Cycling as Viewed in
by John Forester
Fiction is largely concerned with what people do and how they feel about it. There are the great universal subjects: growing up, sexual love, raising children, old age and death. Within those universals, there are great novels about almost all of life's detailed activities: war, medicine, preaching, teaching, politics, lawyering, business, sporting and athletic competition, conquering or defying the environment. Travel in all its modes is a rich source of inspiration, starting with what some call our first novel, Homer's Odyssey. Seafaring, river boating, walking, travel by horse and by cart, by rail, by car and by plane; all these have inspired quite interesting novels by well-known writers. Where is cycling in this tradition?
Just how accurately literature pictures life is disputable; it's not disputable that literature shows us the authors' and their readers' feelings about life's varied activities. We might not learn cycling from literature, but by studying cycling's appearances in literature we can learn what people know and feel about cycling. Of course, cycling started only 110 years ago, but the railroad and steamship started only a little earlier while the motor car and airplane started somewhat later. This century has seen an outpouring of novels, including interesting ones inspired by all these other activities. However, cycling rarely appears in fiction and, with only a few exceptions, has a major role only in minor works by minor authors. I know of only one cycling novel by a major author, a novel as unknown to most of you as to his numerous modern admirers and rightfully dismissed as a hurried potboiler. I know of only one other novel that accurately depicts cycling and though that was published less than twenty years ago I can't find a copy to buy. Probably only a few of you have read it. (It has now been republished in 1996)
But why should our survey concentrate on fiction when so many non-fictional examples exist, ranging from accounts of cycling around the world to studies of bicycles in urban transportation? I answer that few of those works show us much about either cycling or society's opinion of it. Cycling travel books generally tell of adventures in strange places and say little about cycling, partly because most are written by people with little cycling or literary experience. As a typical example, Barbara Savage, in Trip to Nowhere (1986), tells of a pair of innocents who started to cycle around the world with no cycling experience at all, not even a short trial trip to test their equipment. The exceptions to this rule are the cycling travel articles in the cycling press, written for cyclists by cyclists and therefore generally accurate, workmanlike and without literary pretensions. John F. Scott's work in this vein is different, purple prose describing not travel by bicycle but the act of cycling over challenging and (Dare I say it?) arresting terrain. "As you climb the view opens up to Kennedy Meadow and the great bulk of Leavitt Peak: now lift your eyes to the left wall. Espy the incredible road above, audacious climber, and despair!" That's cycling as we know it, but not as society understands it.
Another genre is the literary bicycle reminiscence, in which well-known authors remember some cycling experiences. The appeal is in the author's style or reputation rather than in his cycling knowledge. Simone de Beauvoir, writing of a trip with Jean-Paul Sartre, describes a typical cycling accident as she gets going too fast on a descent, meets cyclists ascending the hill, swerves to the wrong side (her left instead of her right) and finds that there is insufficient room. She has to leave the road, bangs up her face and loses a tooth, without any recognition that she had committed a dumb error. William Saroyan, in The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills, writes in one paragraph that he rode his bicycles so hard that he frequently broke chains, loosened spokes and twisted handlebars and stem, and contradicts himself in the next paragraph by describing his bicycles as "lean, hard, tough, swift, and designed for usage." In fact, he was the typical American boy, ignorant of bicycles and cycling, riding the typical American toy bicycles that he had stripped of former frills like mudguards and electric horn. Ariel Durant left her husband, Will, by cycling from Staten Island to Connecticut about 1915, where a tire punctured and she had to beg a ride from first a trucker, then a motorist. She apparently had neither the knowledge nor the tools to fix a flat. In one case I recognize mendacity. T. E. Lawrence (he of Arabia) boasted that he had a specially high-geared bicycle custom-built by Morris of Oxford, on which he achieved fast, long-distance rides over hilly French terrain. Well, Morris had already turned to making the cars that made him wealthy, it's no great task to put a smaller sprocket on the typical fixed-gear bicycle of the time, and the rides were never verified. This story is just the usual Lawrencian boastfulness.
The serious works on cycling transportation are largely propaganda that reflect more of their authors' desires or prejudices than of cycling as most others see it. While the authors praise cycling as a cure for motoring they hardly ever discuss cycling for itself. Where they do, they describe the terrors of cycling amidst motor traffic in ways that disclose their ignorance of cycling itself. So far as cycling is concerned, fiction is in some sense a better mirror of society's opinions than are the accounts of enthusiasts, even when tempered by scientific caution.
