Velocipeding as a Muscular Exercise (1869)

Velocipeding as a Muscular Exercise

Some fifty years ago vehicles of German construction with the above title appeared in England and become the rage. They obtained their name from being impelled by the feet with great celerity, the rider being seated astride and striking the tips of his toes upon the roadway. Partly because of the numerous accidents which befel the riders and offered a fertile field to our old caricaturists, partly also because of the great wear and tear of shoe leather which it necessitated and partly also because of the physical damage which it was sometimes supposed to inflict upon the rider, the velocipede, or hobby-horse (as it was sometimes called), gradually went the way of most novelties, and disappeared. Since then, various but comparatively unsuccessful efforts have been made to introduce a locomotive machine worked by the feet of the rider. These have generally consisted of four or three-wheeled carriages, the large hind wheels of which were turned by cranks acted upon the treadles. Within the last few years, however, the movement has taken on a remarkable development, and, in France and America especially, velocipedes have become an established institution. There present form appears to be a great advance upon the old invention. We need not attempt to describe in detail the construction of the carriage, for it is quite certain that in a few days or weeks they will be common enough in this country. It is sufficient to say that the rider, seated upon a small leather saddle, balances himself upon a carriage which has only two wheels, the one in the front (the driving wheel) being much larger than the other behind it, which moves in the same vertical plain. The rider turns the driving wheel by means of his feet, which are placed upon pedals moving small cranks attached to the axis of the wheel. This wheel can be turned to the right or the left by means of a horizontal bar, with handles at its extremities for the hands of the rider. The hind wheel can be fixed at will by a skid brought to bear upon it by an ingenious mechanism. The speed obtained by these machines in France has been as high as seven and a half miles in half an hour, and there seems to be no doubt that ten or twelve miles an hour is easily accomplished. We have lately had an oportunity of examining velocipedes and seeing them in use.. Our attention was especially directed to the character of the muscular exercise and the degree in which the use of this carriage might be open to the change which was freely brought against the old velocipede, of inducing hernia.. So far as our investigations went, the results were very favourable. It seemed to us that the muscles of the body generally, not those of the lower limbs alone, were brought easily into play, and the mode of locomotion promised a very agreeable method of taking useful and healthy exercise.. The position of the body and the mode of using the legs do not seem likely to produce that violent action of the abdominal muscles which was necessitated by the old velocipede and which was liable to cause protrusion of the intestines. We should, however, add that the exercise, like all gymnastic feats, rquires for safety that it should be carefully regulated, that a high rate of speed should only be gradually acquired and that great efforts should be studiously avoided. With these limitations, we cannot see any probability of danger to health in the employment of the velocipede. No doubt it is best fitted for the young and active, for very few learners escape a considerable number of falls, which are not easily bourne by those in whom age has diminished the elasticity of the frame. Indeed, the most ardent velocipede riders (and the persuit has become quite a passion in France) do not recommend it with any earnestness to those who have passed forty years. –


Glasgow Herald, May 5, 1869

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