The Monocycle (1869)

The Monocycle

Nothing is more remarkable than the revolution which any important discovery in science effects in the course of invention. We have already noted how entirely the invention of the crank-axle changed the construction of steam engines and other mechanical contrivances, in which it was necessary, that a vertical, should be converted into a rotary motion. And so with every other similarly important discovery, all the smaller inventive try at once to set themselves to find out new methods of application and new forms of adapting the product of some master mind. As soon as the great problem of our age has been solved and some one has discovered the art of flying against the wind, we shall, no doubt, have the same process repeated and the discovery will be utilized in every possible way. If the particular matter of such an invention is patented and thereby the discoverer obtains a theoretical monopoly in construction, small inventors will adopt the principle, taking care that it is just without the pale of the law and thereby defraud the first finder of his just gains. We shall, no doubt, have such a machine calculated to carry fifty or even a thousand people and driven by steam and we may also have the apparatus constructed for one, so that the ardent lover may set at nought the bolts and bars of an angry father and fly to the balcony of his inamorata, or even plan an elopement from her very casement. The invention of a flying machine would be a serious evil indeed, in many ways for the world. And yet we are continually told that we are on the threshold of it. We are periodically startled by paragraphs in the Times intimating the approach of some Yankee through the air, or announcing the advancing completion of an apparatus that will carry us to China in twenty-four hours. These intimations, however, have hitherto proved gross delusions. They are to the eye of the mind, what the Jerusalem apple is to the eye of the body—outwardly beautiful to look upon and giving promise of great inner goodness, but inwardly a delusion and a snare. Still we live in an age of progress and we either are, or we flatter ourselves that we are, wiser than any of the men that have gone before us. We gird the world in a second of time, with the electric flash: we drive our steam carriages fifty miles within the hour; we adopt the bicycle, yet still we pant for greater speed. Men are not content now-a-days, with the stage wagon carrying travellers, two miles an hour, nor the flying coach doing the journey from London to York, in four days; they scout such ideas from consideration, and possibly with the great inventive faculty of the time and the new appliances that the advancement of science has placed within our grasp, some method for overcoming the difficulties of aerostation will be devised; but until the dawn of that happy day, we fear we must content ourselves, with the carriages and locomotive means which we already possess and bless ourselves that we are not as our ancestors were. When the winch axle and tricycle were proved a success, the smaller inventive fry, at once set themselves to see whether the number of wheels might not be altered. We have already seen what has been done in four-wheelers and tricycles, but it was some time before any inventor dared publicly, to advocate the one-wheeler, or monocycle. The great difficulty was where to place the man. We shall see how this problem is overcome. And we may note to begin with, that only two tangible projects have hitherto been presented to the public and they usurp the two positions, in which the afflicted mortal who is to ride, can be placed. One puts him in the middle, and the other on the top. Probably there would be only one position more undesirable and that would be underneath.  The most reasonable of these unreasonable things, either is, or proposes to be, constructed somewhat as follows. First the wheel may vary in its diameter, from eight feet upwards; it is constructed much broader in the centre, than in the circumference, indeed the nave or axle may be three feet in length. From the felloe or tire of the wheel, the spokes are projected to each end of this axle, so as to enclose a considerable space in the interior of the wheel, where the rider is placed. His seat is fixed upon the axle, but projects from it towards the tire, being balanced by a large iron ball on the other side, and by its distance from the axle the operator has an opportunity of working with hands and feet, the cranks on the axle. A thick iron tire binds the whole together. We are not aware that any of these machines have been hitherto seen at large, nor what method has been hit upon for guiding them. The inventor claims for it a very satisfactory speed, something like thirty to forty miles an hour, but what would become of the unfortunate inmate in case he “collided” with a cart, or any similar obstacle does not sufficiently appear. It is clear that if he did not keep his head quite erect, he would be liable to be caught by the revolving spokes; and, if once he got it through the spokes, he would probably be either beheaded without a trial, or gradually reduced to pulp. Neither has any break been devised, that we have heard of, so that if the wheel got started down hill and did not meet with a railway embankment, or anything equally formidable to check its wild career, it would probably go on for an unlimited distance and carry the poor man in its interior, along in much the same way that the historical leg of Myneeer Von Clam carried off —and, according to German legend, is still carrying on—its wretched owner. The other discoverer of the one-wheel velocipede (if we did not fear the law of libel we should invent a word for his special benefit, and call him monocyclomaniac), proposes, as we have seen, to place his victim on the outside. As he says he has devoted “years of anxious thought to the subject,” we fear that we should moreover be dealing unjustly with him if we did not allow him an opportunity of explaining his theory. “In the first place it seems to me that the great thing to be striven after is the reduction of friction; in fact were it not for the element of friction there can be no question about the utility of velocipedes. Of course the parts which introduce almost the entirety of this destructive element of friction are the wheels; and to a reduction in the number, I am glad to see the attention of inventors much directed. None of the present inventions go far enough and therefore I propose a velocipede with only one wheel and that one not to exceed twelve feet in height, the feet are placed upon short stilts, connected with cranks, one on either side of the nave, whilst the worker sits upon a steel spring saddle over the centre of the whole wheel. The invention appears to me to join the stilts and the very tall wheels advocated recently. The pace—taking the very moderate rate of revolutions at fifty per minute—will average something above twenty-five miles an hour. “For our part, we do not see why this inventor need be so modest. Why restrict the diameter to twelve feet, or the speed to twenty-five miles per hour? If the principle be good, why not extend its application and let the rider have a thirty-foot wheel and a speed of sixty miles an hour? The difference in safety cannot be great. If the natural outcome of “fourteen years of anxious thought” is to place the velocipedestrian outside wheels of this size, we can only say that we pity both the thinker and his victim. Of course we have never seen one of these monocycles at work, and as we have, from our youth up, been taught to look upon the human frame as designed for higher ends than being broken on a wheel, we have never increased our coach maker’s bill by ordering one (even if the responsibilities of paternity would justify such reckless personal exposure), but as some readers may be more ambitious, we thought it best in an exhaustive treatise to give them a description of the apparatus. We may of course be wrong, but until the dawn of more light, we must coincide in the characteristic opinion of a transatlantic writer that “it would be as easy to keep upright upon such a wheel, as it is to sit on a chair balanced on two legs, upon the rather uncertain substratum of a slack rope.”

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


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