Ladies Velocipedes

Ladies’ Velocipedes

The great objection to which velocipedes and velocipedestrination have hitherto been open, is their exclusiveness. The pleasures of the new mode of locomotion were confined exclusively to the sterner sex; and the fairer and frailer portion of creation, were bound to stand quietly by, whilst husbands and lovers revelled in the new sensation. To the ladies of Paris—accustomed to the gratification of every passing whim—this was sufficiently provoking and they have overcome the difficulty, as we shall hereafter see, by the adoption of a modified form of tricycle. But the American lady could not rest content with any such feeble substitute. She felt that her independence was to some degree at stake. American ladies had already familiarized to themselves every other method of locomotion; they were as much at home on the horse as their brothers and husbands and they declared the invention of the age to be both a delusion and a sham if it did not show them the way to become equally so on the bicycle. The ancient methods of progression they contemptuously dismissed time was, when the fathers and mothers of the land used to take their journeys abroad mounted on the same horse, the wife sitting behind on what was known as a “pillion.” But those were the days of wifely obedience and the journeys were pleasant to all concerned—saving, perhaps, the horse. If the road were long and the riders heavy, its sufferings must have been considerable. And moreover this position had its recommendations from an aesthetical point of view; if the road were hilly and rough, it often became necessary for the wife, in order to keep the balance, to lean lovingly against, or even to half embrace, her husband and thus unconsciously her sense of dependence was strengthened. We have often thought that our modern style of locomotion presents nothing so interesting as was this patriarchal method of travel.

Before we pass on to see what has been done for the strong-minded and independent lady, we may perhaps note that the velocipede promises, to a certain extent, to reintroduce the “pillion” style of riding. The belles and beaux of some American cities, have foreshadowed the happy day in a vehicle which we engrave in fig. 23. We are told that this velocipede is not seldom to be seen in the streets of New York and Boston and we feel confident that when the first blush of novelty has passed away, English ladies will be as eager to try it as their American sisters. The device consists simply of an ordinary double seated bicycle, driven in front by the husband or “cousin,” or lover, as the case may be and with the lady, seated side-saddle fashion, behind and working one of the hind wheel winches. We forbear to bore our readers with enumerating the advantages which may result to the youth of the land from the extensive adoption of such a machine; they will occur to the mind of every rightly constituted male. If it be a pleasure to take an evening stroll, or a pull on the river with the fair lady of your choice, what must be the ecstasy attendant upon planting her on your own bicycle, and whilst practically driving her in any direction you incline, to still give her a certain power over the machine? What better commentary could be written of wedded life than that which two such velocipedestrians naturally work out for themselves? The man in front guides and directs the whole, doing the main part of the hard labour, whilst the lady behind, follows wherever he may lead, accustoms herself to his direction and yet feels that she has an interest in the machine and that its safety, to a greater or less extent, depends upon her care and exertion. But, as we have said, American ladies are many of them so strong minded and independent, that they will have none of this. They do not believe in looking for guidance and support to the other “vessel.” They have fought for equality on the platform and the pulpit; in the sick room and at the bar, and they are not intending to allow the velocipede to remain a standing token of the “subjection of women.” This is what an American paper specially devoted to the velocipede interest, says of ladies on the bicycle:

“It had been a matter of doubt whether the ladies would take to the velocipede or not, as many had supposed that the use of the bicycle was of course out of the question unless each fair rider followed Jessica’s example and obscured herself in the lovely garnish of a boy.”

But while the young men and some that, alas! are young no longer, are dashing about on velocipedes, the active young women look on with envy and emulation. They do not see why they should be denied the exercise and amusement which the bicycle so abundantly furnishes. Many tricycles have been designed for their especial use, but with those they are not satisfied and this style of machine will not come into general use. The ladies want a little of the risk and dash which attends the riding of the two-wheeled velocipede and will hardly be content with a machine that cannot possibly upset or run into somebody. The idea is sometimes conceived from seeing experts ride side-saddle fashion and drive the machine with one foot that ladies might begin by learning that mode of velocipeditation, but it is a mistake. It would be well-nigh impossible to acquire the art in that way, though it is easy enough after one has learned. What is needed is a two-wheeled velocipede properly adapted to the use of ladies and there is now one in use. The reach or frame, instead of forming a nearly straight line from the front swivel to the hind axle, follows the curve of the wheel until it reaches a line nearly as low as the hind axle, when it runs horizontally to that point of the hind wheel. The two wheels being separated three or four inches, allow of an upright rod being secured to the frame; around this is a spiral spring, upon which a comfortable cane seated willow-backed chair is placed. This machine, with a moderate sized wheel (say thirty to thirty-three inches), will permit a lady to drive with a great deal of comfort and all the advantages of the two-wheel veloce, without its objectionable features. For instance, in mounting, a lady would have to step over the reach at a point only twelve inches from the floor—the height of an ordinary step in a flight of stairs. And, now, as to the dress. What is wanted in this respect is a dress that shall be suitable for either riding or walking. This, we think, has also been achieved and that by a lady. Let us try to describe the dress of a velocipedestrienne. Let the outer skirt be made so as to button its entire length in front —the back part should be made to button from the bottom to a point about three-eighths of a yard up the skirt. This arrangement does not detract at all from the appearance of an ordinary walking costume. When the wearer wishes to prepare for a drive she simply loosens two or three of the lower buttons at the front and back, and, bringing together the two ends of each side separately, buttons them in this way around each ankle, and, when mounted, the dress falls gracefully at each side of the front wheel. We are told that a club of New York ladies have this velocipede and costume under their especial care and that there is now in the city more than one velocidrome where the fair riders are taught the new method of equitation. No doubt the invention will be hailed as a boon throughout the States and ladies who have hitherto been sorely troubled with their husbands velocipedestrinating propensities, will now revenge themselves by mounting their own bicycles. One poor lady signing herself “Sarah Jane Bates,” writes to the Binghampton Republican to say that her husband “goes out in the day-time and rides a velocipede and then keeps up the propelling motion with his feet all night.” She says she “don’t like it.” We submit that she has now the remedy in her own hands; let her buy a bicycle for herself and having thereby learnt the “propelling motion,” let her illustrate her capacity to her husband in the same way that she complains of in him and we will stand bail for the issue. There will be peace in the Bates’ household thenceforward. The adaptation of the tricycle, which has found favour with the ladies of Paris we engrave in fig. 24. A slipper is fixed on the treadle for the accommodation of the foot and the progression though slow is sure. There is no danger of an upset and the fair rider is able in case of accident or impending danger, to free herself from the apparatus without difficulty. If French or English ladies are bent on velocipedestrination, this is the machine they will have to perform upon. Of course the Bloomers and the Mary Walkers of the States cannot rest content with such a machine, but we in Europe are still so old fashioned as to prefer propriety to sensation. It would no doubt be mighty pleasant, to go out velocipeding with your fair friends, each mounted on her own bicycle, but custom and nature revolt against it and there can be no doubt but that it is in the “eternal fitness of things” that it should be so. At least half the interest of one sex in the other arises from their respective dependent and protective positions. When a lady velocipedes she destroys all this kind of subtle interest and thereby loosens one of the sweetest and firmest bonds of existence. Every velocipedestrienne ought to be compelled to wear blue stockings.

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

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