ALL OF US has books that have reached us from nowhere. ‘Cycling in posters’ is a book that has reached me from nowhere. I cannot remember where I got that book from. All I know is that, it is the only book on cycles that I have.
Sometime back in the end of 19th century cycles became a force in the Western society. It represented freedom and independence in personal transport. The urban population of the Continent and that of the US quickly adapted to the different models of cycles that various manufactures came up with. It was a period when constant variations and inventions in fundamental designs in the manufacture of cycles posted exiting experience for the users. During this period, various cycle manufactures came together and utilized the best talents of the time to design for them advertisement posters. “Cycling in Posters’ is a collection of some of those excellent posters that are both romantic and historic.
Cyclists of all generations have had their own dress codes. Way back in 1890s too there were strict dress codes: tight Knickerbocker suits and pillbox caps were the order of men. Women wore classic skirts and designer caps. The correct costume for a bicycling lady was a hot issue. In 1883, the English Cyclists’ Touring Club recommended the following dress code for a cycling woman: a woolen garment worn next to the skin, dark gray woolen stockings, lose knickers fastened under the knee underneath a plain skirt, a fitted bodice under the jacket and a hat
Did you wonder how a woman could navigate the crossbar framed cycles during those early years of commercial cycles? Well, the drop-frame bicycles came to their rescue when they were invented in the US by late 1890s. Women no longer struggled with their flowing skirts over the crossbars! Should a woman cyclist choose to keep her skirt on, then drop-frame was a tryst with freedom. Soon, the accepted convention was that a woman would only buy the drop-fame “ladies” cycles. Even the Indian women, with their sarees would have found it almost impossible to mount, but on their drop-frames.
As a cycle lover, I wonder how much the world of cycling has changed since olden days. Like any other art, the art of cycling too has lost some of its color and romance. Even then, the passion remains… to see the young lasses with bright color skits, flowing away on their cycles.
With the arrival of commercial safety bicycles in the 1880s, the aristocratic society of the Continent responded great. One group that really made daily news was the lovers. Young men and women deep in love wanted a space for flirtation. Since cycling was accepted as a social form of recreation, it was the easiest thing to ride away with boyfriend from the watchful eye of the parent or chaperon. To fight back, in 1896, the Chaperon Cyclists Association was formed in London. The idea was that girls and boys would take cycles on rental from the Association and that the parents can track their moments. No… it did not work! In fact, not only the aristocrats but also the ordinary lasses were freer to go on their own cycles. They peddled their love far away from the watchful eyes of the society just to be in the arms of each other for a while!
I think, it was fascinating for a girl and a boy to flirt on their cycles back in 1880s. Today, as boy and girls do it in their car and as they do it underwater, they are far related to their brothers and sisters who did it on their cycles.
Year was between 1878 … 1890. The bicycle was as pampered as the horse it partly displaced and was, in many ways, treated like a horse. One fad was to paint it in the family colors and protect it with a similarly painted cover a night. Then it was brought into the grand entrance lobby. A lackey would bring it round to the front door to be mounted by the master. There was excessive attention to dress too, one had to look one’s best as he mounted the bicycle and cycled it around. Only the aristocrats could do it.
H. G. Wells wrote, “The world is divided into two class: those who ride bicycles and those who don’t”