How to Manage a Bicycle (1869)

How to Manage a Bicycle.

When an individual for the first time in his life sees a man spinning along the road and turning round street corners, seated on a bar of steel fixed above two wheels, one running immediately behind the other and without any lateral support, he is apt to experience considerable surprise and astonishment. He likens the performance to that of some daring acrobat and is in a state of constant fear lest the rider should fall sideways and break his head. And even when he finds that this fear is practically groundless, he cannot resist the conclusion that such doubtful skill is only to be acquired by the expenditure of a great deal of time and trouble such as no mortal, except he be eccentric or a professional athlete, would care to give it. But this is not so by any means. Indeed we should be within the truth in the assertion, that anyone who can learn to ride a horse can, with much less trouble and far greater safety, make himself master of the velocipede. In the latter case he will find the temper of his steed to be perfectly equable and when the roads are good, it will also prove gentle and easy to be entreated—not like the former sometimes lively and skittish and at other times surly and stupid. The whole secret of riding and managing a bicycle lies in the art of preserving the equilibrium. When the operator finds his machine leaning too much on one side, his only duty is to turn the handle of the steering apparatus in such a manner as to cause the front wheel to turn to the same side. The steering wheel will then describe a part of a circle the radius of which is determined by the extent of the tendency to capsize and by the speed at which the machine is being driven. An exactly parallel case is presented by a man carrying a basket on his head: —when he finds it falling on any side he naturally steps further in the same direction, thereby bringing himself more directly underneath it. When this theory is thoroughly understood the after-practice requisite to a complete mastery of the bicycle need not occupy long. If the learner visits a velocipede school, he will probably find himself able to manage a machine without help after half-a-dozen lessons. His great difficulty will be at first to reduce the theory of balance into actual practice. The tendency to lean to the other side, when he feels the machine falling over, is almost’ unconquerable, but when once overcome progress is easy. If the learner attends one of these numerous schools provided for his benefit, he will also have the advantage of carefully prepared ground and will advance, by steady gradations, to the requisite mastery of the machine. But many riders will not have gymnasia for the purpose in their vicinity, or will not care to learn from others what they can readily acquire for themselves. For the benefit of these we will sketch out a method of learning which may be adopted with a certainty of success by anyone of ordinary strength and perseverance. If it be possible to obtain one, it is very desirable to have in beginning, a small velocipede which will admit of the feet readily touching the ground, so that whenever the balance is lost, or the rider is at fault, he may at once recover his position on terra firma without the humiliation of falling. He should then choose a pavement or hard macadamized road free from any obstacles, and if possible, with a considerable slope in it— say about one in twenty-five. And first, in order to the thorough practical comprehension of the steering apparatus and the manner in which it works, let him take hold of the machine by the handle and walk alongside it for some 500 yards or so and carefully note the effect of every pressure made upon the handle. As soon as this is thoroughly comprehended, he may place the vehicle at the top of the slope and with the wheels in a perfectly straight line. He must then mount and seize firmly the steering handles. If the machine be small enough he will be able to put his feet on the ground whenever any mistake is made in the steering; if not, he must have some able and muscular friend to hold him in an erect position. It is very undesirable to attempt to work the machine before the rider is accustomed to his seat. The descent in the road will carry the velocipede forward of itself and the learner will find quite sufficient employment at first in guiding it so as to keep the balance correct. Let him, however, always bear in mind the cardinal principle that whenever the machine inclines too much to any one side, the wheel must be turned in that direction, and he will soon pass the next point in his self-instruction.  Having now acquired an entire comprehension of the working of the steering-handles, first by walking with the machine alongside and afterwards in the saddle, but without using the pedals, we must now advance another stage. If an able assistant is at hand to grasp the back of the machine and keep it steady so much the better; if not, the next step ought not to be taken without a perfect mastery of those which have preceded it. Place the machine once again at the top of the slope and as soon as it begins to move, let the steering handles be firmly grasped in the hands in such a manner as to keep the whole perfectly straight and then gradually raise the feet on to the pedals of the front wheels. Perhaps it is safest to have only one foot on at once at first, the great object being to accustom the feet to the motion of the pedals. No pressure need be applied, as the slope in the road will convey all necessary velocity to the machine.

The velocipede, its past, its present & its future,J F Bottomley (1869)


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