The One Hundred Mile Bicycle Race (1873)

The One Hundred Mile Bicycle Race

Bicycling a few years since was all the rage. Allsorts of people, from the slim active youth like “that sprightly Scot of Scots, Douglas, that runs o’ horseback up a hill perpendicular,” to the podgy ancient to whom, as to Falstaff, “eight yards of uneven ground is threescore and ten miles afoot,” all alike seemed to think the bicycle the readiest means of progress. So everywhere in the streets and on country roads strange apparitions of men on wheels were to be seen. Clubs were formed, races organised and there seemed to be a chance that horses, cabs, carriages and the like would pass into disuse that in fact the only horse needed henceforth would be this particular kind of hobby-horse. In time, however, the mania died out comparatively and bicycling is now pursued by a few only. Long journeys are accomplished now and then and now and then, as on Saturday, a good race comes off. But the chances that a “Chawbacon” will be frightened out of any wits he may have at seeing a man tearing along on a cloud of dust, as was pictured in a comic periodical, are few and far between. The hobby is now ridden by those only who can do so with a decent amount of skill. After all, the idea was not entirely a new one. A writer in the last number of land and water gives some interesting particulars on the subject of bicycles, from which it seems that “velocipedes, both with four and two wheels, had been in use many years before. The oldest appears to have been one invented by a M Richard, of Rochelle. This was “like a Bath Chair and was driven by a servant who stood behind.” In 1808 a Frenchman appeared in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, on a velocipede, “described as having been driven by striking the feet against the ground alternatively,” and it is suggested that this may have resembled the “Pedestrian Hobby-horse” described in Ackerman’s Magazine, for 1810: -“According to this authority, the Baron Von Drais, a ‘gentleman of the Court of the Grand Duke of Baden,’ invented an apparatus exactly resembling the modern bicycle in general appearance, the difference was that there was no steering apparatus and that the machine was driven by striking the feet against the ground on each side alternatively, instead of by cranks on the axle of the forewheel. According to the account above mentioned, this machine would go ten miles an hour. This velocipede was patented in England by Denis-Johnson in 1818 and a description, with illustrative drawings, is preserved in the Patent Office. These drawings represent it with a cushioned rest in front, on which the rider leaned his chest. According to a writer in the English Mechanic these ‘Dandy-Horses,’ as they were called, became very popular and might frequently be seen in St James’s Park.” Further information is given by the writer in Land and Water, in the course of which it is stated that a M Dreuze, a gentleman in the French Post Office, “conceived the idea of mounting rural postmen on velocipedes,” that the plan was tried and in summer answered, but “when the ice and snow of the next winter came, the velocipede, not being ‘roughed’ would not work and had to be laid by.” One-wheel machines are also spoken of, but nothing has been heard of these for some time, it is suggested that they were not such a success as was expected. However, the bicycle is less generally used now and only occasionally, as with the bicycle journey to John o’ Groats a short time back and the race of Saturday, are the public excited by the performances of the bicyclists. On the latter of these occasions a considerable degree of interest was aroused. A feeling of rivalry between the Surrey and Middlesex Bicycle Clubs led to the issue of a challenge and after preliminaries had been arranged, it was at length settled that six representatives from each club should meet at six a.m., on Saturday, at the Oval, Kennington, the headquarters of the Surrey club and test their skill and powers in a race to Brighton and back, a distance of 100 miles. The victory would fall to that club of which three representatives got home first. The route lay through Streatham, Croyden, Smitham Bottom, Merstham,Redhill, Horely, Lowfield-heath, Crawley, Pease Pottage, Hand Cross, Hicksted, Hurstpierpoint and Piccombe to the Albion, Brighton and thence over the same ground back to the Oval. Surrey was represented by Messrs. Causton, Biddlecombe, Howard, Wheaton, Ward and Watson; while Messrs. Pearce, Leaver, Wood, A H and H C Walker and Kenneday appeared for Middlesex. The weather was fine. There was little or no wind to speak of till Red Hill was reached and then it blew strong against the travellers; but of course this was a great help on the return journey. The road was in an excellent condition and only one or two mishaps occurred. A punctual start was effected in the presence of a number of spectators, mostly friends of the rival clubs, many of whom accompanied the race for the first few miles. The men kept tolerably well together during the earlier stages; but when some thirty or forty miles had been accomplished the line straggled somewhat. Two men, the Messrs Walker, gave up before the distance out was accomplished, but though her chances of success were proportionately diminished the other representatives of Middlesex stuck well to their work and Brighton was reached soon after eleven o’ clock by Messrs. Causton, Wood, Biddlecombe, Pearce and Leader. Wheaton, Ward and Watson, Howard and Kennedy, as nearly as possible in the order named. Thus the journey down took a little over five hours; 6 hours 10 minutes was the time of the first man, giving an average rate of not quite ten miles an hour. The home journey naturally took more time, but Wood (Middlesex), who turned without stopping, reached the Oval at 5.13 p.m., having done the whole distance in 11 hours and 10 minutes. Then came Causton, who was unfortunately kept waiting for his bath at Brighton, Watson and Ward, in the order named and at intervals from each other of about ten minutes; then an hour later Biddlecombe, whose bicycle got out of order, had to be got alright again, and Leader; then about eight p.m. came Wheaton, the last whose arrival created any excitement among the crowds outside the Oval. Thus, according to the conditions of the race, Surrey won, though Middlesex secured the honours of first place. The only one who showed any signs for being the worse was Wheaton, who was thrown about forty miles from home and sustained one or two nasty contusions about the face. He stuck gamely to his work, however and reached home, as stated, sound enough in wind and in good spirits, but with his headpiece just a little the worse for his fall. Considering he is over fifty, this exhibition of pluck deserves to be recorded, not a few men half his age, would have given in for much less. No other contretemps occurred, at least none worth speaking of and this race has been such a success, possibly next year may witness a few more trails of a similar character.

The Standard, Monday, August 18, 1873; pg. 6

Leave a Reply