The much-talked-of bamboo and aluminum bicycles may come under the head of attempts to get rid of weight. In the bamboo bicycle, rods of polished bamboo, let into aluminum castings, are used for the frame instead of steel; a steel wire tightened by nuts runs through each rod. The gain in lightness is not great, but the makers claim that the machine runs with more elasticity. Speaking of lightness, aluminum seems likely to achieve wonders for the bicycle in the near future, provided its tendency to corrode under salt air and water can be corrected. Some of the lightweight machines were wonderful, especially one weighing less than nine pounds, which was ridden at the show by a man weighing more than two hundred pounds. Five years ago the average weight of the road bicycle was from forty to fifty pounds. Now anything weighing more than twenty-five pounds is looked upon with disfavor.
The tandems, upon which, as the name implies, two riders sit, one behind the other, and the duplex bicycles, in which the riders sit side by side on a sort of tricycle, were much in evidence at the show, but do not seem to be gaining favor so fast as the single bicycle. The power used to propel the best form of tricycle is nearly three times that required for a bicycle, so that, even divided between two riders, there is a loss as compared to the bicycle. It is also to be said that there are thousands of miles of country road upon which a bicyclist can find a suitable path, a foot or two wide, where a tricyclist would have a hard time of it. Also, that where the road is broad and level enough for a tricycle, two bicyclists can run along side by side, near enough for conversation; while, when it narrows, they can take up single file again.
Claremont Hill Riverside Drive, New York.
Of bicycling accessories at the show there was no end. Good lamps and cyclometers may now be had for half what they used to cost. Saddles are wonderfully improved, the newest saddle being made of wire springs, looking like piano wires, which, if durable, ought to be perfection, as it is light, cool, and yielding.
With regard to a number of points concerning the bicycle and its use, more can be learned in five minutes' talk with any intelligent agent or amateur than can be told here in many pages. The height of the saddle, the safe distances for a beginner to attempt, the best ways of learning to ride, depend almost wholly upon the rider. Some riders like a high-geared wheel, - for instance, sixty-six or more inches; that is to say, one in which every full turn of the pedal is equivalent to the revolution of a wheel sixty-six or more inches in diameter. The higher the gear, of course, the more power required at the pedal; for which reason the low gears, not exceeding sixty-three inches, are best for all-day work in touring. With a very high gear hill-climbing is out of the question. Concerning the details of equipment, - whether with a brake or without, single or double tires, mud-guards or no guards, metal or wood rims, rubber or rat-trap pedals, each rider must decide. The present tendency is to do away with every superfluous ounce of weight, and brakes, guards, rubber pedals, all mean weight, and are not essentials. The battle between the tire-makers as to the comparative value of single or double tires is not over. Both have advantages. The double tire, - one thin rubber tube containing the air, protected by a stout outer tubing, - is not so easy to repair as the single tire, but neither is it so easily punctured. Wooden rims seem to be having the preference over metal; but some of the aluminum rims are equal to wood in every way, and even lighter.
So delicate a piece of machinery as a bicycle of course needs care. Every agent will explain how it must be oiled, - one oiling to a hundred miles is the usual rule, - and the chain rubbed with the mixture of plumbago and tallow sold for that purpose. After use, the machine should be cared for as conscientiously as a good gun, if it is to do its best work.
To the beginner in bicycling I should like to say, Beware of the cheap bicycle ! I know of nothing more disheartening than to have a trip, upon which one may have counted for weeks, cut short by the breakdown of a machine. Of course accidents will happen to the best of bicycles, but as a rule they are not serious enough to necessitate long delays. You may run over a piece of broken glass thrown upon the highway by some fiend in human shape, and thus puncture your tire; or a spoke may break, or a nut work loose. But in such cases, if you cannot make the repair yourself, - which usually you can, - there is a bicycle shop in almost every village nowadays where such things may be made right. But when the mishap is due to radical weakness or bad workmanship in the tire, the frame, or the castings, the best thing to do is either to sell the machine for what it will bring, or never venture more than ten miles away from home. I once made the blunder of getting a cheap bicycle for my boy. No one would imagine that a bicycle could have so many failings as that one developed. Its maker's motto might have been, "For Repairs Only." It was a fortune to the man who repaired it. As fast as one break was patched up another appeared. Several most promising expeditions were broken up by the failure of that rotten machine. One day we started off, my boy and I, to ride from Stamford, Conn., to New London, by way of Long Island, crossing the Sound at Bridgeport. It was a week's trip that we had planned for months, and we got lots of pleasure out of the planning and anticipation. In fact, all the pleasure we got out of the trip was of this kind. Our start was a delightful one, early on a lovely June morning when it was a pleasure to breathe, to say nothing of riding a bicycle. Through Darien and Norwalk we pushed gayly on, counting upon reaching Bridgeport, a distance of twenty-five miles, before the noonday sun got a chance at us. For perhaps the tenth time I exclaimed that a bicycle tour was one of the joys of life, when, Bang! - like the explosion of a pistol, the rear tire of my boy's wheel burst. He had run over no glass or nails; the tire had simply exploded in a long slit with which we could do nothing. That was the end of our expedition. We got the wheel to the next town, where an expert told us that he could mend the break, but that the same thing would happen again in an hour. The tire was simply too cheap or rotten for the work.