Bicycles (1869)


infancy. The revolution of the old world of thought and action has as yet had but a beginning, how varied its ramifications will be bye and bye it is impossible for the present generation of me to decide. Let us just take a retrospect of the way in which our ancestors travelled some threescore years ago. It is in the memory of the past generation at least and we think of some few of the oldsters of the present generation also, that it took a stage coach a full week to run from York to London. In our younger days we recollect an advertisement to that effect posted and framed in the commercial room of the Black Swan Inn, at York; and indeed no more than forty years ago, that is just prior to the introduction of railways (the present esteemed mode of general locomotion) the journey from York to London was advertised to be safely completed in two days and one night. But how wonderful have all things changed at the present day; instead of a week we now run up to town in six hours. We leave our homes at noon and at 10 pm we put on our night caps (that is those old fogies who have not learned to keep their heads cool), in one of the hotels of the great central London termini at 10 pm. A Yorkshireman does not often forget his creature comforts and as the train s reach London at eight pm it will be seen that we have allowed him two hours to put his comfortable night cap on in the present day. We all know perfectly well about that. But what about the bicycles? We see them at work every day in the week and if any of our readers have not seen them, just let them take a stroll on Manningham Lane on any day in the week except Sunday and at any hour of the day he will see plenty of them. But we should not write historically of the subject unless we traced the lineage of bicycles. This however can be done in a few words – their fathers and mothers were velocipedes – just in the same way that elephants are the progenitors of horses; at least we will call them so for our purpose, on the scientific definition that they are motive powers. The velocipede was propelled, as everybody knows, by legs placed on the ground and so they were not equal to the go-a-head pace of the present day! Oh dear, no! we are fast men now-a-days and like to roll around the earth as fast as the earth rolls around the sun, keeping both our heads and legs up from contact with vile earth; indeed, if we were not for central attraction what would become of us with our velocipedes, bicycles and many things else on what is called terra firma. But we are becoming very discursive. Let us then say that a velocipede is a machine that is moved by a quick foot – every boy who has been at Latin school knows that well. There may be some, however, who do not know what is the derivation of the word bicycle. The classical school boys will know it, but for the benefit of others let us say that it has a Greek derivation, although the ancient Greeks, if now alive, would be somewhat puzzled with the machine itself and perhaps not much helped by knowing that it had a Greek name. We have, however, some difficulty about this as we do not possess any Greek type and it would be too far to send to the Clarendon Press, at Oxford, to borrow the few necessary letters. Let us see if English letters won’t do. Well, then, “Bia” is force and “cycle or cycles” of a circle or circles. But this is the most presumptuous appellation that was ever given to the most weak institution that was ever gifted with such a magnificent name. The flywheels of our large mills are the genuine bicycles – impelled as they sometimes are by we know not how many horse power. What a contrast to the two ordinary legs of a man  – or indeed to the three legs of a man in accordance with the royal armorial bearings of the Isle of Man. But it is true that even two legs are not necessary for bicycle propulsion. It is a favourite scheme among the scientific bicycle riders to lay even one leg on a rest and use the other only for purposes of propulsion. We have seen several bicyclets thus taking their fancy airing. We are not at all sure, however, that they have not copied this dodge from a poor lame young fellow – with a stiff leg as it appeared to us. We saw him on a Thursday (market day) guiding his iron horse with great skill and ingenuity in and out and round about past Christ Church on a Thursday morning through all the buckster’s carts, and throngs of market people who always cluster about the emporium where the necessaries of life are first to be bought for sale and afterwards to be carried away in driblets to supply the wants of all. Now this lame young fellow we are sure had in him a great taste for science and by the way in which he availed himself of it showed its development in the art of applying it We hope that his head will furnish him with skill to work out an honest livelihood, which his bodily infirmity, in some sort, places out of his reach. Anew science necessarily involves new names – at least such is the general opinion. Let the bicycles, therefore, retain their adopted name. “In the happy days when we were young the coaches frequently assumed to themselves the name of “Highflyers,” on the supposition, perhaps, that they went with the same speed on the roads, as birds did, cutting their way through the air. Railways did for them – and we are by no means sure that bicycles will not shut bicycles up. We talk about railway engines as “locomotives,” and we all understand by that name the speed with which we can be carried from John O’Groats to Land’s End, or to bring the matter nearer home, from Edinburgh to London. But we are discursive and in an article of this sort we think we have a right to be so. We want each of our readers to find something to his taste and so we would be discursive throughout. The bicycle driver has his own furore, but he has not yet quite suppressed the old “Four-in-hand.” You may get to a railway station by train, but you cannot get on to the race course without the “Four-in-hand.” We dare say, however, that very soon the “Four-in-hand” will be an institution of the past, and bicycles will carry all the swells to the race-course. Let them enlarge their grand stands and a thousand bicycles, or ten thousand for that matter, might easily be stabled within a very small compass. Young sprigs of nobility, even although they drove their own “Four-in-hand,” did not think it degrading to their nobility to trundle a stage coach, nor, indeed, is this system quite exploded at the present day. From London to Bath is still fooled along by the youngsters of an ennobled race, and well-satisfied coachee pockets the tip, which he by no means considers a affront. The hill of Parnassus has been invoked for a name befitting our present. What shall we call them? Some have two wheels – some have three wheels – and some four wheels. Oh! We must stick to the Greek, or we should not be a concant with our friends. A two wheeler is a bicycle, a three wheeler a tricycle and a four wheeler a tessarocycle. The whole institution is a wonder and why should we not make the most of it, or rather why may we not introduce a new degree, or two into the bicycle comparison – say, positive two wheels; comparative, three wheels; superlative, four wheels? Who would have thought, forty years ago, of the various ramifications and extent of modern railways, extending as they now do from John O’Groats to Land’s End? They now form the means of circulation to the life’s blood of our kingdom. They were a perfect wonder and new crops of them sprung up as fast as crops of mushrooms on a warm dewy night. The whole race of bicycles, through all degrees of comparison, are now more aptly compared with mushrooms than with railways. Why, we have not heard that the manufacturers have been for long and are still are so overworked that they cannot supply one-half the orders that are rushing in so fast and thick upon them? Railways perhaps they may never supersede entirely, but for this we feel sure, that they will supersede them in a great degree and that too before many years have passed over our heads. Bicycle roads will be made, on which a good rider can run his hundred miles a day with ease and comfort. His horse will want no fodder, and his machine no steam, – and a satchel at his back will carry his grub. Scientific engineers will just as easily adapt lines for bicycles as they have already done for steam engines, and, what is of great moment, at much less cost. When science has developed itself in former days, or rather in very recent days, to such an extent, is it for the future to be at a standstill? Why, even already we have heard of bicyclists who have performed a journey of 50 miles in eight hours and we know a young fellow who went from Guildford to London and back, 24 miles, in four hours, six miles an hour, perhaps, is not very much; but if a boy can do that now, what will the man do very soon? The bicycle roads will be laid down with the same engineering skill as the railway plates – and then we shall all see what we shall see.


The Bradford Observer, July 13, 1869; pg. 3


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