THE GREAT SO­CI­ETY CY­CLING CRAZE

The hum­ble bi­cy­cle cel­e­brates its 200th birth­day this year. It’s been one of the most trans­for­ma­tive – and en­ter­tain­ing – in­ven­tions in his­tory, as we re­veal in this ex­clu­sive book ex­tract…

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s witty, ac­cu­rate and elo­quently writ­ten a his­tory of the bi­cy­cle as you are ever likely to read.’ So said Chris Board­man of top writer and equally im­pres­sive

cy­clist Michael Hutchin­son’s lat­est book, Re:Cy­clists: 200 Years on Two Wheels. Here at Ur­ban we’d have to agree, which is why we’ve ne­go­ti­ated with Hutchin­son’s Blooms­bury peo­ple to se­cure this ex­clu­sive ex­tract. Hutchin­son’s book charts the ob­scure and un­usual from two cen­turies of cy­cling, from Parisian per­verts

of the Vic­to­rian pe­riod to the false­hood that the car killed the bike. But one of our most en­joy­able chap­ters charts the im­pact John Star­ley Kemp and John Dunlop’s in­ven­tions had on high so­ci­ety…

The changes that the safety bike and the pneu­matic tyre made to rac­ing at the end of the 19th cen­tury were rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Or at least they were from the point of view of a racer, in that they made rac­ing dra­mat­i­cally faster. A non-racer would pos­si­bly have ar­gued that, in re­al­ity, all such de­vel­op­ments did was al­low the same

peo­ple to do the same things in a bit less time. There might be some truth in this – then, as now, rac­ing fel­lows tended to get a cou­ple of miles an hour one way or the other a lit­tle bit out of pro­por­tion. But that is, af­ter all, the whole point of the thing. The other rea­son a non-racer might be re­luc­tant to call the changes to rac­ing a

‘revo­lu­tion’ is that the changes the tech­nol­ogy made to the sport were triv­ial com­pared to the dif­fer­ence they made to the pas­time. If what had been wit­nessed in rac­ing could be termed a revo­lu­tion, we ’d be left speech­less in any at­tempt to de­scribe what hap­pened to the rest of the

cy­cling land­scape. It was a revo­lu­tion within an up­heaval wrapped in a trans­for­ma­tion. The bi­cy­cle was now faster, that much we knew. It was more com­fort­able. It was more ef­fi­cient. It was no longer es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous – gone

The first dropped-tube women’s bikes in Bri­tain were the work of John Kemp Star­ley in 1889

were the ex­treme sports el­e­ments of cy­cling that had been part of its pre­vi­ous char­ac­ter. There was, of course, a hard­core that didn’t like that. Af­ter all, when I tried rid­ing a penny-far­thing, the stu­pid­ity was most of the ap­peal.

But there were many more that were ready to take up cy­cling the minute the ac­tiv­ity stopped be­ing the Vic­to­rian equiv­a­lent of base-jump­ing. It wasn’t just

that bi­cy­cles were less dan­ger­ous; they also be­came, al­most overnight, re­spectable. The safety bike meant that sober, pro­fes­sional types could now ride: doc­tors, vic­ars, landed gen­try. And women. That was the great­est change of all: women could now ride bikes. The first

dropped- tube women’s bikes in Bri­tain were the work of John Kemp Star­ley in 1889 – al­though they’d ap­peared a cou­ple

of years ear­lier in the US. Up un­til the safety bike, women’s skirts were an al­most in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cle to rid­ing. Be­fore then, re­spectable women’s cy­cling had been lim­ited to lum­ber­ing about on pon­der­ous tri­cy­cles. The only se­ri­ous at­tempt at an al­ter­na­tive was when James Star­ley de­signed an ex­tra­or­di­nary

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