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Discussion Post: The Solitary Cyclist

This week, the canon story we’re looking at is The Solitary Cyclist and the chosen topic is Bicycles.

A few facts:

🚲 The Penny Farthing - so named because the big wheel resembles a[n old] penny, compared to the back wheel that resembles the much smaller farthing, was originally called 'The Ordinary Bicycle' or 'High wheeler' to distinguish itself from the other bicycle available at the time which was called 'The Safety Bicycle', and the name 'Penny Farthing' was not used until much later… Some of the most important parts… weren’t just its big and small wheels, but also hollow steel frames, solid rubber tires and ball bearings- making the bikes lighter and the ride smoother than ever before… Penny-farthings were only popular for a few years, from the 1870s to the 1890s… One problem… was that the big wheel made it easy for riders to fall over the front of the handlebars. [Victorian Inventions Workshop]

🚲 Riders of Ordinaries—in the Victorian era and today—prize them for their elegance, simplicity, and utter silence. Unlike a safety bicycle, Ordinaries have no chains to complicate things or rattle noisily. The ride on an ordinary is so smooth, in fact, that in 1883 a New York magazine coined the phrase, "As smooth as a bicycle..." An Ordinary is sized to a man's leg length, like a pair of pants. If the wheel is too big the rider can't reach his pedals; too small and his legs get caught under the handlebars. [Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman]

🚲 Bicycles [were] known colloquially in the nineteenth century as "wheels"... [To be clear about the pluralisation, a bicycle was known as a ‘wheel’.] [James L. Baggett]

🚲 A major revolution took place in 1888 when the pneumatic tyre was patented by Dunlop. Fitted to a safety bicycle, this faster, more comfortable tyre led to the growth of cycling as a means of transport and recreation. [Powys: A Day in the Life]

🚲 ...men and women in the 1890s were the first generation to experience what we would recognise as ‘modern’ bicycles. In the late 1880s penny farthings began to be replaced by safety bicycles, with diamond frames, chain-driven rear wheels and pneumatic tyres. For the vast majority of the population… purchasing a bicycle meant that for the first time they owned their own personal means of longer-distance transportation. [William Manners]

🚲 For the majority of those living in rural areas, owning a bicycle dramatically increased the number of potential marriage partners, as for the first time they possessed their own means of travelling beyond their local communities. The widening of gene pools which resulted from this process means that the biologist Steve Jones ranks the invention of the bicycle as the most important event in recent human evolution. [William Manners]

🚲 The development of the safety bicycle was arguably the most important change in the history of the bicycle. It shifted their use and public perception from being a dangerous toy for sporting young men to being an everyday transport tool for men—and, crucially, women—of all ages. [Wikipedia]

🚲 ...an American cycling magazine, The Bearings, put it in 1894: ''The safety bicycle fills a much-needed want for women in any station of life. It knows no class distinction, is within reach of all, and rich and poor alike have the opportunity of enjoying this popular and healthful exercise.” Up to a point; in both Britain and the United States, the average bicycle still cost between £10 and £20, roughly the same amount as a carthorse and several times the price of a mule. [Bella Bathurst]

🚲 [Safety] bicycles became very popular among elites and the middle classes in Europe and North America in the middle and late 1890s… Bicycle historians often call this period the "golden age" or "bicycle craze..." Since women could not cycle in the then-current fashions for voluminous and restrictive dress, the bicycle craze fed into a movement for so-called rational dress, which helped liberate women from corsets and ankle-length skirts and other encumbering garments, substituting the then-shocking bloomers. [Wikipedia]

🚲 ...it was in Hyde Park that the great Victorian cycling craze went overground in the 1890s. London was still a horse-happy city at the time, so when 2,000 cyclists – mainly women, dressed demurely with natty bonnets– formed a parade to cycle round the park in the spring of 1896, those on horseback didn’t know quite what to make of it. Bicycles were still a new thing. Penny-Farthings had been around for a while, but were about as common a sight in Victorian London as they are now, and it took the invention of the ‘safety bicycle’... in the 1880s for that to change. Indeed, such was the enthusiasm with which women took up cycling, that Victorians were torn between trying to find ways to make money out of it, and trying to ensure it was morally appropriate. With typical Victorian ingenuity, they managed to do both – the Chaperon Cyclists’ Association supplied female escorts for solo women cyclists for 3s 6d an hour, while to avoid any dangerous friction you could purchase special ‘hygienic’ bike seats, which had a modest dip in the area where a lady’s genitalia would usually meet the saddle. [Peter Watts] [Though the accompanying advertisement to the article does seem to indicate these saddles were marketed to those with male genitalia too...]

