This Cycling Savvy eLetter is a little bit of a departure for me. I usually focus on technical aspects of cycling, but when a customer was kind enough to send me this book, I thought this would be an appropriate place to present it.
The book is Bicycling for Ladies (The Common Sense of Bicycling). Ms. Ward penned this 200 page book in 1896. 113 years ago! So much has changed, but so much has stayed the same.
When I first saw this book, I assumed it would be kind of lightweight. I mean, how serious could a 1896 book about cycling for women be? As out it turns out, very serious. Ms. Ward must have been a mechanical engineer with a flair for poetry.
Here’s the poet: “A bright, sunny morning, fresh and cool; good roads and a dry atmosphere; a beautiful country before you, all your own to see and to enjoy; a properly adjusted wheel awaiting you — what more delightful than to mount and speed away, the whirr of the wheels, the soft grit of the tire, an occasional chain-clank the only sounds added to the chorus of the morning, as, the pace attained, the road stretches away before you!”
And here’s the engineer: “The bicycle has one weight-carrying wheel and a frame and a pivoted wheel. The driving power is applied to the weight-carrying wheel and the steering is done with the pivoted wheel. The bicycle remains upright because several forces co-operate to enable it maintain its plane, change direction, and overcome certain resisting and opposing forces.”
Following are some of my comments with excerpts from this neat volume.
I would be the first to say I feel at one with my machine, but in 1896, cyclists were a lot closer to their bikes in some respects. Like straightening the frame if need be: “…to straighten a bent frame is an easy matter. Take out wheels, saddle, and handlebars, and use a piece of broom-handle to spring the frame into true; or take a stout cord, fasten it to either end of the part to be straightened, insert a stick, and wind up the cord tight.” Try that on your carbon fiber frame!
Forget about kickstands on a bike. Here’s a clever way of “standing” the bike. “A bicycle will balance in this way: The front wheel kept from moving at either the tire or the centre of the frame; the pedal resting against some firm object.” I often use a curb in this manner, but with the pedal on the back of the stroke, rather than the front as shown here.
One of my favorite lunches to carry on the bike is Fig Newtons, grapes and an energy bar. Not so different with Ms. Ward: “…if you carry luncheon, a couple of bread-and-butter sandwiches well wrapped in waterproof paper, and thin slices of cheese in a separate paper, or hard chocolate and water-biscuit, are as good as anything…”
We’ve all been in this situation! “Each hill has its peculiarities, which must be studied and conquered. The actual mounting to the top is not all you have to do; you should mount in proper trim, arriving at the summit fresh and fit. It is most saddening to see s ome one else mount a hill easily, leaving you, puffing and pushing, half way up, and to know that, when you reach the top, speechless and exhausted, that exasperating person will be seated there, cool, contemplative and comfortable.”
Ward’s 1896 woman was no stranger to working on her own bike. “I hold that any woman who is able to use a needle or scissors can use other tools equally well.” “Tools are but the continuation of the individual brain and will power.” “On returning from a ride the wheel should have a thorough going over, the enamel dusted, and any mud washed off with a wet sponge. The chain…should be taken off every two or three hundred miles of dusty road, and soaked in kerosene over night; the nickel or metal well dusted, rubbed with a chamois, and polished; and all the bearings, axles, and gear carefully wiped, and dust and grit removed. Then the chain should be replaced, oiled, graphited, and the bearings oiled.”
Weight, not of the rider, but of the bike: “A certain weight of material has been taken from the bicycle to make it light; the machine begins to lose its rigidity and consequently its accuracy, and cannot maintain its direction, but wavers, and really travels further to attain a given distance.” My how different materials and material shapes have changed this point of view!
Nutrition is always a large part of the active cyclist’s lifestyle and it was then, as well. “A mixed diet, with plenty of variety, is the best to work on, everything to be thoroughly cooked. Beef and mutton are always good food; and fresh vegetables, fruit, milk and eggs, and cereals either with cream and sugar or milk and sugar. Simple desserts are not harmful, neither are they necessary.”
I could go on forever with this, but by now you have the idea that this is a gem of a read. I imagine it’s virtually impossible to find in hard cover, but luckily, you can download this book from Google Books. Enjoy!
Maria P. Ward Bicycling for Ladies (The Common Sense of Bicycling) New York: Brentano’s, 1896
Very cool! I think Ms. Ward was a woman ahead of her time. Love the statement that women are perfectly capable of using any tool and should take care of her bicycle herself.