How to Ride a Bicycle (1869)

When the rider is thoroughly accustomed to the movement and is able to balance himself without putting his feet on to the ground, he may abandon the slope and try his fortune on level ground, where the application of considerable pressure is requisite. If he meet with no difficulty here, he may consider himself as perfect as anything, except practice, will ever make him and the sooner he takes the necessary practice, the sooner will he become thoroughly at home upon the new machine. In starting a velocipede on a level road it is well, if the saddle be not too high, to stand astride of the machine and then placing the front wheel in such a position that one of the pedals is slightly past its greatest height, put one foot upon it. The weight of the body applied to this pedal is generally sufficient to start it and then the other foot may be raised on to the other pedal, which will rise naturally to meet it, and the art of mounting will be acquired. Where there is a slope in the road, or where an active friend is at hand, the difficulty of mounting may of course be much lessened. When the rider comes better to understand his machine, he will mount it by running alongside for three or four yards and vaulting into the saddle, but of course for a tyro to attempt such a method of ascent would be suicidal and almost certain to end in discomfiture. In almost all velocipedes, two projecting arms are placed in front for the purpose of carrying the feet when the rider is making the descent of a hill. Where the gradient is one in thirty or even one in forty, the machine will not require any active working of the pedals; and if the operator thoroughly understands the steering of the machine and if his break be in good order, he will find it a very great comfort to place his feet on these rests and thus descend the hill without exertion. The speed maybe perfectly controlled by the use of the break ; and indeed, if necessary the machine may be brought to a standstill, but if the operator have courage and confidence he may descend a hill at the rate of twenty or twenty-five miles an hour without any labour whatever. A good velocipede may be driven over very rough roads without much damage and even up a steep ascent, say one in ten, but the operator will generally find it best to economize his power by getting off and walking up hill. A well-built machine may be readily drawn along with one hand and the change of position and muscular action thereby necessitated, greatly enhances the pleasure of a trip with it. On a good hard level road an average speed of not less than ten miles an hour may be safely run and if the hills to be climbed are alternated pretty regularly by hills to descend, the same rate of speed ought to be maintained. A bicycle has been driven over the level course at St. Cloud 2400 metres, or nearly a mile and a half in length, in four minutes fifty seconds; and in a race at Vincennes over a level course of 3600 metres, or about two miles, the distance was accomplished in nine minutes 10 seconds. Where there is an incline, or down hill, of course much greater speed may be attained. In a test race, as to the greatest distance which could be velocipeded within the twenty-four hours, which recently came off in France, one of the competitors accomplished eighty-seven miles and the other no less than 125. A party of nine persons recently left Rouen in the morning after breakfast and arrived in Paris in the evening in time for dinner, the distance being eighty-five miles. The same feat has been performed between London and Brighton and a party of riders recently “worked their passage” from Liverpool to London by road in about three days. To drive the velocipede at a moderate speed is, as may be supposed, a much easier art than to drive it very slowly and prizes are given at all the velocipede races in America and France for the riders who go the slowest. It is of course impossible for the machine to stand perfectly upright and the slower the speed under six miles an hour the greater tact is required in managing it. When a thorough command of the vehicle is obtained, feats of agility may be practised by those who wish to excel in them. For purposes of general convenience, all riders ought to learn to manage the steering apparatus with one hand, but a good driver is able to control it without using the hands at all. Some riders vault on to and off the saddle when at full speed, sit on one side working only one pedal, or even travel forty or fifty yards standing head downwards in the saddle. Such feats are, however, rather for the circus than public use. It is difficult enough in ordinary street velocipeding to avoid cannoning against vehicles without running any additional risks by adopting new and dangerous attitudes. We are told by some enthusiastic manufacturers that the management of the velocipede is now a part of every liberal education and to a certain extent it is treated as such in America and France, but the art is sufficiently delicate and the position of the rider sufficiently absurd without being made more so absurd by any gymnastic performances. One genius is already preparing to velocipede himself across Niagara in a groove-wheeled machine and other semi-insane mortals exhibit at once their fool-hardiness and their ambition by riding along the parapets of the Seine. It may be hoped if there be real merit in the invention, that the public will not be deterred from appreciating it, because of the acrobatic performances of these velocipedomaniacs.

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


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