How can I convey the perfection of my comfort on the bicycle, the completeness of my union with her, the sweet responses she gave me at every particle of her frame? I felt that I had known her for many years and that she had known me and that we understood each other utterly … I passed my hand with unintended tenderness – sensuously indeed – across the saddle … It was a gentle saddle yet calm and courageous … Her saddle seemed to spread invitingly into the most enchanting of all seats while her two handlebars, floating finely with the wild grace of alighting wings, beckoned to me to lend my mastery for free and joyful journeyings, the lightest of light running in the company of the swift ground winds to safe havens far away, the whir of the true front wheel in my ear as it spun perfectly beneath my clear eye and the strong fine back wheel with unadmired industry raising gentle dust on the dry roads, How desirable her seat was, how charming the invitation of her slim encircling handlebars, how unaccountable competent and reassuring her pump resting warmly against her rear thigh.
- The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien
A major impediment, in the Victorian era, to the adoption of cycling by women was men’s pre-occupation with the idea that women only wanted to ride bicycles because of the stimulation they might receive from the saddle. Horses were ridden side-saddle and, such was male paranoia, it was considered abhorrent for girls to sit astride any object, even a see-saw or hobby-horse. This obsession with the female virginal condition contributed to a boom in erotica in the Victorian age. Cameras and the printing process were becoming cheaper and easier to use. Bicycles captured the public imagination like nothing before, and erotic imagery, as with every other media form of the time, reflected this new-found interest.
Flann O’Brien’s comic novel The Third Policeman was written considerably later than the Victorian era, but Irish society maintained a Victorian outlook for most of the following century. He satirizes scientic theories by suggesting that ‘walking too far too often too quickly is not safe at all. The continual cracking of your feet on the road makes a certain quality of the road come up into you. When a man dies they say he returns to clay but too much walking fills you up with clay far sooner (or buries bits of you along the road) and brings your death half-way to meet you.’ Thus, by constant agitation against one another, the atoms of one object or being can be intermixed with those of another and, over a long period of time, according to this theory, a man may turn into a bicycle or a horse and vice-versa.
Flann O’Brien’s suggestion that a lifetime spent on a bicycle might create new and erotic relationships between rider and cycle obviously has a basis of truth. The advertising industry, since its earliest incarnation, has used sex to sell products, especially vehicles, so such connections have been implanted in our minds since our formative years. A classic example in the Victorian age was the French artists commissioned by bicycle companies to paint semi-naked fantasy women to advertise bicycles – the freedom they represented in their lack of dress suggests the freedom of the open road provided by bicycles.
The American advertising business became very powerful in this era.
Though turn-of-the-century Britain’s advertising industry was still restricted by Victorian conservatism, America’s advertising industry had the backing of the large corporations for whom they worked, who had lobbyists in government, and few restrictions applied.
As children we gave personalities to our toys. When we grow up we may form unearthly relationships with our steeds in similar fashion. Let’s face it, it’s hard not to acknowledge a special bond with a vehicle or machine we ride fast, over a long distance, or under duress …especially if we’re also familiar with its ‘innermost secrets’ by mechanically maintaining it. I’m not sure we’d describe our relationship with our bikes as a sexual one, but it is at least a sensual one.
It’s not only riders who have emotional relationships with their bikes; collectors also become very attached …including some who live alone, their partners having long since left them, the house now occupied instead by their bike collections. It’s against this background that we peep into a collection of vintage bicycle erotica…
WARNING: IF YOU ARE UNDER 18 or OFFENDED BY NAKED BODIES
PLEASE DO NOT LOOK ANY FURTHER DOWN THIS PAGE
ELF SERIES, PARIS, c1910
SAME STUDIO, SAME GIRL, SAME BIKE
FRENCH POSTCARD SET, 1930s
A VINTAGE BICYCLE JOKE