Mr Lowe on Bicycling
On Saturday the bicyclists of the Metropolis and suburbs held what maybe considered as their “great autumnal meet” on the terrace at the Crystal Palace and carried on contests for prizes in the presence of the right Hon. R Lowe, MP., the president of the West Kent Bicycle Club, who distributed the prizes and made a characteristic speech. The scene was interesting and not withstanding a somewhat cold north-east wind which was blowing, there was throughout the four hours of racing a good attendance. The races included a one-mile handicap open to members of the West Kent Bicycle Club only; a hundred yards “slow race,” and a three mile handicap were H Tomkins, W A Oram, W Looker, E P Weber, S Withera and R J Hoffman, and the final winners from among these were Looker, Hoffman and Oram. The “slow race” was a most amusing affair, the racers having to go slowly, the rear one winning. The difficulty experienced was keeping the seat at a crawl and more than one tumbled over in the attempt. The prizes fell to Dr Rucker, jun., and to a lad named R L St Alphonso, of the “Essex Wanderers.” The three mile amateur handicap was the great affair of the day and the first part of the race was run in six heats. The winners of these heats wee C T Turner, F T East, H Osborne, H Tomkins, C W Nicholas, and Dr Rucker, jun., the clubs to which these belong being the London, the Waverley, the Surrey, the West Kent and the Pickwick. The whole race was well run. And the prizes wee only won by a neck. Mr John Keen, the champion bicyclist, then gave a two miles race against time, each mile being run in 3 minutes 27 seconds. During the intervals between the races music was played by the band of boys from the North District Surrey Schools (in return for the kindness of the Palace Company giving the school children a free admission last Thursday) and by a military band. At the conclusion of the races, Mr Lowe, who was warmly cheered, took the position of president on the band platform and presented the prizes, giving to each of the winners, with the prize, some words of congratulation. In response to an urgent request by Mr Coppin and Mr Foreman, on behalf of the committee, that the president should address a few words to the company, Mr Lowe said he thought he might congratulate the ladies and gentlemen around – indeed, he thought they had reason to congratulate themselves – upon the very pleasant and rational manner in which they had spent the afternoon. They had had all the excitement which the most expensive race could have afforded, yet they would all go home with the satisfaction of knowing that no very alarming amount of money had changed hands. Then there was another satisfaction – an equal satisfaction – in feeling that in these contests of fine young men, in which each competitor had been doing his best, each was only disposing of his own energies and dependant only upon his own strength, endurance and training There was in these races no “calling upon horses,” no whipping or spurring; they depended only on a gallant emulation and there was a pleasure in knowing that the amusement of the day was not tinged with any kind of cruelty or suffering. He had been from the first a very strong advocate of the bicycle; indeed, he might claim to have been an ante bicyclist. Perhaps a few there would remember that in the time of George IV an attempt was made to introduce what was called a “dandy horse.” This was made by having a small bar of wood, with a saddle on the top, over two wheels and the “Rider” had to propel himself by running with his feet upon the ground. He attempted in those long past times to ride upon one of those machines, so he might claim that he was practising in anticipation of that which was to come at a remote time. Once, with the “dandy horse,” he rode a mile race with his Majesty’s Mail and to his own great delight got before it. Having his own early experience in his mind of the predecessor of the bicycle, he beheld the introduction of the bicycle with pleasure, because he thought there were many advantages in it. He thought, for one thing, that it was a fine amusement for young men and would keep them out of a good deal of mischief. He thought, too, that it would be a fine thing for the youth of the country in encouraging them to spend their evenings in a healthy exercise, rather than in many other ways which could be mentioned and he was satisfied that if people who were not young would educate themselves to the exercise which the bicycle afforded, they would profit very much by it. For them the bicycle was about the best antidote which could be devised against attacks of the gout – and there were other advantages in its use. It was not his business to give advice there, but he would make a suggestion which might, perhaps, be superfluous in most cases. This was to his young friends who were bicycle riders and it was that they should remember that they were, when riding the bicycle on the public roads, under exactly the same control and responsibilities as were people riding horses; and, as no horseman would think of galloping through a crowded thoroughfare, so no bicyclist should think of running his bicycle at full speed through streets. He mentioned this, not only on the score of humanity, which it was quite unnecessary to do, but because he was sure that nothing could be more injurious to the noble pursuit of bicycling than the complaint of accidents to passengers through misuse of the roads. Some of our fellow-countrymen disliked everything which was new, and bicycles among other things, and were not displeased to find some grounds of complaint against the pursuit. He would just mention, for the benefit of those, who, like himself, had lost the “first bloom of youth,” and who were, therefore, not quite so active in mounting into the saddle as those who had taken part in the races of the day, that there had been invented a safety bicycle, which would not travel so fast indeed as Mr John Keen had gone, but had the advantage of not requiring the rider to climb up to the top of a high wheel and was as easy to ride as any other. He mentioned this fact, not for the benefit of the aspiring generation who had been contesting there that day, but for the gentlemen who had attained a period in life when they did not fall lightly, and, in place of “coming up smiling,” as the young men had done that day, get up from their falls with rather rueful countenances, with a determination to retire to a resting place, where they might meditate upon their seeming folly in attempting a pursuit which was apparently meant only for those with fewer years and lighter forms. He should be glad if it could be arranged that the bicyclists could have a place where they could ride, say in some part of one of the London parks, without disturbing anyone. There was reasonable ground for asking for this concession, which he thought any Government might grant, and he said this with the more confidence as he did not see any chance of being himself in a position to appose such a proposal. (Much laughter and a voice called out “not sure of that,” at which there was cheering.) Mr Coppin proposed a vote of thanks to the President and hoped the time would come when the public of the streets would not show the lively dissatisfaction which bicyclists experienced in some parts. The vote was passed with cheers.
The Times, Sep 17, 1877; pg. 7