A steering strap for the bicycle; an ingenious cleaning rack; perhaps the first recumbent; and … the “handle bar toilet case.” These are just a few of the new fun, fascinating, and totally true bicycle stories from 1896 – the year that was the height of the bicycle craze.
Here we go …
I don’t have a bike stand. Yet. And, who needs one when you have a chair, which I have! According to a story that first ran in the Chicago Chronicle, a “little boy on the West side” of the Windy City “discovered that an ordinary chair serves the purpose excellently for those who are not provided with the necessary rack. The little chap turned the chair over, hooked the handles of his bicycle into the rear legs and rested the saddle on the back.”
Wheelwomen had it tough back then. According to a story in the Central Nebraska Republican, a Missouri girl put on her best pair of bloomers and pedaled over to visit her grandparents. “They, in turn, tore her bloomers off, compelled her to put on a dress, smashed her bicycle and then sent her home.”
As if all this wasn’t enough, women were expected to look their best during and after a ride. To help them remain fresh, dainty and ladylike, the handle bar toiler case was invented. Here’s the scoop, from the September 30, 1896 edition of the Star-Gazette of Elmira, New York: “It is intended to be fastened in front and contains toilet articles. On the inside of the flap is a mirror, into which she may occasionally glance to see that her hat is on straight. Curing irons are in the case and, by dismounting and using her bicycle lamp to heat the irons, the feminine cyclist may restore her curls before returning home. A powder puff, scent bottle and other little accessories of a woman’s toilet may also be stored in the case.”
Hey, what about the wheelmen? Their case “have flasks instead of curling irons, and cigarette or cigar cases.”
Despite all these hardships and high expectations, there were some heroic and adventurous wheelwomen back in the day who refused to live by the rules established by male-dominated society. Like the Philadelphia woman “who took her canary bird out for a bicycle ride in Philadelphia the other day. The cage was suspended from the handle bar and to show its gratitude the bird acted as a bicycle bell by furnishing an open air concert the entire trip.”
She’s not the only one who takes their bird for a ride. I’ve seen a cyclist (a guy) riding along the Olentangy Trail with a large parrot on his shoulder. Twice. The next time I need to interview this guy, and his bird.
Holding onto the handle bars can be annoying, right? And so, someone invented the “steering strap.” I think it was Ron Popeil’s great-great grandfather. According to the July 14, 1896 edition of the Coffeyville (Kansas) Daily Journal, “by using the strap it becomes possible for novices to ride ‘hands off’ at the slowest gait. Obstacles in the road can be ridden over with ease and the sharpest turns can be effected in the same manner as if the hands were gripping the bars … The strap can be carried under the seat when not in use.”
It doesn’t seem as though the steering strap caught on.
“M. Diggs, the hardware merchant, has a few excellent bicycles on hand that he will exchange for hay,” according to the September 30, 1896 Woodland (California) Daily Democrat.
The recumbent, or ‘bent bicycle dates back to at least 1896 and Switzerland, where, perhaps from all that yodeling, many people had bad backs. And so, Monsieur Challand of Geneva invented the “la bicyclette normal”also known as the “new Swiss bicycle.” And, over the next 125 years, the basic design of the recumbent hasn’t changed much at all.
Interested in more wacky, fun and fascinating cycling humor? Of course you are. Here’s the link to lots more, and my new book: The Boy With No Legs Who Rode Like the Wind.
Let’s finish up with some cycling humor, 1896 style…
Mrs. Gloss: “Why, Hannah, Rev. Mr. Whitechoker says he called on his bicycle yesterday and you said I was out.”
Hannah: “Yes, ma’am; you told me if any pedalers called I was to say that you were not at home.”