By Philip G. Hubert, Jr.
FROM the time of my early childhood I have had the notion that flying must be the height of bliss, and not even the example of Darius Green and his mishaps deterred me from an attempt at a flying-machine. When I was nine years old I constructed a pair of wings. Nevertheless, like the small boy who defined faith as "believin' a thing that you knew wasn't true," I had faith in my flying-machine, but an innate conviction that it might not work. So I fastened it to the arms of a younger brother before pushing him off the roof of our woodshed. I had assured him that with those wings he could fly in a way that would surprise him. It did surprise him. He came to the ground in a condition that resulted in a sound thrashing for me.
Some few years later, when in Paris, I paid a franc to see a flying-machine, - it looked like the combination of a washing-machine and a windmill, - which the venerable proprietor and exhibitor assured me would soar into the air like a bird could he but raise the money for two or three cogwheels and other trifles still needed to perfect the apparatus. That was a good many years ago, so that I presume he never raised the money.
Having always had this mild mania for flying, I was much impressed a few years ago when some one said to me: "If you want to come as near flying as we are likely to get in this generation, learn to ride a pneumatic bicycle." Then I began for the first time to take a serious interest in the bicycle upon which my eldest boy was so fond of scurrying around the country; and to-day I am only too willing to say all that I can in its favor. When one begins to tell why the bicycle is one of the great inventions of the century, it is hard to begin, because there is so much to say. A bicycle is better than a horse to ninety-nine men and women out of a hundred, because it costs almost nothing to keep, and it is never tired. It will take one three times as far as a horse in the same number of days or weeks. In touring with a bicycle I can make fifty miles a day as comfortably as twenty miles on foot; and I can carry all the clothing I need, besides a camera and other traps. The exercise is as invigorating as walking, or more so, with the great advantage that you can get over uninteresting tracts of country twice as fast as on foot. In fact, as any bicyclist knows, walking seems intolerably slow after the wheel; even easy-going tourists, with women in the party, can make forty miles a day, and find it play. Perhaps even greater and more important than its use as a touring-machine is the bicycle as an every-day help to mechanics, factory hands, clerks, and all people who live in or near small towns. Thanks to this modern wonder, they can live several miles away from their work, thus getting cheaper rents and better surroundings for their children; they can save car-fares, and get healthful exercise. For the unfortunate dwellers in cities it offers recreation after working-hours, and induces thousands who would never wall: to get out into the air, and find out for themselves that life without out-door exercise is not living.
How tremendous has been the change in the fortunes of the nickel-plated steed within the last five or six years can only be realized by those who remember the first bicycle exhibitions of a few years ago, and can compare them with the wonderful show held last January (1895) in the Madison Square Garden in New York. The early shows were held in dingy little halls, and attended by a few thousand persons, who were looked upon by the majority of other people as grown-up children. The bicycle was still a toy five or six years ago. Half a dozen manufacturers exhibited their wares; and the pneumatic tire, then a curiosity imported from England, was viewed with interest, but much doubt as to its practical usefulness. The wheel was still something of a curiosity as a machine for grown men; while women who braved public opinion far enough to ride one in public were looked upon with suspicion.
The high 52-inch wheel, upon which the rider perched himself at the risk of his neck, was still the only one in common use; and had the "Safety" pattern not appeared, it is pretty certain that we should see but little more of the bicycle now than we did then. When I look at the high wheel to-day I rather wonder that any one was ever reckless enough or skilful enough to ride it. It was a matter of weeks to learn to get on it at all, and of months to ride it well; many persons who tried gave it up after a few bad falls. At best, the big wheels of a few years ago were fit only for athletic young men; they were out of the question for all other persons, and of course for women. The pneumatic tire has been credited with the rapid growth of the bicycle craze, but the introduction of the "Safety' pattern has had much more to do with it. The pneumatic tire adapted to a high wheel only made it higher and heavier. When a wheel was offered that any one - man, woman, or child - could learn to ride well inside of a fortnight, that exposed the rider to no dangerous falls while learning, and that possessed all the speed of the high wheel, with none of its dangers, then, seemingly, every one began to talk bicycles. Now no one is too old or too young to ride a "Safety," and the woman who objects to bicycling is soon likely to be looked upon as more eccentric than her sister who skims along the road in bloomers.