The bicycle is everywhere, in every country and culture, and can be used for good and for evil, as you’ll see. So, off we go on a quick bike trip around the world: Spain, France, Greece, Russia, Morocco, England, back to Spain and, finally, South Africa.
Spain: No Bull
Birmingham Daily Post, England, July 2, 1868: An improvement has been introduced into the practice of bull-fighting which will be acceptable to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. At a recent bull-fight in Bilboa, an amateur, mounted on a velocipede, acquitted himself perfectly of the duties of a picador.
A picador? The person, mounted on a horse, who stabs the bull with a lance (see above). So, I understand how not putting a horse in harm’s way would please the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but … what about the bull?
France: The City of (Bike) Lights
Bellow Falls Times, Vermont, December 25, 1868: Velocipedes are so common in Paris and used so much in the evenings, that a recent police edict compels the riders to affix a lamp to them in consequence of the accidents that have happened from their use.
Greece: The King and I and a Velocipede
Chicago Evening Post, November 13, 1869: King George, of Greece, is devoted to the velocipede, and spends more time on it than in attending to the affairs of his nation. Imagine an ancient Greek dashing around the Acropolis on a bicycle!
King George’s long reign, and cycling days, ended in 1913 when he was assassinated (see below).
Russia: The Cycling God
The Times, Shreveport, Louisiana, January 8, 1884: Bicycle are not very plentiful in Russia, and in certain parts of the country the bicycle has never been seen by the inhabitants. A wheelman recently rode through one of these latter places and was taken for a god by the people, and in consequence was treated with great veneration.
This is the way to treat a cyclist!
Morocco: The Sultan of Swat
Independence Daily Reporter, Kansas, December 9, 1887: The Sultan of Morocco is much married; to the extent of some 1,500 wives. His chief instrument for maintaining domestic discipline is a bicycle. This machine was presented to him by a French manufacturer. Of course his majesty never would learn to ride it himself. But he had a circular track laid out in his courtyard, and whenever any of his wives were guilty of misdemeanors he made them go out there and ride the wheel. The least offender had to keep at it till she had fallen off five times, while the worst culprits had twenty-five falls to make. Meantime his majesty would stand by and watch them with ghoulish glee.
Wow, there are just so many things wrong with this story about the Sultan that I don’t know where to start. Let’s just say he was not a good husband. And, back then, it was still the age of the penny farthing, high-wheel bicycle, which meant these women fell from quite a height.
England: Till Death Do Us Part
The Plymouth Tribune, Pennsylvania, November 25, 1892: A funeral on bicycles took place, a few days ago, at Redditch, England. C. James, Captain of the Redditch Town Cycling Club died, and just before his death requested that his body should be conveyed to the cemetery on bicycles. The coffin was laid upon a platform draped in black and erected on four bicycles, four men in the uniform of the club acting as bearers. Preceding the coffin was a contingent of the members of the club, all riding their bikes.
Spain: No Bulls … Knives This Time
Weir Daily Tribune, Kansas, December 15, 1897: Duelling on bicycles is reported to be a new division in Spain. Two members of the bicycle club of Grenada recently met in a knife duel, which was probably the first encounter of the kind fought on wheels. Accompanied by their seconds, they wheeled out some distance on the road to Malaga, to a secluded spot. There posted 700 feet apart, at a sign they wheeled toward each other, directing the machines with the left hand, and brandishing in the right that terrible knife of Spain – the navaja. At the first clash, Perez pierced the hand of Moreno, but at the third encounter Moreno thrust his knife into Perez’s left breast. In a few minutes [Perez] died of internal hemorrage.
The navaja is a traditional Spanish folding knife used for fighting. And, thankfully, bicycle duels don’t seem to have caught on.
South Africa: An Actual Diamond-Frame Bike
The Boston Globe, January 21, 1899: The costliest bicycle in the world has just been finished at a gun factory in Vienna. It will cost 500,000 gulden, which is a little more than $275,000. The owner is a rich South African diamond king and mine owner, who will present the machine to his wife on her birthday. It is inlaid with precious stones and diamonds on every possible part.
This bike would cost about $8 million in today’s dollars to manufacture and bedazzle with all the diamonds. So, I hope the diamond king’s wife was happy … with her blood-diamond bike. And had a really good lock.
Interested in cycling history? My blog is chock full of them. Here’s the link to one on Baby Bliss, the world’s largest cyclist. It’s a strange and sad tale. Sign up for email alerts so you don’t miss any of my upcoming stories.
And, here’s the link to my Biking France books – they’re on sale, half off.