There are useful and accurate accounts of cycling's early days. Andrew Ritchie's King of the Road (Ten Speed Press, 1975) is a marvelous account of the invention of the bicycle. Archibald Sharp's Bicycles and Tricycles (Longmans, Green, London, 1896, reprinted M.I.T. Press 1977) still is the most comprehensive engineering analysis of bicycle science and technology, and its engineering has been surpassed only recently. Robert A. Smith's A Social History of the Bicycle (McGraw-Hill, 1972) is just what it says up to 1900, with a cursory chapter for all subsequent years. As you can tell from the periods covered by these works, these say nothing about present day opinions. William Oakley's Winged Wheel is a careful history of the British Cyclists' Touring Club from 1878 to 1977 from which it is possible to infer some British public opinion of the periods, but that doesn't cover American opinion at all.
Then there are the tantalizing bits of cycling fact that occur in autobiographies. C. S. Forester tells of the bicycles favored at his pretentious but third-rate Public School (It was Dulwich College) about 1917. (Long Before Forty written in 1931.) He was the only boy who brought a light bicycle to school, while the few others who owned such machines kept them concealed at home, because the schoolboy fashion was ungainly upright roadster bicycles. He writes, in 1930, that he doesn't understand the reason, but in the next paragraph he writes of the boys' automobile snobbery, where the boy whose parents run a Rolls or a Daimler can lord it over the boy whose parents own only a Ford (better to not own a car at all than admit to a Ford). The reason is the same, but he probably didn't recognize it because he couldn't afford a car until some years after writing his autobiography. (I know these things because he was my father.) The boy who rode a sporting bicycle would be confessing that he loved cycling because his family couldn't afford a car. The ungainly roadster showed that the rider needed his bicycle only for short neighborhood trips rather than for real transportation. In Bugles and a Tiger, John Masters, better known for Bhowani Junction, describes in similar vein the bicycles ridden by (British) Indian Army officers in the 1930s.
So we are left with fiction as the mirror through which to understand society's view of cycling. Even here there is propaganda. When James E. Starrs surveyed cycling in literature in The Noiseless Tenor: The Bicycle in Literature (Cornwall Books, New York, 1982 -- since re-issued as The Literary Cyclist) he considered that his "selections are paeans, some simple, some lofty, but all singing the praises of the bicycle." Are they all? Just how does literature describe cycling?
Cycling in literature divides naturally into two parts: what I call the great days and then all those after. I'll be saving the best for last when I discuss the great days; now is the time for the modern view of cycling. Hemingway loved watching and betting on track racing, and he picked up enough of the lingo to realistically describe the dining-room behavior of competitors in a stage race. (The Sun Also Rises) Yet he knew so little of cycling that he described a track racer, upon dismounting during a road training ride, as feeling the gravel through his thin-soled shoes. In those days, as in my own, all hard riders used hard-soled shoes with cleats that were mounted by metal plates, proof against gravel.
In the works of other writers there are plenty of stories in which the authors make characters travel by bicycle because that would be a normal mode for such characters. British rural policemen and rural postmen often rode their routes by bicycle as late as the 1930s, and low-paid people rode to work up to the 1950s, so that is how such characters appear in mystery novels of the period. However, cycling is just a method of moving characters to the required locations and, with very few exceptions, is not described in the way that other characters' motor cars and driving are described. I know of one exception. In Dorothy Sayers's Five Red Herrings the solution is reached by determining the exact travel schedule of the suspect, who gets on a train that left the scene before the crime by unexpectedly taking a cycling short-cut across country to another station where the train stops later. Yes, indeed, a strong cyclist could make the schedule that Dorothy Sayers had set for him.
There's another exception in recent years. In Condominium John MacDonald realistically describes century riding. However, since the subject of the novel is shoddy construction, cycling has only four pages out of almost five hundred. The seventy-one year old cyclist knows how to pace himself to improve his previous best, he knows his preferred cadence, how to adjust his toe straps and move his hands around the bars to prevent pain. He even knows how to leave a rest stop without attracting attention from those who might want to hang on. The other riders are types we all know, the pain and difficulty are familiar. MacDonald's description of his bicycle is reasonably accurate; "front gear wheel" instead of front derailleur, but the rest is correct. But what kind of person is this retired professor of comparative religion, this modern cyclist? He's cynical about his past profession. He got his new, better bicycle by blackmailing the alcoholic driver who had driven into his former bicycle where it was parked against a wall. He's just told his wife that she's a "baleful, tottery old woman" whose brain was turning into fishpaste. Later in the novel he waits out a hurricane in someone else's house, meanwhile disassembling and cleaning all his bicycle's bearings on his hostess's living-room carpet. He's a most unpleasant person and his unpleasantness is centered on his cycling.
