Cycling Sources #1- ‘The Joys of Cycling by a Middle Aged Woman’, Part One

The following article first appeared in the Manchester Guardian in August 1895. It was written by a self-described ‘middle aged woman’, and is a wonderfully poetic piece, joyfully describing the difference cycling made to the lives of those living in busy cities. For the first time people had their own personal means of transportation, which allowed them to journey into the countryside and experience nature, fresh air and ‘the grandest milk you ever tasted’. In an article full of fantastic quotes, the one at the end of the second paragraph is by far my favourite. Enjoy!

‘I took to cycling recently, and it has become a passion- a passion that does not wane, but grows with every fresh experience and lengthened ride. Judge of it you who can! Out of the heart of a busy manufacturing town, with its perpetual hum of men and machinery; out of its grimness and smoke, its bustle and unrest, its struggles and failures, into pure spaces filled with peace and calm, into quiet nooks fragrant with meadowsweet and briar, woodruff and honeysuckle, into valleys whence one sees the clear, still mountain tops, and realises anew a, ‘central peace subsisting at the heart of ceaseless agitation’; and this to be had so easily, requiring only will, energy, and a bicycle.

The other day when talking of the delights of cycling to a man who spends the greater part of his life at his last, in a small shop hung with leather- there is a blessed sense of comradeship amongst cyclists- he said to me, ‘I had a beautiful ride last Sunday. Such a day! I can never forget it. I had to stop and get off my machine once, for my heart got so full at the sight of violets growing all in bunches on a bank by the roadside.’

‘When speaking of the joys of cycling I am not speaking of the ‘scorcher’ or the man who hurries along in the pursuit of speed, and speed only- he has his reward, but of the ordinary rider, man or woman, who can slow quietly to see with glad eyes the beauty of the hedgerows, or pause to listen to the wild bird’s song or to watch its flight, and this, perhaps, with a feeling of sympathy, for was it not akin to flying that we came down that last hill with almost bird-like motion? I wonder if others have felt, as I have done since I took to cycling, that the old nature that one thought had long since been swept away or crushed out by the care, monotony and pressure of work and duty was there all along? It only wanted releasing to spring back with all its gladness and enthusiasm and keenness of enjoyment into life again; it only wanted opportunity to escape to the healing, restoring powers of nature and to free-and-easy contact with wider surroundings to understand that age is a matter of feeling and not of years, and that cares can sit lightly if the heart keeps young. In speaking of the comradeship that comes with cycling one is set wondering if this is to be among the methods for bringing about that sympathy which makes the ‘world akin.’

A woman with a bicycle in 1896 (source: http://www.oldbike.eu/emancipation/?page_id=430)

‘Some Sundays ago, slipping the leash of conventionality and orthodoxy, we set out for a quiet day in the country, choosing a round of thirty miles which is a favourite excursion from our town. We were overtaken by three typical Lancashire weavers, who, like ourselves, were new to the joy of cycling and were taking their ‘first long ride’. We passed and re-passed each other several times, thus giving opportunity to observe and grow friendly, to remark on the distinctive merits of our machines, and to warn each other of bits of newly metalled road and quick or sudden turn. The last time we saw them was towards noon, and it was hot. They were sitting by the roadside with pockets full of fern roots and flowers, very warm but radiantly happy, and the salutation was, ‘Theer’s the grandest milk you ever tasted at yon farm. We’se getting some at 3d. a quart. There’s still some in this jug if you’d like to sup.’ It was good to see those three so completely free to natural enjoyment and pure pleasure, and to know that probably hundreds more that fine Sunday, escaping from factory and warehouse, office and workroom, were finding the true recreation both for body and mind that would help them through a week of pressure and narrow limits, and that anticipation of many such days would shine like a beacon light all through the working hours.’

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One thought on “Cycling Sources #1- ‘The Joys of Cycling by a Middle Aged Woman’, Part One

  1. Pingback: Cycling Sources #10 – Arthur Balfour and ‘the most civilising invention’ | The Victorian Cyclist

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