The Future of the Bicycle (1869)

The Future of the Bicycle

The progress of the Bicycle seems steady and sure. The acceptance of the machine in this country has been comparatively slow, but it seems now to be a general favourite and great numbers of velocipedes are constructed every week. It is of course quite clear, that if they come into very extensive use, the conditions of life must undergo a change. People have been wont either to walk, or to keep a horse and if they become to any large extent accustomed to velocipedestrination, the world will have to adapt itself to a fresh set of circumstances. When velocipedes become as plentiful as blackberries, or even as dog-carts, it will therefore be necessary to have some rules adopted for their regulation. In the first place, it is perfectly certain that they must be kept off the footpaths. It would be impossible to allow the velocigymnasts to terrify peaceable people who are content to walk, let alone the possible destruction of children generally, which might ensue. In most American cities they are also excluded from the parks and with the exception of certain selected routes, we think the prohibition ought to be extended to the London parks also. Surely a sufficient infliction is placed upon irate mortality by the introduction of the perambulator, without endangering life and limb still more, by allowing velocipeditation. When the Dandy-horse was in the heyday of its popularity it was modestly proposed by one enthusiastic rider, that one half of the king’s highway should be given up to the machine—and if the new velocipedomania were as catching here, as it is amongst our cousins across the “herring-pond,” perhaps we should have the same demand again; if indeed some ambitious M.P. did not introduce a new Highway Act, to provide roads on purpose. Already the imaginations of some velocipedestrians seem to be sufficiently ardent. One of them proposes to have a single line railroad, laid down on the side of the roads and a groovewheeled velocipede constructed, to drive along it. As there would of course be both an “up” and “down” line the danger of collision need not be great. Under even existing conditions, however, there ought to be some rule established as to the respective sides to be taken by riders when they meet. We recollect, years ago, walking to a funeral—dressed of course in the habiliments of mourning—and whilst progressing at considerable speed, meeting a miller coming in an opposite direction. Both of us moved hastily first to one side and then to the other to prevent collision, but as it happened that each changed sides at the same time, we met and as a result the funereal character of our appearance was greatly lessened. This kind of thing must be provided against in velocipeditation. If two bicycles collide when going ten miles an hour in opposite directions, the result must be very unsatisfactory —not to say dangerous. Perhaps ultimately it will become pretty widely understood that the same rule will apply here that applies to carriages of greater pretension. But until velocipedestrination becomes very common there will be many situations in which the rider may be placed, in which he will be in considerable doubt what to do. Some of these have been tersely put by an American writer as follows:—

“If a fellow goes with his velocipede to call upon a lady, whose house has no front yard and no back yard and there are a lot of boys in front of it ready to pounce upon his machine and the lady is smiling through the window, what is he to do with it? If a fellow, riding his velocipede, meets a lady on a particularly rough bit of road, where it requires both hands to steer, is he positively required to let go with one hand to lift his hat; and, if so, what will he do with his machine? If a fellow, riding his velocipede, overtakes a lady carrying two bundles and a parcel, what should he do with it? If a fellow, riding his machine, meets three ladies walking abreast, opposite a particularly tall curb stone, what ought he to do with it? If a lady meets a fellow riding his machine and asks him to go shopping with her, what can he do with it? If the hind wheel of a fellow’s machine flings mud just above the saddle, ought he to call on people who do not keep a duplex mirror and a clothes-brush in the front hall? If a fellow, riding his velocipede, encounters his expected father-in-law, bothering painfully over a bit of slippery side-walk, what shall he do with it? If people, coming suddenly round corners, will run against a fellow’s machine, is he bound to stop and apologise, or are they? If a fellow is invited to attend a funeral procession, ought he to ride his machine? And is it proper to ride a velocipede to church; and, if so, what will he do with it when he gets there?!”

This writer proposes that a “mixed commission” of ladies should settle these moot points and no doubt if such a jury were empanelled the American riders would be glad to abide by their verdict.  Ladies in the “States” direct affairs, much more than they do here and if some American “Mill” wished to write a book on the subjection of one sex to the other, he would probably entitle it “The Subjection of Man!’  As may be surmised from what we have said as to the American lady on the bicycle, their ways are not our ways and they can adapt themselves to any new conditions of life much more readily than we can. Moreover when any new sensation arises, they seize upon it and push it to its utmost limit. We may be perfectly sure that the bicycle will receive every attention at their hands. Probably the ladies will take it under their special protection and frame the code of its laws. When the idea of temperance and teetotalism first entered a Western town, we are told that the resident young ladies ardently embraced it. They moreover compelled all the young men to join the Temperance Society they had formed and kept a standing committee whose duty it was to see that the pledges were not broken. This standing committee, it is said had a very simple method of procedure. When they met a young man member, who seemed in a suspicious condition, or of unsteady gait, they asked if he were willing to be tested. The test applied was an “osculatory” one and if any taint of the “liquid fire” remained in the breath of the consumer, the committee reported him and he was punished accordingly. It has always been a source of regret to us that in some of these matters we English have nothing of a similar character. When ladies take anything under their especial care it is sure to become popular. American ladies know this and act upon the knowledge. We should, however, have thought that the temperance society we have alluded to would have defeated its own end, as every young gallant, would be only too eager for the test. But all this has nothing to do with velocipedes beyond perhaps showing how thoroughly the machine will be managed if American ladies take it up, so revenons a nos moutons.  Clubs and “velocidromes” will no doubt be established here, as they have been in America and the youth of the country will be trained in the use of the machine. When its professors invade our schools and colleges, it will become an essential part of a “liberal education.” The author we have quoted asks the question whether it is proper to ride a velocipede to church? We have not yet heard that Mr. Spurgeon has offered an opinion upon this momentous question, but to those who are anxious to adopt this method of Sunday progression, it may be a satisfaction to know, that the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher has already “pronounced.” In a lecture given in Plymouth Church, New York, in the course of the current year, he thus delivers himself,—“I wish to draw attention to those amusements which excite the mind, raise the animal spirits and give free play to the muscles.” One of the great questions of the day is in relation to the ‘coming man’ and how he is to come. I think he is coming on a velocipede; (laughter) a new machine that is bound to play a prominent part in the category of amusements; a toy to some, an instrument of great use to others. I have purchased two for my own boys and there is every probability of my riding one myself. I am not too old too learn, but I hope it will not be said the velocipede is my hobby. You are none of you too old to learn and I shall not be at all surprised to see in a short time a thousand velocipedists wheeling their machines to Plymouth Church! Perhaps Mr. Beecher’s prophecy may be fulfilled. As we have not that gift we shall not follow in his steps, but from the data we have laid before them, leave every one to form his own ideas, as to the “future of the Bicycle.”

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


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