The literature from the great days is far different because its authors knew cycling. By the great days of cycling in literature I mean the years from 1890 to 1910, most particularly those from 1895 to 1900, as depicted by major authors who cycled in those years and either wrote then or, later, wrote about that time. Mark Twain was a precursor, as in the days of the high-wheel bicycle he wrote comically about learning to ride and later incorporated a regiment of cycling knights into A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Then came a series of authors from the time of H. G. Wells to as late as D. H. Lawrence who wrote about cycling because they were cyclists or recently had been. Somerset Maugham's characters in Cakes and Ale cycled through the lovely fields of the south of England because Maugham had cycled there as a young man, with other young authors, when cycling was the best existing means of travel. Fifteen years after that time, D. H. Lawrence's self-portrait in Sons and Lovers traveled by bicycle because that mode suited his working-class status and because Lawrence was a miner's son who had cycled for transportation. Cycling was not a major theme of any of these works, but the cycling occurs naturally and is presented realistically, in much the same way that driving is presented in contemporary fiction.
Then we have the works about cycling. In 1903 and 1904 Conan Doyle wrote two Sherlock Holmes stories about crimes associated with cycling. In The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, Holmes deduces that his client is a cyclist by her healthy glow and the pedal marks upon her shoes. Indeed she is, for she is a governess in a country house who cycles to and from the local railway station and has been followed by another cyclist, a mysterious one who is not just a bashful suitor. As the crime develops the story shows that the young governess is a woman of spirit, a modern woman liberated, at least in part, by the skill of cycling. In The Adventure of the Priory School, a schoolteacher, who may be kidnapper or would-be rescuer, rides off across the moors. Holmes follows his tracks, distinguishing between the schoolteacher's Palmer tires whose tracks look like a bundle of telegraph wires and another set with a patched Dunlop tire on the rear wheel. The schoolteacher's body is found at the end of his tracks, and later Holmes traces the patched Dunlop to the bicycle of the secretary (and illegitimate son) of the Duke of Holdernesse, who rides madly, horrified, to reproach the murderer. In both stories the cycling is realistic, except that Doyle makes one major mistake when Holmes announces that you can tell which way a bicycle has gone by seeing that the rear wheel's track overlays the front wheel's track. It always does, but that doesn't tell which way the bicycle was going. Doyle would have done better by having Holmes examine the skid marks where the cyclist crossed slippery ground. Holmes was of course accurate when he announced, while following the tracks, that here the cyclist was standing up to sprint, because the rear-wheel's track was shallower than before.
Jerome K. Jerome was a popular humorist whose boating novel, Three Men In A Boat, still makes readers laugh. The sequel, Three Men On A Bummel (a wandering bicycle tour), is practically forgotten, partly because cycling is less popular than boating but more because the humor doesn't run as freely. Still, we cyclists have met some of his characters. There's the tinkerer who forces his mechanical care upon someone else's bike. The bike ends up in worse shape than it had been. So does the mechanic, because the bike had spirit enough to fight back. When another character says that his bicycle runs a little stiffly after lunch we know just what he means. But when a tandemming husband rides five astonishingly fast miles after lunch and only then discovers that this is because he has left his wife behind, we know that Jerome has never tandemed. And when the lady in question sees her husband climb a hill and then sees him descend the other (normally invisible) side, the willing suspension of disbelief deteriorates. Still, even with this humorous exaggeration Jerome's characters treat bicycles as respectable and everyday vehicles whose use is an entirely ordinary activity.
That's not the case with Alfred Jarry's works of fantastic, black humor. There's Jesus riding an old-fashioned cross-framed bicycle in a race to the summit of Golgotha, then carrying it because he punctured on a wreath of thorns that was thrown onto the course. "The deplorable accident familiar to us all took place at the twelfth turn. Jesus was in a dead heat at the time with the thieves. We know that he continued the race airborne -- but that is another story." Sure it's fantastic, but it reads like real race reporting. There's also the Perpetual Motion Food Race in which a five-man team riding a recumbent quintuple machine challenges an express train for a ten-thousand-mile race, and wins in five days. The race is set two decades into the future from Jarry's actual date of about 1905, and therefore describes future technology. But Jarry knows his cycling science. The riders lie prone to reduce wind resistance and they eat regularly of the Perpetual-Motion Food, condensed, high-energy and easily-digestible. One of the team dies, but the corpse, strapped into his pedals, keeps on cycling: "One can sleep on a bike, so one should be able to die on a bike with no more trouble." The banter between the riders sounds realistic, as are the mantras that they mutter to maintain cadence and the hallucinations that come with fatigue. Jarry's evocation of a competitor's account bears an eerie similarity to those of the competitors in the Race Across America.
