THE COMMON RIGHTS OF CYCLISTS
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES
Among the earliest pieces of evidence of the great part which the bicycle plays in modern life is the National Cyclists’ Congress. Probably the members of the Publishers’ Congress, numbering representatives of literature and the industries connected therewith from all parts of the world, would be surprised and indignant if any comparison were drawn between the gatherings as solvents of national prejudices or agencies in making man know each other better. And yet, reading what has already been done to break down national barriers and what is contemplated by the International League of Touring Associations, the comparison is not so far-fetched or offensive to the guild of publishers as it might at first seem. How few, after all, are the books of one country which make their way into another and become part and parcel of its literature. The number of translations annually published is a small proportion of the literature of any year and outside a select circle a work which happens to be successful in France or Germany may be almost unknown here. Mr. Cobden thought that commerce would create the “international man,” the cosmopolitan above local prejudices and at home everywhere. Commerce has of late stirred up as many jealousies as it has laid and it looks as if the bicycle might do what so far commerce shows no sign of accomplishing. Every year our young men and young women go by the thousand to France, Germany, Belgium, and Holland, to skim over their plains; to penetrate into the remotest parts; to see foreign life as it is, far away from towns and railways; to receive the hospitality of peasants and country folk; to make unexpected friends; and to carry away pleasant impressions totally incompatible with the retention unimpaired of narrow prejudices. And this, too, is going on all over the Continent; youth everywhere roaming over several countries as if they were one, their by-way sought out, and the stranger making himself at home everywhere. Already the collective strength of the cyclists has managed to get some fiscal concessions, small, to be sure, but such as the Cobden Club has never been able to effect in its long life. More is being attempted. The Union Volocipedique de France, the Ligue Volocipedian Belge and other powerful associations are doing their best to remove certain vexatious restrictions, particularly the requirement of the French Customs authorities, who demand from the cyclist a fresh payment every time he crosses the frontier, even though he may have done so twice or thrice in the same day. The Leaguers are hopeful of bringing even the douaniers to reason.
Other conquests and reforms are planned. It is within the range of possibility that all over the civilized world there will soon be, thanks to the enterprise of the cyclists’ organizations, a uniform system of danger sign-boards which will make the course of the cycling stranger safe; that there will be a minimum standard of comfort kept up in the hostelries which cyclists frequent; that they will be secured against overcharges and that there will as to such matters be a tribunal of appeal which hotel-keepers will respect. Already over large parts of England und Wales the comforts of inns have been levelled up and their charges levelled down, owing to the action of the cyclists and in particular the powerful Cyclists’ Touring Club. We notice that some speakers at the Congress hinted at other changes which might be brought about by combination of cyclists. One of these relates to the carriage by railway companies of bicycles. In this matter we are at a disadvantage as compared with our visitors. The English railway companies charge high rates and, with rare exceptions, they offer imperfect, unsuitable accommodation for expensive machines. They still treat the cyclist too much as if he were to be tolerated instead of encouraged and at some stations they will have nothing to do with storing his machine. So far the cyclists’ organizations
have failed to do much to mend things, but a change may soon come and, in view of the fact that about 100 members of Parliament belong to one well-known cyclists’ club, a committee on a railway Bill may some day be as watchful of the interests of cyclists as they now are of classes not nearly so large. One might be tempted to quarrel with an assumption, not always latent in the proceedings at such meetings, that the bicyclist is a being by himself and the Touring Club an imperium in imperio. But what we miss in the discussions is sufficient recognition of the share which the cyclist is to have in the work of the world as well as in its amusements. The fact
that almost every one can at small cost travel three or four times as fast and as far as before is already producing great industrial changes and others must follow, in town and elsewhere. The country doctor begins to make his rounds, the rector his visits, the tax-gatherer his demands, by means of the cycle. The tradesman takes his orders and executes them by means of the modern shoes of swiftness. They are now the mainstay of many a country house. The clerk or workman reaches his suburban house, except in bad weather, on wheels, and the job which the latter could not take except on condition of receiving “lodging money” is now practicable for him. Not a few things go more smoothly now that they go on wheels. We are only at the beginning of considerable economic and social changes, all ascribable to the ubiquitous “safety,” which has already done more for the working man since its introduction than legislation and philanthropy combined during the same period. It is hard to say where its influence ends. Acute critics have fancied that they could find traces of the influence of the cycle in contemporary literature and art Realism, with lightness of touch, a knowledge of nature, with a perception of its fugitive moods, come as a matter of course, it has been said, to the artist who flies over half a county of a forenoon. One speaker at the dinner of the members of the Congress hinted at a further change which the cycling clubs might promote—the discouraging of some objectionable practices, including scorching. Should they bring that to pass we scarcely know where to put limits to the debt due to them.
The Times, Friday, Jun 09, 1899; pg. 9