Learning to Ride
It looks easy, but try it…
With the increasing popularity of the bicycle, particularly after the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, suddenly the new-fangled bicycle was all the rage. But the concept of riding a bicycle was still a new one, and it wasn’t always easy to learn how to ride.
Both the bicycle manufacturers and local bicycle shops soon started setting up riding academies to teach an eager public how to ride. In Harpers Bazaar magazine, Ida Trafford Bell provides some interesting perspectives on the issue:
All adverse criticism of bicycling by women has been virtually confided to three points or questions – the awkward stooping position assumed by many, which is bad in effect as well as appearance, the probable violence of the exercise, and the propriety or impropriety of the costume of the rider.
The idea of balancing upon two wheels, one set directly before the other, causes a feeling similar to that experienced while watching a tight-rope walker balancing on his threadlike support. Learning to ride a bicycle is different from any other form of exercise, in which there are degrees of perfection, that the learner attains step by step. In bicycling the learner is taught to ride first, and after that to mount and dismount. The pupil is placed upon the machine by the teacher, whose duty it is not only to push the wheel ahead, but at the same time to support the pupil in position, to whom everything seems out of place and all wrong. The pupil, sitting upon the swaying wheel, with apparently no support or protection, grasping the handlebars tightly, usually allows her feet to fall from the pedals, closes her eyes, draws in a long despairing breath, and unless the teacher is strong of limb, agile, and competent, will make a prompt and by no means dignified landing.
The greatest difficulty with beginners is that they often forget, in their fear of falling or over-anxiety to do well, to keep up the crank motion. But when they learn to allow the body to sway with the motion of the wheel, to hold the handlebars lightly and steadily, the victory is about won. if the learner will remember, when the machine tilts to the right, to lean to the right instead of the left, which is the natural impulse, the machine will promptly right itself.
There are several ways of mounting. The one first taught is the least difficult. Avoid jumping into the saddle. It is ungraceful as well as undignified. Move slowly, watch older riders, and note with what care and precision the ablest and most skilful of them mount and dismount.
When you wish to dismount moderate your speed by a gradual application oif the brake, or by allowing the machine to run for a time, or by back-pedalling. Do not apply the brake suddenly, as the wheel will stop sharply, thereby causing a quick jump or fall. As the left pedal reaches its lowest position stand upon it, swing the body forward, and step lightly to the ground.
The erect or upright position is beyond all question the only proper and healthful as well as dignified position, and if this position is strictly maintained there can be no doubt that bicycling does tend to develop and increase the chest capacity. Let the tall, angular, narrow-chested woman or girl maintain an upright position for a few months, exercising moderately and slowly, and she will be surprised to note the difference in her chest measurements: the hollows under her collarbone, caused by a stooping gait, will fill out. We know that it requires considerable muscular effort to sit erect upon a bicycle, as it does to sit erect elsewhere, but the result swill reward the effort.
1891: CYCLING FOR LADIES