9. The Velociped
Now the reader may be inclined to wonder how a respectable young shopman could have got his legs, and indeed himself generally, into such a dreadful condition. One might imagine that he had been sitting with his nether extremities in some complicated machinery, a thrashing-machine, say, or one of those hay-making furies. But Sherlock Holmes (now, after a glorious career, happily and decently dead) would have fancied nothing of the kind. He would have recognised at once that the bruises on the internal aspect of the left leg, considered in the light of the distribution of the other abrasions and contusions, pointed unmistakably to the violent impact of the Mounting Beginning upon the bicycling saddle, and that the ruinous state of the right knee was equally eloquent of the concussions attendant on that person’s hasty, frequently causeless, and invariably ill-conceived descents. One large bruise on the shin is even more characteristic of the ‘prentice cyclist, for upon every one of them awaits the jest of the unexpected treadle. You try at least to walk your machine in an easy manner, and whack!—you are rubbing your shin. So out of innocence we ripen.
H. G. Wells’ The Wheels of Chance, was a perfectly delightful yarn about the adventures of a young man on a bicycling holiday in Southern England, in the days when that was regarded as a dangerous pastime, especially should one encounter young ladies wearing radicals—shorts as revealing as bloomers. Our hero rescues one such from a cad and runs into all sorts of ungentlemanly dangers. It is a very funny book, delightfully out of date, belonging to an age when riding a bicycle was a positively outrageous, foolhardy and very ungentlemanly—not to mention unladylike—thing to do.
For me such circumstances continued to prevail in 1958, when the very real dangers of bicycle riding became positioned at the fulcrum of the first great turning point in my life.
There was something about the disproportionate distances between my hip, knee and ankle joints all of which accumulated to the fact that at age twelve, I was not at all convinced that two large wheels positioned in series on a skimpy tubular frame was likely to be any sort of suitable means of conveying a clumsy individual like myself anywhere with any degree of safety. Nor was I in any hurry to prove or disprove that conviction. And that brought about repercussions that were very serious indeed.