John Galsworthy, another of those who rode with Somerset Maugham in the south of England in the great years, described in the Forsyte Saga the changes that cycling brought. "At its bone-shaking inception innocent, because of its extraordinary discomfort, in its 'penny-farthing' stage harmless, because only dangerous to the lives and limbs of the male sex, it began to be a dissolvent of the most powerful type when accessible to the fair in its present form. Under its influence, wholly or in part, have wilted chaperons, long and narrow skirts, tight corsets, hair that would have come down, black stockings, thick ankles, large hats, prudery and fear of the dark; under its influence, wholly or in part, have bloomed week-ends, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language, knickers, knowledge of make and shape, knowledge of woods and pastures, equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation--in four words, the emancipation of woman." He also described the reaction of the older generation. "But to Swithin [Forsyte], and possibly for that reason, it remained what it had been from the beginning, an invention of the devil." So when Swithin's niece Euphemia rides the fifty miles to Swithin's hotel for afternoon tea, Swithin writes her out of his will.
But of all these H. G. Wells remains the only major author who has written a cycling novel, and bicycles appear in his other works also. In his first novel, The Time Machine of 1895, the time-traveling machine is oddly like a bicycle, with a saddle that the rider straddles and controls like handlebars. In A Story Of The Times To Come, a period when aeroplanes fly between major cities, he describes gangs of farm laborers commuting out to the fields on large multiple-rider machines. In The War Of The Worlds of 1898 the protagonist pays little attention to the initial news because he had been spending his time learning to ride, but his cycling skill plays no part in the rest of the story. When The Food Of The Gods is written in 1904 cyclists appear but play no significant part and in the final scenes, supposedly some years in the future, motor cars are the vehicles of choice. That's the end of the great years. So short a part of time they share / That are so rapid, light and spare.
The Wheels Of Chance (1896) is the cycling novel, Wells's third written but second published. [An excerpt can be found on BR] Wells had had a critical success with The Time Machine and had then written The Island Of Dr. Moreau, but there were difficulties in getting that published. Wells needed money in a hurry, so he wrote about what he knew, the draper's assistant that he once had been and his new hobby of cycling.
The story is a pretty thin one. Hoopdriver, a callow linen-draper's shop assistant, takes up cycling on as good a machine as he can afford, one with an old-fashioned cross-frame and solid tires. He plans to spend his vacation cycling the south of England. Early on he meets a young woman cyclist who is planning a rendezvous with a more sophisticated cyclist. The young woman has left home to experience freedom while the man, a married man who is an acquaintance of both the young woman and her novel-writing stepmother, aims to seduce her. Hoopdriver sets out to protect her while three more of the stepmother's friends try to find them all. Naturally, it is a confused chase. In the end Hoopdriver returns alone to work, but in the course of baffling the would-be seducer he now has possession of that worthy's new and far better bicycle.
However thin the story, the cycling is perfect. In many places I can still recognize those roads that Wells describes around Midhurst. The description of Hoopdriver's bumps, bruises and abrasions from learning to ride are familiar to us all. Another bruise is particularly familiar to those who, as Hoopdriver did, learned on a fixed-gear machine. "One large bruise on the shin is even more characteristic of the 'prentice cyclist, for upon every one of them waits the jest of the unexpected treadle. You try at least to walk your machine in an easy manner, and whack! -- you are rubbing your shin."
Hoopdriver meets the same characters whom we meet on the roads today. One is a middle-aged man, very red and angry in the face. "There's no hurry, sir, none whatever. I came out for exercise, gentle exercise, and to notice the scenery and to botanise. And no sooner do I get on that accursed machine than off I go hammer and tongs; I never look to right or left, never notice a flower, never see a view--get hot, juicy, red--like a grilled chop. Here I am, sir. Come from Guildford in something under the hour. Why, sir?"