🚲 At first, most female cyclists were from middle-class backgrounds, but as the price of bicycles decreased as the 1890s progressed, it became increasingly possible for working-class women to purchase machines.

As the ranks of female cyclists grew, conservative opinion which stated the ‘unbecomingness’ of a woman being sat astride a machine which she propelled with her legs began to be overridden. Self-powering a bicycle and travelling where you wished was both a symbol of, and means of achieving, freedom and emancipation.
[William Manners]

🚲 In 1889, the Starley brothers introduced the ''Psycho Ladies’ Bicycle’’… [Bella Bathurst] ...Starley Brothers [was] a pioneering cycle manufacturer based in Coventry. The Ladies’ Psycho had a step-through frame so that there was no need to hitch up skirts to ride. It was the first mass-produced bicycle for women. [Margaret Makepeace]

🚲 Now, you can’t really write about women and 19th Century cycling without featuring the famous quote from leading US women’s rights advocate Susan B Anthony. In 1896 she told the New York World’s Nellie Bly: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.” [Carlton Reid]

🚲 In the early Victorian era, the American Mrs. Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), caused quite a stir when she wrote an article for her feminist publication 'The Lily'. She tried to promote the idea of women abandoning their petticoats for a bi-furcated garment later known as the bloomer fashion… [Pauline Weston Thomas]

🚲 Bloomers (also referred to as “Turkish dress”) were loose pantaloons worn beneath a shortened skirt that soon replaced the customary heavy layers of petticoats and whalebone corsets initially worn by lady cyclists. The “rational dress” movement that had blossomed during the first wave of feminism found renewed traction thanks to the bicycle… [Kim Kelly]

🚲 The Rational Dress Society formed in 1881 in London approved of Mrs. Bloomer's ideas on practical fashions. The society was formed by Viscountess Harberton and Mrs. King… So that women could participate in the craze for healthy cycling Lady Harberton suggested a dual garment which initially was a divided skirt worn under a long coat. The idea appealed to many as sensible and practical… Accident reports of cyclists who had been encumbered by the fashion for wearing standard skirt styles often appeared in the press. Rational dress as a fashion was finally adopted in 1895 by a handful of privileged women. It was not universally worn and virtually no cycling costume is found in museums...

Only limited numbers ever wore the full rational dress Lady Harberton wore. Female cyclists still risked ridicule and many preferred to wear breeches beneath a skirt and plenty more simply wore just the skirt…
[Pauline Weston Thomas]

🚲 The English Rational Dress Movement broadly sought to promote the wearing of rational dress for both men and women over what was considered to be irrational fashion in the late nineteenth century. Rational dress for women comprised a range of styles but was ostensibly recognised as a bifurcated garment such as bloomers (short full trousers or knickerbockers), looser corsets (or no corset at all) and shorter (or no) skirts. Members advocated fewer layers and lighter fabric to enable people, and especially women, to embrace a more active lifestyle, including cycling. [Katrina Jungnickel]

🚲 If wearing a skirt, a Safety Skirt Holder could be fitted: a mesh guard on the rear wheel, to prevent the skirt's being caught in the spokes. [Powys: A Day in the Life] [Advertisement shown is c. 1894]

🚲 By the late 1870s, there were approximately 40 bicycle clubs in the UK. Most of them had a racing or social agenda… ...on 5 August 1878 in Harrogate, Yorkshire. The Bicycle Touring Club was officially launched, the first organisation of its kind… a club specifically for bicycle tourists…

When the BTC was founded, the nature of highwheeling meant that membership was limited to men of means who could control and afford the dangerous and expensive machines. That is not to say, however, that women were excluded from cycling or club life. In an 1897 interview with Wheelwoman magazine, longstanding CTC executive member ER Shipton recalled that fourteen lady tricyclists attended an early club run. In 1880, the CTC made the precedent setting decision to admit women as full members, making it the first cycling club to remove the gender bar to membership… The introduction of the Safety bicycle and the cycling craze that went with it saw membership among women increase. Membership lists published in the CTC Gazette show that by the mid-1890s approximately one third of new joiners were female. The class structure of the CTC also changed, from wealthy and upper middle class in its early years to more diverse by 1900 as cycling became an increasingly affordable pastime.
[Dr. Sheila Hanlon]

🚲 On November 18, 1876, James Starley introduced the Coventry Lever Tricycle… and that started the tricycling craze in Great Britain. It had two small wheels on the right side, that both steered simultaneously. A large drive wheel was on the left side…

