. So few were the wheelmen of those early days, that if I saw the track of a bicycle along the Barnet Road I could generally say whose it was from the amount of wobble. We used to have meets and run eighteen or twenty-five miles, come home perfectly exhausted, and try to persuade ourselves that bicycling was very enjoyable ; and so it was at the start when one was fresh, but to find oneself ten or fifteen miles from home and dead tired required considerable pluck to enable one to drive a 'bone-shaker' weighing some 150 lbs., and it was anything but a pleasure, and bicycliug would certainly have died out but for the advent of the india-rubber tyre.
A member of the firm of Smith. Parfrey & Co.. Pimlico Wheel Works, knowing that I was keen on bicycling, told me that young Mr. Parfrey had fitted his bicycle with an indiarubber tyre, and I went to look at it. I was horrified at its appearance. The rubber tyre was 1 1/2 inch thick, and was held in its place by brass flanges. Years before Parfrey had taken out a patent for tbese tyres, which were intended for invalid carriages. They did not take, as they were too expensive, and the patent was chopped. 
The rubber tyre had a perforation down the centre, through which a wire of the exact circumference of the periphery of the wheel went, but the rubber itself was about a foot longer than the wire; this extra length was forced back on the wire, which was then joined, thus compressing the rubber considerably and rendering it extremely elastic and incapable of being cut by stones, &c. 
As I said, I thought the fat tyre hideous, and told Mr. Parfrey so; but he said, * Mount the machine and try it.1 I did so, and was in heaven ! It went noiselessly and smoothly over the macadam of the Buckingham Palace Road, and when I returned to the works, after a spin of half a mile, my first question was, how long would it take to fit my machine with similar tyres'? A week — and Mr. Parfrey was as good as his word, for at the end of a week I went to Pimlico and rode the machine home, and remember coming to grief round a corner where the road was very greasy by reason of the rubber tyre slipping sideways. This was a new experience, and not a pleasant one; but I found that the side-slipping could be prevented by care in keeping the machine perfectly upright. Arrived home, I started for my usual ride to Barnet and back, and instead of feeling done up, I came back as fresh as when I started; and this tempted me to try to ascend a 
NO. VII. VOL. II.                                             o


 192                  THE BADMINTON MAGAZINE 
short but steep hill leading from the Finchley Road to Belsize Park. I had often tried to surmount this little hill, and invariably failed, as the iron-tyred wheel always skidded. I put the rubber tyre at it, and rode up with the greatest facility. Here was a revelation, and the ugly-looking fat tyre rose vastly in my estimation. At this period two members of the A. B. C, Dr. King and Mr. Custance, had arranged to take their bicycles to Edin-
burgh and ride home. Bursting with my newly acquired knowledge of what the new tyre was capable, I rushed down to them and made them come up and try my machine, with the result that they put off their trip till Mr. Parfrey could fit rubber tyres to their machines. They were probably the first men who ever rode from Edinburgh to London; and great fun they had, their silent-going machines exciting the greatest interest and wonder. 
I still have an old wooden-wheeled machine with a 38-inch driving-wheel, which was fitted in 1870 w4th these compressed rubber tyres, and it is still to the fore. I used to ride it in the early mornings in preference to my big machine, as on it I did not go too fast for the dogs that used to accompany me, and when I was going a long distance and mounted the big light machine I felt like flying. That old wooden-wheeled machine has carried me thousands of miles, but when the wire spokes and thin stretched tyres came into fashion, I used to be derided by small boys as 'cart-wheels.' On one occasion I was proceeding in the
early morning quietly along a lane at the back of the Welsh Harp, my dogs trotting alongside of me, when I was suddenly passed by two men on very tall machines, and from their elevation I noticed that they looked down with contempt at my humble though sturdy mount. I had been the road the day before, and knew that just round the corner, some little way on, new gravel about 8 inches thick had been put down for about 150 vards, and I said to myself, ' Pride goes before a fall, and those men will come to grief,' and sure enough, as I came round the corner I found my friends, one in the ditch at one side of the road, and one the other. I took not the slightest notice of them, but, grasping the
handies tightly, went at the gravel as though it were the medium of all others that I would ride for preference, and managed to ride through the obstruction. I heard afterwards that these two gentlemen reported that they had passed what apparently was a man accompanied by two hounds, and mounted on a most extra-ordinary little old bicycle, but which must have been a bicycle demon from the manner in which he flitted over a perfectly impossible road!


                THE EARLY  DAYS OF BICYCLING               193

In the early days of bicycles the pedals were weighted so as to cause the only face they had to be uppermost, and everyone placed the middle of the foot on the pedal. John Keen, the professional who afterwards became so celebrated on the cinder path, used to turn up these pedals and push with his toe; and I one day suggested to him that, instead of keeping the foot parallel with the ground, the treadle should be worked as he was accustomed to work the treadle of his lathe - namely, to depress the heel of the foot as the treadle ascended, and raise the heel by pointing the toe downwards as the treadle descended, as by thus
using the ankle the height at which the knee would have to be raised each revolution would be about half what would be required if the ankle were kept stiff and the foot flat, and the feet could also be 'picked up' easier (by 'picked up' i mean that all pressure would be more easily taken off the ascending treadle). 
Keen practised this mode of working the treadle assiduously, and became the greatest exponent that ever rode on a cinder path of what is now known as 'pedalling.' I remember on one occasion, in a mile race between Keen and Cooper of Sheffield, which excited great interest, and was won by Keen, hearing a Yorkshireman, who had backed Cooper, say after the race, 'I knew I had lost my money when I saw Keen a-paddling with his feet,' meaning thereby to designate Keen's perfect ankle action. As a rider of long standing, I look at every bicyclist that I meet or that passes me, and I think I may safely assert that not one in a hundred has the faintest idea of using his ankles at all; and that
not one in a thousand really pedals properly ; and yet the driving a bicycle with grace is simply impossible without perfect pedalling, and without it an immense deal of energy is wasted, as it is almost impossible unless the ankle is used to take the pressure off the ascending treadle, and unless this is done the pressure on the descending treadle is greatly increased, as it has not only to drive the wheel, but it has to lift the weight of the other leg. 
Another mistake I see made by many modern bicyclists — they sit too low. The saddle should be raised sufficiently to allow the leg to be practically straight at the lowest point reached by the pedal, and the thrust given by the leg should work from the hip to the pedal perfectly straight, like a piston rod. One constantly sees a rider, who thrusts straight with one leg, allow the knee of the other to bend outwards when the crank is at its highest point.
In the old days one of the greatest nuisances to the cyclist was the toll-bar.   Toll was not claimed, but the surly toll-keeper                                                                                                                   o 2

 

194                          THE BADMINTON MAGAZINE
very frequently refused to open the gate, and this necessitated getting off and opening the gate oneself -a proceeding that was conducive neither to dignity nor good temper. And then, again, one hnd always to bs very careful in meeting horses. The owners of horses looked on bicyclists as enemies, having no right to the use of the road ; and if a horse was frightened, as was generally the case. the poor cyclist was abused in the coarsest language. 
What a change time has wrought! For every horse and trap I met the other Sunday afternoon I met fifty cyclists! 

---oOo---

 


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