Velocipedes, how they are made and how to use them (1862)


How they are made and how to use them

The velocipede, about which the Parisians have run mad at the present moment, are of various kinds. Some have two and others three and even four wheels. All have either pedals or reels on which to place the feet and usually either brakes or levers to regulate the speed. The two wheeled velocipedes, the bicycles as they are styled, are intended for the male sex only and are by far the swiftest machines. They are usually of wrought iron, and have pedals or reels attached to the front and larger wheel and the working of which, by a light movement of the feet, gives the requisite impulse to the vehicle. The saddle is poised on a bar of iron suspended a few inches above the top of the fore wheel. The hands rest on a handle in front of the machine, which, working on a pivot, serves as a balancing pole, the equilibrium being preserved by giving a slight twist to this handle. The brake, which at once stops the revolving motion of the wheel, is applied by means of a sharper twist. Here are the rules which one of the most skillful amateurs has drawn up for the guidance of beginners: “Run beside your iron horse, leading it, as it were, with your hand, so as to familiarize yourself with its movements; this will be an affair of a few minutes merely. Then commence practicing with it on a slope and after mounting it, let it move forward of its own accord, while you occupy yourself with studying the effects producing by the inclination which you give to the balancing pole or handle of the machine. When you thoroughly understand the action of this place one foot on the pedal and follow its movements without assisting them. The difficulty with beginners is to restrain the unnecessary expenditure of muscular force; they ordinarily perform ten times the labour that is requisite. Next, repeat the experiment on level ground, having both feet on the pedals and working them alternately with scrupulous regularity. Speed is obtained by simply accelerating this movement. After an hour or two’s practice, the tyro will be able to accomplish a distance of from thirty to forty yards without running the risk of an upset. Should the machine incline to one side, all that is necessary to be done is to remove the foot on the same side from the pedal and place it on the ground. This can of course only be accomplished when the velocipede is of a moderate height, which, by the way, is the proper kind of machine for beginners to make their first essays with. To alight, both feet are raised from the pedal at the same instant, which has the effect of slackening the speed of the machine. The feet are then placed simultaneously on the ground without the handle being let go.” The tricycle, or three-wheeled velocipede, is easier to guide and safer to use than the bicycle; its speed is, however, less rapid; still it can be made to pass a carriage going at a full trot. As the fair sex largely patronize this vehicle, the seat is more commodious than that of the bicycle; having sides and back of wicker and a horse hair cushion to sit upon. The hind wheels, though large, are light and revolve with facility; the fore wheel, which is smaller, serves to guide the machine, being acted on by means of the handle, which causes it instantly to turn in the direction indicated by the rider. The pedals are shaped like slippers, which facilitates the movements of the legs and at the same time admits of the foot being disengaged instantaneously. The movement required to impel the machine is a perfectly natural one, analogous, in fact, to that of walking; that is to say, without the slightest pressure of the foot and certainly without producing any unusual fatigue, for the motion of the leg develops itself, as it were, until the limb becomes fully extended, entirely without effort. In addition to all these advantages, the largest three-wheeled velocipedes have a lever which follows the line of the eccentrics attached to the pedals and fits on the axles. By assisting the movements of this lever, the speed of the vehicle is considerably increased and a simple presure against it checks the rotary movement of the wheel and stops the progress of the machine. This lever is, in fact, both a means of impulsion and brake. Ordinary two-wheeled velocipedes range in price from two hundred up to four hundred francs, according to the completeness of their fittings. Velocipedes de lux mount up to almost any sum. Three-wheeled machines are priced at from at one hundred and sixty to one hundred and fifty francs, while smaller size, for children, can be purchased for fifty francs. The somewhat numerous et ceteras comprise the requisite instruments in the event of the machine getting out of order on a journey, with a lantern, a grease box, India rubber cushions for the iron bar in front of the machine, on which the legs are generally allowed to rest when not in action and an indicator to mark the distance travelled. The speed attained by the swifter kind of velocipedes average from 12 to 13 miles an hour; adepts find no difficulty whatever in accomplishing fully 30 miles within 5 hours without once alighting from their vehicles. – A couple of amateurs making a tour through a part of France challenged each other as to which could perform the greatest distance within 24 hours. One gave in after having accomplished 87 miles; the other went on an additional 36 miles in all. On the 21st of September a party of nine quitted Rouen early in the morning, mounted upon velocipedes and arrived in Paris in time for dinner the same evening, having performed the distance of 85 miles, exclusive of stoppages at a rate of speed averaging between 10 and 11 miles an hour. It should be understood that in impelling a velocipede the limbs are not constantly in motion, as on level ground when the impetus is at the average rate, or when the machine is descending an imcline, the feet may be removed from the pedals and the legs be placed on the bar fixed in front of the velocipede for this purpose. A slight impulsion given to the vehicle from time to time suffices to keep up the speed. The ascent of any incline greater than 1 in 25 is said to be impracticable. When the rider, therefore, encounters a hill of more than average steepness he has to dismount and lead his velocipede by the hand, which he can do with almost the same ease as he can carry an ordinary walking stick.


Supplement to the Courant, 1862, Volume 35, p.212 *


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