In 1879, twenty types of tricycles and multi-wheel cycles were produced in Coventry, England, and by 1884, there were over 120 different models produced by 20 manufacturers…

From 1881 to 1886 in Great Britain, more tricycles were built than bicycles, but this was primarily a class phenomenon, since tricycles were more expensive, perceived as more genteel, and the upper classes had the disposable income to buy them for the women in the family.
[Online Vintage Bicycle Museum blog]

🚲 There were a number of different styles of tricycles in the nineteenth-century. On many models the rider sat between two large wheels and a third, smaller wheel was seen out front or behind the rider. [Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman]

🚲 In the 1880s, men usually chose Ordinary bicycles over tricycles because the bikes were lighter and simpler; male tricyclists were either geeks who preferred complicated technology, or men who wanted extra luggage space—hunters, photographers or artists. [Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman]

Some useful resources:

Invention fact file: penny farthing On Victorian Inventions Workshop.

History of the bicycle On Wikipedia.

Bicycles: The chains that set women free By Bella Bathurst, on the Telegraph website.

The Psycho Bicycle By Margaret Makepeace, on the British Library website.

Cycling On This Victorian Life. Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman are a married couple engaged in a long-term experiential study of culture and technologies of the late nineteenth-century. Sarah writes books about the Victorian era, and our entire life is an ongoing research project into our favorite decades of the 1880's and '90's.

Old Doesn’t Mean Bad: A Modern Conversation with Victorian-Era Cyclists By Caitlin Giddings, on Bicycling.

History of Tricycles On the Online Vintage Bicycle Museum blog.

Bicycles in 1891 On Powys: A Day in the Life.

How The Bicycle Liberated Victorian Women & Kick-Started American Feminism By Kim Kelly, on Refinery29.

Birmingham’s Victorian Bicycle Craze By James L. Baggett, on Birmingham Public Library Online.

Chains of Freedom: The Bicycle’s Impact on 1890s Britain By Will Manners. On the Victorianist.

Happy Birthday Cycling UK: Celebrating 138 years of cycling history On Cycling UK. On the anniversary of the first meeting in August 1878, Cycling UK's historian Sheila Hanlon looks back at the early history of 'The Bicycle Touring Club' and explains how it became Cycling UK.

HG Wells, My White Bicycle and hygienic seats: a brief history of cycling in London By Peter Watts, on The Great Wen.

The Importance of the Bicycle to the Early Womens Liberation Movement By Soren O’Malley, on CrankedMag.

Ugly girls on bicycles: “Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.” By carltonreid, on the Roads Were Not Built For Cars blog.

Rational Dress Reform: Fashion History - Mrs Bloomer By Pauline Weston Thomas, on Fashion-Era.

“One needs to be very brave to stand all that”: Cycling, rational dress and the struggle for citizenship in late nineteenth century Britain By Katrina Jungnickel, on ScienceDirect.

The secret history of 19th century cyclists By William Manners, on the Guardian website.

The Dictionary of Victorian London This is the link to the main index. Click on ‘Transport’ - ‘Bicycles’.

the bicycle craze On The Dictionary of Victorian London.

Sport - Bicycling On The Dictionary of Victorian London.

Bicycles - and Women's dress On The Dictionary of Victorian London.

Cycling On AngelPig.

1884 Bicycle and Tricycle Manufacturers Bicycle and Tricycle Manufacturers listed by the 1884 Business Directory of London. On Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History.

Cycles History of various bicycle manufacturers in the Wolverhampton area. On Wolverhampton History & Heritage Website.

Online Bicycle Museum

1880-1883 BSA Otto (Dicycle) On the Online Bicycle Museum.

Commercial Delivery Tricycles On the Online Vintage Bicycle Museum blog.

1880s Victorian Child’s Tricycle On the Online Vintage Bicycle Museum blog.

Authentic Antique Horse Tricycles Photographs and brief details - some items Victorian. On Tricycle Fetish.

Tricycle Photos: Pre-1900 On Tricycle Fetish.

Quadracycles By Deb Clark, on her blog.

Vintage Bicycle Postcards On the Online Vintage Bicycle Museum blog.

Vintage Bicycle Adverts: 1800s On the Online Vintage Bicycle Museum blog.

Vintage Bicycle Photos On the Online Vintage Bicycle Museum blog.

The Rational Dress Society's Gazette On the British Library website. The Rational Dress Society's Gazette, published: January 1889, London. Four images.

Bikes & Bloomers Bikes & Bloomers is a research project about the bike, bloomer and female cyclist in late nineteenth century Britain.

