It appears that the ancestor of all bicycles and velocipedes dates from the year 1818; an invention of a Frenchman, a certain Baron du Brais. The Baron's machine was a very simple contrivance, consisting of two wooden wheels, one behind the other, connected by a curved plank, on which sat the driver, propelling himself by pushing with his feet on the ground. This machine, which was described as one "by which you can ride at your ease, and are obliged to walk in the mud at the same time," received the name of the "hobby horse." It was introduced into London shortly, but soon died a natural death, hastened, no doubt, by the extravagant caricatures of it, and by the impression that its rider acquired neither velocity, comfort, nor elegance.
Until about 1860 nothing more was heard of the bicycle; but in the mean time men had been expending their genius on "polycycles," machines of four, six, and even eight wheels, all of which required too many cogs, levers, etc. to meet with success. In 1862, however, an American inventor, recognizing the utility and simplicity of a direct crank action, operated by pedal power, on a revolving axle, turned his attention to the development of the principle involved, and the result was the improved "hobby horse" which in 1869 jumped so suddenly into favor both in this country and in Europe, under the cognomen of the "velocipede." Clumsy as this machine was in make, it is certain that, if the "hobby horse" of 1818 can be termed the ancestor, this of 1869 is entitled to be called the father, of the perfected bicycle.
We all remember how soon the velocipede fever died out in this country; but in England and France it had a different fate. First the driving-wheel was enlarged, and the rear wheel reduced, by which alterations not only greater speed was gained, but the rider was so placed as to expend his energy to the best advantage, viz. directly over, instead of behind the axis of power. The next step was to substitute iron and steel for wood, producing a machine of more elegant appearance and greater strength.
It was left to England, however, to perfect the machine, and combine with elegance and strength the simplicity of the present bicycle; and in fact the bicycle of to-day is as superior to the velocipede of 1869 as that was superior to the hobby-horse of 1818.
So much for the history of the bicycle. And now can it be successfully introduced? This can be answered only by those who are interested in its existence. The Athletic Association has decided to offer prizes for one-mile, two-mile, and three-mile races, in the Springfield Meeting, and it will do all it can to help along a sport that is manly and enjoyable.
Messrs. Cunningham and Heath, Pearl Street, have a splendid assortment of the most improved English bicycles, and they offer rare chances of learning to ride the vehicle in a large room used for that purpose only. Their room is a capital place of exercise also for those who think of entering into the bicycling club or races.
Decidedly we hope before long to see a bicycling club formed at Harvard. Almost all our athletic sports have in some form or other availed themselves of the advantages attached to the club system, and to it is due, to no inconsiderable extent, the great increase of athletics of every description.
A federation of individuals for the purpose of extracting from some particular sport a greater amount of enjoyment than could be otherwise obtained is a practical example of the old adage, "Union is strength." Without such federations many of our pastimes would languish instead of being, as they now are, in the vigor of strength; and in some cases they would not even languish, but would inevitably cease to exist.
W. G. T.