Conclusion (1869)



And now let us bring our long homily to a close. We trust we have fulfilled the promise with which we set out and given all the information which is really worth possessing as to the new machine. Historic, scientific and speculative, we have looked at it from every point of view and well-nigh exhausted all that can be said upon it. We hope, however, we have not quite exhausted our readers’ patience also. It must always be remembered that if it is worth while trying the machine, it is equally worth while understanding the principles .on which it is driven. Some of our readers may think we ought to have given them specific instructions as to building a machine; but upon second thoughts we decided not to encumber the book with more technical terms. Any blacksmith and coachbuilder of ordinary intelligence can construct one from the details we have given and the competition in the supply now renders the price very moderate. “Josh Billings,” who seems to fill the chair of peculiar humour vacated by poor Artemus Ward, thinks velocipedes are of very easy construction. He says:

“It don’t take much stuff to build a filosipede. I am bold tew say that a man could make one ov’em out of a cingle old plank and then hev enough stuff left over to splinter broken limbs, or make, perhaps, a corfin. A filosipede can’t stand alone and that single fact iz enuff to condemn the think in mi eye. I don’t want to have anything to do with any helpless critter that can’t stand alone, onless, I might addd, it is a purty woman going for to faint. I don’t think it will ever get intew gineral use among farmers, az it haz no conveniences for a hay riggin, nor even a place to strap a trunk; and as tew going to church on it, the family would have tew go one at a time and the rest walk. So of course the thing is killod in that direction.”

One particular point in which a palpable defect exists in the bicycle is in the great loss which ensues when it is being driven down hill. If by any means the wasted power could be stored up for use on level ground or in ascending another hill, it would be nearly perfect. The winch-axle bicycle is undeniably the great locomotive invention of the age. For mortals who are sound in wind, limb and eyesight, it is idle to suppose that the tricycle or the four-wheeler can ever again come into extensive use. Its improvement upon the old four-wheeler is immense. We remember a club of young men in one of our northern cities purchasing—now many years ago—one of the old-fashioned treadle, crank-axled machines, under the idea that it would be a source of great amusement and recreation. Perhaps so far as amusement was concerned they were not altogether wrong. It so happened that the streets of the city were in those primitive days (as many of them are still) paved with large round stones or boulders, much resembling in shape petrified kidneys. Now this sort of pavement is all very well for huge broad-wheeled wagons, or lumbering country carts, but for delicate wheels, such as those on which this velocipede ran, they were simply excruciating. It was impossible to drive the machine on level streets, or up an incline so paved, whilst in descending a hill the shaking was of the most pronounced character, indeed almost sufficient to dislocate a man’s vertebrae, or to induce interstitial absorption in his spinal cord. When, however, by great exertion the machine had been propelled beyond the streets, its progress was still slow and the labour required enormous. More than once the whole apparatus was upset ignominiously into a ditch and unless our memory deceives us, one ardent driver ran over a small child. It cannot therefore be wondered at, that it soon passed into disuse and was remembered only as a delusion and a snare: the prolific source of bruises, sore joints and general personal discomfort. When well-built, a bicycle ought to diffuse physical enjoyment through the whole frame, but our memory of this four-wheeled machine is a memory of something which gave most intense fatigue. Fatigue to the legs in working the treadles: fatigue to the arms kept in an unnatural position: and fatigue to the whole body, by being shaken as never mortal has been shaken, since the day when Sancho Panza was tossed in a blanket for refusing to pay his reckoning at the inn. In conclusion we therefore earnestly recommend our readers at once to buy, or to build a machine. If they build it themselves they must take especial care to use only the best tempered steel and the hardest seasoned wood. They must moreover guard against any such mistake as that which is recorded of two editors in Chicago, who undertook to produce a velocipede on a new and improved pattern. One was to furnish the money and the other the inventive skill. A large three-wheeled affair was then secretly constructed in a cellar, but when completed it was found to be several inches wider than the doorway! We are told that the editors are still consulting whether to tear down the house or take the velocipede to pieces. We, men of to-day, are like the men of Athens in the days of old, always looking out for some new thing: it is well for us when the new sensation has anything really valuable underneath it. We heartily embrace the velocipede therefore, not merely as something new, but as something from which a considerable amount of practical good is likely to ensue. And now, in leaving the indulgent reader who has followed us thus far, we do not know that we can give him any better parting wish, than that when he has finished his course along the level roads and up the steep hills of life, he may glide as smoothly down its incline, as when directing a descent on his own bicycle.

The velocipede, its past, its present & its future, by Joseph Firth Bottomley, 1869


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