The Bicycle and Fashions for Fall 1898 By Geri Walton, on her blog.

Making a Victorian Lady’s Bloomer Suit for Cycling By Meredith Towne, on her website.

The Bicycle Suit Photo-engraving of ink drawing, 12 January 1895, Punch, p. 23. On The Victorian Web.

The Victorian Cyclist A history blog on the joys and perils of cycling in Victorian Britain By Will Manners.

Bicycle mania, Victorian style By Cathleen McCarthy, on The Jewelry Loupe. Includes a (modern) photo of a c. 1896 bicycle brooch.

The wheels of chance : a bicycling idyll By H.G. Wells. On the Internet Archive. Book can be read online, and there are several download options. The Wheels of Chance was written at the height of the cycling craze (1890–1905), when practical, comfortable bicycles first became widely and cheaply available and before the rise of the automobile. [Wikipedia]

Three Men on the Bummel By Jerome K. Jerome, illustrated by L. Raven Hill. Book can be read online, and there are several download options. Three Men on the Bummel (also known as Three Men on Wheels) is a humorous novel by Jerome K. Jerome. It was published in 1900, eleven years after his most famous work, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). The sequel brings back the three companions who figured in Three Men in a Boat, this time on a bicycle tour through the German Black Forest. [Wikipedia]

Mr Pooter: an Alternative Point of View By Dick Sullivan, on The Victorian Web. The article briefly touches on the treatment of the bicycle craze in The Diary of a Nobody (1892) by George and Weedon Grossmith.

The Diary of a Nobody By George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith (1892). The Diary of a Nobody is an English comic novel written by the brothers George and Weedon Grossmith, with illustrations by the latter. It originated as an intermittent serial in Punch magazine in 1888–89 and first appeared in book form, with extended text and added illustrations, in 1892. The Diary records the daily events in the lives of a London clerk, Charles Pooter, his wife Carrie, his son Lupin, and numerous friends and acquaintances over a period of 15 months. [Wikipedia]

Bicycle Song (For Women) A poem by Robert Williams Buchanan (1898).

Please feel free to discuss this topic in the comments.

Please also feel free to comment about the canon story itself or any related aspects outside this week’s theme. For example, any reactions, thoughts, theories, fic recs, favourite adaptations of the canon story… Or any other contribution you wish to make. And if you have any suggestions for fic prompts springing from this week's story, please feel free to share those in the comments as well.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 12th, 2017 12:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for compiling. I can imagine that this information might come in very handy for a fic or two.

I wrote a AU of this story for my Bloody Balzac series. It's femslash February so I am forcing myself to write some real femslash (as well as the genderswapped femslash I like). I also have a BINGO card with one square 'Caught.'

So I wrote Watson leaving out the fact that he caught Miss Smith & Mrs. Dixon the lady-housekeeper doin' the ol' bicycle built for two in the flowering gorse. Puns, humour, rating: mature (nothing graphic). And like my 60 Carruthers' daughter gets a soft landing spot.

Feb. 12th, 2017 06:06 pm (UTC)
...doin' the ol' bicycle built for two in the flowering gorse. ^_____^

I will always stand beside you to argue that genderswap is 'real' femslash. But if Femslash February is encouraging you to try out new pairings as charming as this one, then it can only be a good thing ^_^
Feb. 12th, 2017 06:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I've planted the line in the latest chapter of Bloody Balzac! that Watson sees wlw everywhere. We'll see how many canon female characters I can pair up using the bingo prompts. I've got an idea for The Woman already.
Feb. 12th, 2017 04:31 pm (UTC)
In looking for inspiration for the month's Holmes Minor prompt, I just came across the Sherlock Holmes tarot card. Here is the card for Miss Violet Smith (Lady of Analysis, which they say is equivalent to the cups in the regular tarot system)

Feb. 12th, 2017 06:21 pm (UTC)
Re: tarot
Interesting stuff - thanks for the link ^^
Feb. 12th, 2017 11:49 pm (UTC)
Fic recs
I am surprised to find that I can think of a number of lovely fics in which bicycling plays a central role :)

The Incident with the Bicycle (2605 words) by Garonne
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes & Related Fandoms, Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Sherlock Holmes/John Watson
Additional Tags: Established Relationship

We know Holmes can ride a bicycle, but when exactly did he learn?


And two of nlr alicia's lovely stories: The Sign of the White Hart (rated G or PG I would say), and The Courtship of Rabbits (rated E or NC17).

Feb. 19th, 2017 05:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Fic recs
I was already familiar with Garonne's fic, but I have now finally read the others. They are just wonderful ^_^
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )