The Grand Circle at Fifty-ninth Street and Eighth Avenue, New York.
While the "Safety" pattern made the bicycle possible to every one, of course the pneumatic tire is a great invention. Persons who have never studied the action of this tire may not realize that its purpose is not merely to act as a spring or cushion, but much more. Some pretty experiments made this last winter make this clear. It was shown that upon a perfectly smooth board floor less power was required to propel a steel-rimmed wheel than one with a pneumatic tire. But let a few fine pebbles be sprinkled upon the track, and then the power required for the steel tire had to be doubled, and even tripled, while that for the pneumatic tire required only a slight increase. The reason is simple enough. Whenever the steel rim encounters an obstruction the whole wheel and the weight it supports has to be lifted in order to go over it; with the pneumatic tire the pebble simply makes a dent in the soft tire, which passes over it without rising. A country road, or almost any road except a smooth floor, offers to the wheel a succession of minute obstacles. The power required to haul a rubber-tire vehicle loaded with 300 pounds over a fairly good gravel road averages 20 pounds, with a maximum of 26 pounds; with a steel-tired vehicle on the same road the average was 41 pounds and the maximum 79 pounds, or three times the resistance of the rubber tire. Hence the remarkable gain in power as well as in comfort effected by the air tire.*
At the show of last January every inch of space in the vast building seemed to be utilized for the display of bicycles, and more was needed. One or two prominent manufacturers felt so aggrieved at the small quarters offered them, that they refused to exhibit in the Garden, and organized shows of their own outside. Experts at figures estimated that at least thirty million dollars of capital were represented. There were nearly one hundred different makes of bicycles shown by eighty firms, while a score of manufacturers exhibited nothing but bicycle accessories, such as tires, saddles, lanterns, cyclometers, etc. For a whole week the place was crowded.
* For a full report of these experiments, see Good Roads for January, 1895.
Various estimates have been made of the output of bicycles for 1895, the fig-ures running as high as four hundred thousand. The sales of wheels last year are said to have been two hundred and fifty thousand. It is generally reported that the business has taken a sudden jump within the last six months, and almost all the manufacturers have been running their factories night and day. An important feature of the business, from the manufacturer's stand, is the growing export trade to Mexico and South America, and even to Europe and Australia. At a bicycle tournament held in the city of Mexico last January, our American riders carried off most of the prizes; the whole population seemed to be bitten with the bicycle craze. English and French manufacturers have endeavored to keep our machines out, but without success. The Mexicans found, as we have already found here, that the English standard bicycles are heavier by ten pounds than our own, without any compensating advantages.
In one respect the bicycle show was peculiar; all classes seemed to be represented. At the horse show, for instance, or the dog show, the mechanic is never seen; at the bicycle show I noticed hundreds of men, evidently prosperous mechanics, who had come to see more of a machine that offered them at once economy and recreation, a healthful exercise and a saving of car-fares in getting to and from their daily work. One manufacturer to whom I mentioned this feature of the show said that bicycle-makers were particularly interested in the hundreds of bicycle agents from all over the country who came there every morning, and who wanted machines to sell to workingmen. There was not, he said, a village of five hundred inhabitants within a thousand miles of New York that would not have its regular bicycle agent this summer. "I really believe," said he, a shrewd Yankee, "that between electric cars in cities and the bicycle in the country, the value of horse-flesh will drop almost to nothing within the next twenty years. The time is fast coming when a good, serviceable machine will be sold for $50, or less. Already in every village and town the mechanic and factory hand goes to his work on his wheel, the postman takes his letters around on one; even the doctor and the clergyman make their rounds on wheels. It is far more than a recreation. And these hundreds of agents all talk of the wheel they are going to offer in their towns, not as a sporting machine, but as an every-day necessity; they want to know about the durability and the practical work to be got out of a wheel, and its value to the mechanic and shop-clerk." I was glad to find a manufacturer who would admit that we should some day get good machines for less than $50. Personally I am satisfied that a poor bicycle is a most costly affair. At the same time, the price asked for the best machines, although it has dropped this year from $150 to $125 for specials, and from $125 to $100 for standards, still seems out of proportion to the actual cost. It is said that a good sewing-machine costs less than $ 10 to make; and it is hard to see why a good bicycle cannot be sold at a fair profit for $50 or less. Probably when the supply catches up with the demand it will be. This year's cut in prices is a promise of better things to come.
The Start from the Westchester Country Club.
Among the novelties of last winter's show the greatest interest seemed to be aroused by the motor bicycle, the hill-climbing attachments, the bamboo and aluminum frames, and the tandems. The motor bicycle, as its name implies, is one to which a hot-air motor, worked by naphtha or kerosene, is attached. It has been used a little in the western part of this State, but until this last show we had seen nothing of it here. In appearance the motor bicycle is longer than the ordinary "Safety," and its whole build is stronger and more clumsy; its frame is solid, and its tires are of what is known as the Jumbo type, - enormous affairs, three inches in diameter. The motor, or rather motors, for there are two, one on each side of the rear wheel, are small enough to be contained in brass cylinders about a foot long and four inches in diameter. The supply of oil or naphtha is carried in a cylinder placed near the handle-bar, from which the oil trickles down to the motor through one of the frame tubes. The pair of motors weigh but twelve pounds, and are said to furnish two-horse power at an expense of one gallon of oil for one hundred miles. The oil is ignited at every stroke of the piston by an electric spark. There are foot-cranks for use in case the motor should give out. The danger of explosion is said to be nothing. On the day of my visit the motor bicycle was not working as usual in the basement, owing to some accident. Some of the habitues of the show, who had seen the thing run, told me that it seemed to work well enough, but made a good deal of hissing noise. Admitting that it will do all that its manufacturers say, the present cost will prove an obstacle to its wide introduction, the cheapest form being sold at $275, and another, - a four-wheeled affair, - at $500. Within the last two years several forms of hill-climbers have come into use, all of them, however, constructed upon virtually the same principle, - the introduction of a gearing which shall cause the pedal to make fewer revolutions in proportion to that of the driving or rear wheel; in other words, such devices increase the leverage of the pedal. An old and experienced bicyclist, fond of "century runs," or one hundred miles at a stretch, - which I am not, - remarks that so far as he has been able to find out, these hill-climbing devices work well enough, but he doubts their value. If the hill is too hard to ride up, it is steep enough to walk up. Any device to change the gearing at will adds just so much to the cost and intricacy of the machine. I may add, however, that such advice may apply to strong and seasoned riders, who can "pedal" over hills up which the ordinary bicyclist is obliged to foot it.