There are people who declare that there is a certain maliciousness about a bicycle's behavior nothing short of the miraculous. Doubtless we riders all remember the delight every bicycle takes in guiding the beginner straight toward any big bowlder that may be in sight; the road may be fifty feet wide, and that the only bowlder within half a mile, but do what we may, the bicycle makes unerringly for that stone, even if it takes us twenty feet out of our way to do it. And if there is anything the bicycle likes better than a big, sharp bowlder, it is a deep puddle. A muddy hole of any kind is a perfect magnet to the bicycle when ridden by a beginner. Experts insist that the beginner's own nervous fear is at the bottom of such mishaps, but the beginner knows better.
A strong confirmation of the theory that credits bicycles with innate viciousness is to be found in the fact that when bicycles do break down it is always just where the accident will give the rider the utmost trouble. In my time I have had a good many annoying accidents happen to my bicycles, but never within a mile or two of home. I could ride my wheel over broken glass and tin cans all summer if only I kept near home. But let me decide upon a touring-trip, and start off, - unless I have a really first-class machine, something is sure to happen. In the course of one short tour last summer I was unlucky enough to break one of the frame-bars the second day out, and the pedal-crank the third day. The frame I patched up with the aid of some wire and a friendly blacksmith. The pedal-crank, a piece of steel, could not be fixed. And of course that crank broke when I was fifteen miles from a railway station, in a forsaken district near Salem, back of New London. There was a flaw in the casting. It was the hottest day of a hot summer, - July 20, - and the accident happened about noon, the hottest part of the day. It is bad enough to know that you will have to give up your trip, for a new crank-bar takes time to get. It is worse to have to trundle a wrecked machine for miles, stopping at every farmhouse, like Mr. Pickwick with his balky horse, to ask for help. Finally, after risking sunstroke for an hour or two, I found a boy who drove me to New London, reaching there after six o'clock. I never swear; if I did, it would be upon such an occasion, when a rascally manufacturer sells something that will not do the work it is bought to do. That one or two such experiences do not disgust one forever with bicycling shows the charm of the thing. A poor bicycle is a most costly investment.
At the Michaux Club, New York.
In the manufacturing town where I live in winter, I know scores of men who get pleasure and profit out of their bicycles by riding to and from their work; and I know, also, that there are thousands of city men and women who delight in spinning along the asphalt pavement of the boulevards after the day's office-work is done. Such use of the bicycle is well enough so far as it goes; but for those who can make the opportunity, the greatest boon the machine offers is the possibility of roaming over much interesting country at small expense.
Take, for instance, the usual fortnight's vacation of most city men, and see what may be accomplished with the aid of a good bicycle. In a fortnight, if the rider has kept himself in good condition by practice after business hours, he can make a distance of six hundred miles with ease, more than twice what he could do on foot, or even with a horse, and at no more expense than on a walking-tour. If he is a member of the League of American Wheelmen, a privilege costing but a dollar a year, he will be able to get lower hotel rates than the rest of the world. This League, by the way, publishes the best maps for touring that we have, giving an account of the condition of the various roads a bicyclist may take in travelling from one place to another, with a list of the hotels where he may expect a welcome at reduced rates.
Six hundred miles in a fortnight is about as much as most people will want to make for pleasure. It is possible to ride one hundred miles in a day, and experts will keep this rate up for a week at a time. My own practice when touring is to get off as early in the morning as possible, and yet not too early to get a good breakfast. I ride at about six miles an hour, seldom more than that unless I am in a hurry, getting off to walk up all hills that deserve the name, and stopping to pick a flower or admire a view whenever the spirit prompts.
By starting at seven o'clock, which is not an early hour in summer, - six o'clock is better, - I have made my thirty miles at noon. During the morning I am pretty sure to pass a baker's shop where good things are on view; and I buy some rolls or crackers, carrying the bag with me until I come to some quiet nook, the bank of a stream by preference, where I can wash, eat my luncheon, take a look at the morning paper bought in the last village, and smoke a pipe. The noon stop does not last more than an hour. By one o'clock I am a-wheel again, and ready for the three hours' run that will finish my fifty miles at four o'clock, when, if my route is rightly planned, I ought to reach some town or village where I find a suitable hotel. Once there, I put on fresh underclothes, the soiled clothes of the ride going to the laundress to be washed out at once; and I am ready for an inspection of the town at the pleasant-est hour of the day, - when the sun gets low, and every one turns out for a breath of air. And, no matter what the heat, I am ready for the best dinner that mine host can offer, and a good night's sleep. Such touring need not cost more than two dollars a day for each person.
I know that some men, fond of touring, adopt a wholly different plan, - they ride early in the morning and late in the afternoon, taking a long rest in some shady nook during the heat of the day. For several reasons, and after trying both ways, I prefer to make my day's journey in practically one stretch. In the first place, on account of clothing. Except in really cold weather the bicyclist is pretty sure to find himself covered with dust and bathed in perspiration at the end of his morning's ride. Therefore, if a stop of several hours is to be made, he must change clothing by the roadside, and either wash it out himself in some stream, or carry it with him till night. He must take it off, or he will catch cold, sitting and sleeping in the shade. In the next place, unless he knows the road exactly, and the distance he has to make, he will feel more or less hurried; the chances are two to one that he will arrive at his stopping-place covered with dust, his second suit of underclothes soaked in perspiration, late for dinner, and too tired to enjoy it. By the time he has washed and dressed, dined or supped, he is too tired to look about the town, which may be well worth the attention; and he thus loses what to me is one of the pleasures of my trips, - the stroll along streets that are new to me, and the sight of hundreds of strange and sometimes pretty faces. To wander around a quaint New England town wholly new to me, to watch the shopkeepers light up their wares for the evening, to see the life and brightness of the place as the electric lights burst forth, and the streets fill with people, - all the people in these small towns seem to do their shopping in the evening, - and perhaps to end by a visit to the local theatre, - all this constitutes a feature of a tour that I prize. Or I may go to church. In either theatre or church you may see the people of the town face to face, and learn more about them than by days of loitering in their streets.