The beginnings of the proper bicycle (1829)


Mr. Editor,—If the extent and subject of the following observations do not render them altogether inadmissible to your valuable pages, I shall be obliged by their insertion; and by the reply, no less, of some one of your numerous and intelligent correspondents in a future number. It has struck me, Sir, as somewhat singular, that one of the most promising inventions of this inventive age, which made its appearance some ten or twelve years back, should, after so short a space of time, have been consigned to the neglect of an obsolete trifle: I allude to the discovery of the velocipede, or pedestrian curricle (as it was by some designated), whose use, about the time stated, was as common as it was transient. Now, Sir, rumour has stated that this machine was suppressed either by legal or civil authority; but neither judgment nor information have led me to consider this statement as having the shadow of correctness. The invention, in itself, I need scarcely say, is characterised by the greatest simplicity as to principle, economy as to expense, and convenience as to application. It was indeed twofold; but my particular reference is to that modification of it which was put into operation by treadles and cranks, the rider being seated as in a chaise.

It is true that to the innkeeper and ostler, the stage-coach proprietor, and some others, the success of this invention would be a matter of odium, as dispensing with the care and keep of the one party, and with the conveyances of the other. It is true, that with men of expensive habits, whose self-satisfaction would be reduced in proportion to their diminution of external show, an engine at once so economical and unobtrusive would find but little patronage. But, Sir, if the system or means of locomotion in question possesses, as it appears to me it does, the qualifications of celerity, lightness, elegance, compactness, durability, and ease of propulsion — if it be opposed by impediments fewer and less worthy of notice than those attendant on any scheme of similar pretensions — if this invention provides individuals with a means of conveyance independent of the casualties and preparations inseparable from the use of vehicles in general — if, in fine, the end of knowledge is practical improvement, in adding to the facilities, comforts, and resources, and consequently to the moral amelioration of the human species — surely such an invention as that of Mr. – (I am ashamed to forget his name), is one far less worthy than most, of that oblivion into which it appears to have sunk.

Mr. Editor, I have to beg pardon for thus trespassing upon your attention; but I trust the comparative importance of the subject may plead my excuse. Some may reply, “Set the example, in restoring the use of the machine you recommend;” and the appeal would come with some force were your writer subjected by his avocations to pedestrian exercises. As it is, however, he contents himself with bringing the subject before the more judicious consideration of the reader of the “Mechanics’ Magazine;” some of whom, should any queries arise as to the expenses, &c. incidental to the proposed scheme, will be fully able to give a satisfactory reply.

He has the honour to remain,

Mr. Editor,
Your obedient servant,

Coleman-street, Sept. 24, 1829

(The Mechanics’ magazine, Volume 12, 1830, p. 237)

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