Wells describes the utility of riding one-handed or no-hands, a skill that Hoopdriver hasn't yet developed. "Until one can ride with one hand, and search for, secure and use a pocket-handkerchief with the other, cycling is necessarily a constant series of descents....Until the cyclist can steer with one hand, his face is given over to Beelzebub. Contemplative flies stroll over it and trifle absently with its most sensitive surfaces.... And again, sometimes the beginner rides for a space with one eye closed by perspiration, giving him a waggish air foreign to his mood and ill calculated to overawe the impertinent."
Having met the young woman on the road and been left by her, Hoopdriver later passes the would-be seducer who is patching a tire beside the road. As Hoopdriver disappears into the distance the would-be seducer mutters, "Greasy proletarian. Got a suit of brown, the very picture of this. One would think his sole aim in life had been to caricature me.... Look at his insteps on the treadles! Why does Heaven make such men?" Wells knows how to pedal properly, but Hoopdriver hasn't yet learned.
Hoopdriver thoroughly tires himself that first day and falls readily asleep. But: "After your first day of cycling one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow."
Having rescued the young woman from her would-be seducer, Hoopdriver and the young woman are chased by those who are still intent on rescuing her from the far more dangerous man. There's her stepmother and her stepmother's best friend on a Marlborough Club tandem, two more of the stepmother's literary circle on a high-geared sporting tandem, and a clergyman riding a tricycle. There's a race over rolling countryside, with the gap between them closing and widening according to the relative abilities on climbs and descents. Then they reach a long gentle descent, where, as Wells states what to us is now commonplace knowledge, "downhill nothing can beat a highly-geared tandem bicycle" and they are caught and then passed as the inexperienced tandem riders frantically try to stop. But they spin around, climb the hill again, to reach the hotel at the summit and await their rescuers with dignity.
The Wheels Of Chance has several themes other than cycling; Wells satirizes the British class structure, the pretensions of those in literary circles, the naive idealism of those who haven't worked for a living. He also describes cycling as an engine that was changing society. Had Wells been a little older in 1895, and in not so much of a hurry, he would have written a better novel. With all its faults, that's the only cycling novel from the great days when noted authors knew cycling. Copies are rare now. Mine is a reprint from 1918, published by J. M. Dent and Sons and printed by Temple Press, who have long been the publishers of Cycling and other specialist journals.
However, there's one other cycling novel that's at least as good as The Wheels Of Chance and its cycling is far more detailed and much more exciting. Contrary to my thesis that only authors from the great days knew cycling well enough to write well and accurately about it, it was written much later. It's author was a top-level amateur racing cyclist, a competitor in Britain's Milk Race (the stage race around Britain), and published in 1972. The novel is The Yellow Jersey, by Ralph Hurne.
Terry Davenport is a recently-retired English professional road racer who has ridden the Tour de France four times as a competent domestique and spent much of his life on the Continent. He is now in a bed-and-business relationship with Paula, an English antique dealer in Belgium, that may progress to marriage and full partnership but is not as exciting as his former life. He also trains a local cycling team whose star is the young and promising Luxembourg cyclist Romain, who is socially bashful and who desperately needs the advice that Terry is giving him. In addition, he also risks being the occasional lover of his mistress's college-student daughter, Susan, who is engaged to Romain. As the story begins he meets a young woman from New Zealand and in the effort to impress her and to conceal his actual age he says that he is still racing. Well, that means that he has to race, and he persuades Romain to ride as his teammate in an unimportant local race, motor-paced in the rain over cobblestoned streets, with disastrous results for Romain although Terry wins through skillful riding.
In the end, Terry is compelled to ride the Tour again as Romain's advisor cum domestique in the International team that is cobbled together from the unimportant cycling nations: three British, a Portuguese, two Swiss, two Germans, an Austrian, a Dane, an Australian, and Romain from Luxembourg, with a coach who speaks only German. "Cannon fodder... to make the big guns look even bigger," as Terry muses to himself. Romain is a superb climber but hasn't yet the maturity to fight all the way through to the last stage. He has a good chance for King of the Mountains but practically no chance of winning the Tour. Terry, of course, has no chance at anything. He will suffer from heat and age but benefit from craftiness, dogged determination, and skill in descending. He merely hopes to last through the Pyrenees long enough to help Romain reach the Alps within striking distance of the leaders.
Well, stranger things have happened. Approaching the Alps, some of the stars are no longer in the race. The others, including Romain, are not far ahead of the bunch, and an exhausted Terry wears the yellow jersey with a thirty-two-minute lead. That's as much as I'll tell you of the plot.
