One of Hood's quaintest fancies is carried out in sober earnest in London, according to the London Daily JVeics, which says : " The academy at which old boys were put out to board, and from which one of the pupils describes how his fellows cannot play at marbles because the game necessitates stooping, and their rheumatics are so bad; or how hoop is rendered impracticable by gout, or prisoners' base by asthma, or details equally incongruous—this description is realized almost literally at the velocipede riding schools. These abound in London just now. East, west, north, and south of the metropolis are lessons being given to men of all ages, with a decided run upon bald heads and gray hair among the pupils. " Down St. Luke's Hospital way, and about midway between Moorgate station and that Goswell street which has become classical ever since the embarrassing scene which took place in it between Mr. Pickwick and Mrs. Bardell, is one of the best known of the velocipede scnools. From ten in the morning till six at night it is very busy. A couple of broughams and several hansom cabs are waiting at the archway, leading to it out of Old street, at the time of the visit. Past these, and up a sort of court, and we are in a large factory, with crowds of mechanics busily at work. Velocipedes in various stages of progress are to be seen everywhere. They hang in thick rows like onion? from the roof, they block up the floor, they are piled in pyramids against the walls. The majority are unfinished. Long lines of wheels, unvarnished and unpainted, are seasoning, while handles, seats, axle trees, and smaller wheels are being manipulated, or lie ready ior use. There is as much scope for fancy about the decorations of a velocipede as in aught else, and whether one of the scores which were being made to order should be picked out with yellow or red as a relief to its dark body color was a subject of earnest discussion between two elderly officers during our stay. The guiding bar is one of the things upon which extravagance is expected to center. Already we were shown a very handsome one in burnished steel and with ivory handles as an ' extra/ and that' we shall have to bring them out in silver before the season's over/ is an opinion confidently expressed. (t So far we have kept to the manufactory and its ap preaches. The riding school is beyond, The first-named place and the counting house adjacent have been full of signs of the sudden and enormous demand which has arisen for the last new hobby horse, while the school shows us how devotedly purchasers are qualifying themselves for riding it. Here is a stout country gentleman who has come up from a distant province for the sole purpose of receiving lessons. A stalwart attendant walks with him round the room, holding him on his velocipede, by keeping an arm firmly round his waist. The sitter keeps his head down and his knees in, as if he were attempting to master a particularly vicious and unmanageable young horse. His eyes are firmly fixed upon the wheels beneath him, his shoulders are up, his teeth are clenched, his hat is pressed resolutely over his eyes, and his entire demeanor is that of a man who sees his work cut out for him and who means to master it. At first his feet are allowed to hang uselessly down, while the attendant propels the velocipede by pushing it with his disengaged hand. The rider is directed to keep his attention to the handle, to balance himself by it, and to be careful at the turns. " Round and round the vast bare chamber go the twain, the attendant walking slowly under his double task, and giving out instructions rather disjointedly for lack of breath, ' Give a looser hold to the handles, sir—(puff)—don't grip 'em as if you were afraid of tumbling off—(puff, pant, puff). I'll take care of that. (Pant.) Just feel 'em like; the lighter and gentler the better—(puff)—and whenever you feel your'r going oyer on one side, just turn an opposite handle, and you'll right yourself directly.' (Pant, puff, puff.) After a little time the novice is told to use his feet, and he then turns the wheels slowly for himself, being still held on by the at-bejndant instructor. There are no fastenings for the foot— simply a rest which projects out from the axle trees; and whenever the handle is mismanaged, and the center of gravity lost, the rider comes to the ground on his feet, and -so 3tands up in a very comic way. It is as if a very tall man were on a pony so small that he can at any moment allow it to run between his legs. But there is nothing corresponding to the stirrup in any way; and one of the most striking things we noted was the readiness with which even the least expert of novices could place himself at ease, by freeing himself altogether of the machine. Two such lessons as we saw given, would, we were assured, enable the gentleman before us to manage a velocipede for himself, and from this stage to a complete mastery, is a mere question of practice." At a recent meeting of the Society of Inventors, in London, a paper on velocipedes was read by Mr. C. B. King, C.E. He began by noticing the gradually increasing public interest in the velocipede movement in England, as well as in America and France; and having given to a native of the latter country the credit of the invention of the bicycle half a century ago, he mentioned the names of various improvers from that time down to the present. One of their machines weighed half a tun, and would carry twelve persons; in another the brake, one of the most valuable features of the modern velcci pede, was introduced. In order to bring them into general use, manufacturers should pay attention to springs, proportion, and finish. The exercise might be called " walking made easy," with the advantage of taking ten feet at a stride in place of two. He attached no importance to the supposed danger to pedestrians, inasmuch as, with ordinary skill, a ve-locipedist can stop more suddenly than he could pull up a horse. In America, with their usual appreciation of new ideas, they had established " Velocinasiums," and had invented such terms as " wobblers,"' " shavers," and " tumblers," to describe the several degrees of inefficiency of management. He urged, however, that, as a means of rapid and easy locomotion, the velocipede was well worthy of serious attention. During a discussion which followed, it was suggested that inventors should endeavor to provide velocipedes suitable for ladies and children, as well as cheaper vehicles, on which working men could go to their employment, as some do in Paris. It was stated, however, that velocipedes are not fitted for London streets, and regret was expressed at their exclusion from the parks. Mr. Velogne said he had done the ninety miles between Paris and Rouen on a bicycle in one day. A mile had been done on good road in two minutes and four seconds : but the keeping up of so high a rate of speed was altogether exceptional. Eight or nine miles an hour would be done by an ordinary skillful man without great exertion. It was objected that at a tollgate on the Brighton road, velocipedes are charged under the same category as mules and donkeys. After the meeting, several bicycles were started, and did good work in Trafalgar Square, the Strand, and Fleet street At a sensation velocipede exhibition given, recently in Boston, one Master John Reardon is stated to have ridden a velocipede with gooved wheels along a rope stretched from one end of the rink to the other, about twenty feet from the floor. In addition to this a trapeze was hung to the velocipede and Mr. Harry M. Stevens performed a variety of feats upon it, while the yelocipede was moving along the rope. Two little girls, aged three and five years, rode velocipedes around the rink with the ease of experts. Mr. Henry C. Platt, of Augusta, Ga., sends us a drawing copied with the following extract from page 434, Vol. 5, of the " Second American Edition of the new Edinburgh Encyclopedia," printed in the year 1814. t( In the ' Triumph of Maximilian, a work executed in the years 1516,1517, and 1518, curious readers will find plates of various carriages or cars, some drawn by horses, some by camels, some by stags, others impelled forward by means of different combinations of toothed wheels worked by men, Qf one of the most remarkable of them we give an exact copy in plate CXXXI (of which the drawing is &fac simile)." The drawing is extremely curious, and the machine is evidently a monocycle, We have sought in vain for the wor; alluded to in the public libraries of this city. Is it available to any of our correspondents ? If so we Shall be happy to hear from them.
This article was originally published with the title "The Velocipede in Europe" in Scientific American 20, 21, 330 (May 1869)