The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club and cycling in the 1890s
48. Blatchford prepares for the Meet - Wednesday 3 April
I'm now back-tracking slightly to the week preceding the first Clarion Meet at Ashbourne and to the 'Clarion Post Bag' of Clarion, 13 April 1895, conducted as usual by the paper's main founder and editor, Robert Blatchford.
Today it's very unusual to find an adult who can't ride a bike – true, some manage to fall off rather a lot as some of our ride reports demonstrate – but it's rare for anyone of mature years to actually need to try to learn to ride. Things were very different in the 1890s. The 'safety' bicycle - ancestor of our bikes today - was only invented in the previous decade. Prior to that there were 'ordinary' bicycles (aka penny farthings) tackling which required a rare mixture of athleticism and lunacy. Robert Blatlchford was born in 1851 so at the time we're concerned with he would have been 43 or 44. 'Winnie', by the way, is his daughter Winifred. From the place names the action - if that's the right word - seems to have taken place on the Isle of Wight where the family seem to have been taking a holiday.
By the way, I had almost forgotten, I am also a member of the new editorial branch of the Clarion Cycling Clubs, and shall be expected to give notice of runs.
Wednesday April 3rd, went out on the sands to practise mounting the "bike". Took Winnie to hold his tail while I got across him.
Found it very easy to get across him - and off on the other side. Discharged Winnie after a few attempts for neglect of duty, she having failed to stop the creature from bucking.
Resolved to conquer the stubborn steed. Wrestled with him like a Laocoon,* until the beady drops ran down my nose and the Saxon tongue failed to come to time. Efforts crowned with some success. Discovered more original ways of falling in heaps than were ever seen by a Cornish wrestler.
Picked up myself and went to lunch. After lunch had another life-and-death struggle , and succeeded in mounting and getting a start. Began at once to discover some singular phenomena of the cycle nature. The first of them was an obstinate refusal to turn any way but upside down, when the thing had shot itself to the end of my patch of sand; the second was the startling facility for spinning round and round like a firework, when I desired to impress the early servant maid with a straight run.
Discovered also that the machine has a remarkable and most powerful attraction for all kinds of obstacles which the rider wishes to avoid. This peculiarity caused me to plunge into pools of salt water, to ride over my own children's sand castles, and to make desparate, but futile efforts to climb up breakwater posts
Perhaps some experienced Clarion cyclist will kindly explain these phenomena. And perhaps the friend who so kindly presented me with the bicycle will explain his remissness in neglecting to enclose a man to hold me on!
* for them as don't know or has forgotten, Laocoon was the Trojan priest who warned against taking the 'horse' left by the Greeks into the city and was attacked and killed by a sea serpent - or in other versions several snakes.
Next time – More from Blatchford - Thursday to Monday