Terry is suffering a mid-life crisis; they just come earlier for athletes than for others. He is the kind of person who becomes a professional athlete: physically powerful, mentally tough, ill-educated, working class. He is also intelligent, as is usual with successful racing cyclists. In 1970 he confronts the same British class structure that Hoopdriver did in 1895, but from an entirely different personal situation. Hoopdriver acquiesced, even agreed, with his position in life. Terry dislikes the deferential pose and false accent that he must assume to the British customers of Paula's antique shop, who outrank him only by possession of money. As he muses, he could get off his deathbed and outrace any of them. He feels the outcast even with Paula's friends, who studiously avoid discussing his former profession. These themes are as prominent in the story as is cycle racing, and they make it a moderately good novel rather than merely a cycling story. Note, however, that these themes also express the disdain with which society considers cycling.
But the real joy of the novel, for cyclists, is the racing. Short quotations can't convey its feel, because cycle racing is too complicated a matter, too difficult a skill, to be conveyed in a few sentences. The description of one-on-one competition when racing over an Alpine pass in a summer snowstorm is superb. From the panorama of this Tour to the details of tactics and bike handling, it's been written by someone who's been there. Those of us with racing experience have felt the exultation and exhaustion, marked our opponents, encouraged and assisted our teammates, calculated our chances in making a break, ridden on despite the pain of defeat and known the confidence that comes when you master your principal competitor. It's all there, as we have known it.
These great cycling stories exist against a backdrop of minor cycling literature that continued for a long time after the great years. Cycling fiction appeared irregularly in the cycling journals. I can remember reading fictional stories of European cyclists carrying messages for the Resistance during WW II, humorous accounts of tours, character sketches of real or fictional cyclists, tall tales about fabulous cyclists, trips, or machines. There were also essays on various cycling subjects, particularly those by GHS (George Herbert Stancer, Secretary of the British Cyclists' Touring Club for decades). However, the general reading public paid no attention to these works because they had no virtue beyond cycling itself. The authors were cyclists, not general writers, and they found no way to tie cycling into the rest of life as is required for better literature.
A countercurrent of anti-cycling literature appeared in the general press over these years, principally from advocates of motoring. In the 1930s some motoring Britons called cyclists road-lice, a phrase that aroused fury when used by the Minister of Transport. Recent American examples are P. J. O'Rourke's The Bicycle Menace in Car and Driver, June 1984, and Ross Tyrrell's diatribes on the same subject.
This survey of cycling in literature (principally English literature, it's true) tells us something about cycling's position in society. The only famous authors who wrote about cycling (except in the most incidental way when the plot demanded it) were those who had cycled in that very short period, the great days of cycling. Even then, they produced only one minor novel with cycling as a principal theme. Generally, they wrote charmingly and reasonably accurately about cycling as a normal social activity at all levels of society without sociological reflection. Wells was the major exception. He had been trained as a biologist and was a technocrat and futurist; he understood how cycling was changing society and said so. Galsworthy understood those changes later, for, writing about 1930, he used the wisdom of reflection to depict the reactionary views of society towards cycling in 1890, just before the great days. By the time of the last of these writers, D. H. Lawrence, who was born in 1885, the bicycle has become the vehicle of the working class, and C.S.Forester, born in 1899, described the snobbery that followed by 1916.
Contrariwise, later famous authors never wrote about cycling and introduced a bicycle only when the plot absolutely required it, and when they did it was only as a vehicle for a lower-class character. While some minor writers wrote of cycling, they displayed abysmal ignorance about the activity. Those writers who knew about cycling were unable to write for a general audience and limited themselves to the cycling press. There were two exceptions to this rule. John MacDonald, a well-known mystery and muckracking writer, accurately described part of a century ride while describing the cyclist as an obnoxious bicycle freak. He had probably picked up his knowledge as part of the cycling renaissance of the 1970s. Ralph Hurne, a retired racing cyclist, wrote an accurate and exciting novel about professional cycle racing, but has not produced any other noteworthy work.
We can conclude that, after the great days, English and American society has looked on cycling in a very unflattering light. Generally, cycling isn't worth considering. When it is, it usually is the mode of the lower classes or of peculiar and obnoxious people and is inaccurately portrayed. When cycling is portrayed favorably the picture is one of juvenile fantasy rather than adult activity. The two examples from this later period that accurately portray some aspect of cycling merely emphasize those conclusions because they contrast the joy of cycling against society's disdain.
© John Forester, 1989
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