The Bicycle and Recreation
( Originally Published 1906 )
THE bicycle was hailed on its advent as furnishing the ideal exercise, equally, and without undue stress, developing all parts of the body ; while at the same time, by its delightful motion through swiftly varying scenes, it furnished a constant fascination to the mind. But for the naturalist, who wishes to note the precise marking on the wing of that butterfly which just alighted on the thistle yonder, who wants to pick up every slab of fossiliferous limestone to scan it for rare denizens, who is perpetually on the lookout for flowers, grasses, leaves, not yet in his herbarium,—for all such queer gentry the bicycle is a little too swift.
Furthermore, when two friends would like to converse, bicycles make very unsympathetic listeners. I have tried many topics of conversation while on the wheel, and the only topic that seems to agree with the fancy of that tricksy creature is herself. Talk of cranks and pedals, bearings, gearings, tire, spoke, Columbia, and Victor, and the egotistic machine is all right and listens purring. Begin to discuss a book, the landscape, the latest scandals, and she runs into ruts, and develops portentous squeaks, and tries to climb over every stone in the road.
Yet further ; to one who would be easy master of his sport, that it may attend him when . and where he choose, the bicycle is a cumbrous servant. He must woo it ever with oil and monkey-wrench and cleaning cloth and spoke-tightener, watch rain and rust, make friends with the man who does repairing, that the bill may not bankrupt him ; and with all his care, a lost nut, or a broken ball, or a bent pin, or a little rain or snow or dust may balk him of his fun.
But still, when all this is said, about the most imperial sensation mortal man may attain is felt by a good rider on a good wheel over a good road. All muscles are at pleasurable tension, the breeze whistles through his hat, the fence-posts sway in excitement as he flashes by, the trees wave their congratulations, and it seems the comical hope of Darius Green come true, the realization of the old Daedalian myth ; and one has but to fear that, like the impetuous Icarus, he may fly too near the sun, and melt off his rubber tire.
I can imagine no finer summer outing than a small party of wheelmen can contrive, with light suit, light baggage, light heart, a leap into the saddle, and off for the Smoky Mountains, for Canada, for the Mammoth Cave,—for any place you please to which roads lead. Halt where nightfall catches you, in queer country inn or farmhouse, and off in the morning early, with delightful uncertainty as to what will next turn up; lofty hill, blossoming meadows, cool ravine, or smoking factories ; on through the long, bright day, past hurrahing boys, busy farms, housewives glancing up from the ironing-table ; through fresh morning into wide-eyed noon and the sacred evening, and then to soundest and most refreshing slumber. A summer outing with the bicycle is one of the best care-dispellers and cheercompellers man's brain ever invented. And the essence of such a tour, the spirit that made the Pickwick Papers famous, reposes forever in the pneumatic tire, though it never make a century run. The magic steed has rendered the neighboring city as accessible as the grocery store used to be, and has brought the entire county into your front yard. The bliss of the bird is yours, in such measure as only the coming flying machine will surpass. Before break-fast, if you are enterprising, you will take a flight, and your brain will "babble o' green fields " in a happy undertone all day. And when your labor is over you will take another flight, and the panorama of Sunset Hill or the music of Willow Brook will enrich and soothe your slumber. Two vacation outings every day—that is the blessed privilege of every owner of a bicycle.