Frances C. Sky: Heyday for the Bicycle

It seems odd that with the advent of this second world war we should see so many bicycles on the streets and what is more to be wondered at is the number of ladies and girls riding them.
Not so long ago a woman seen indulging in the unladylike practice of being astride a two wheeler was distinctly viewed with eyebrow raising and tongue clucking disapproval. The offense was greater and more unforgivable if that particular party happened to be known as a married woman. By foolishly disregarding all standard conventions and thereby setting herself apart as being “different,” she would make of herself almost an inhuman oddity to be viewed with pity, scorn or as an object past all understanding.
If she had a family, her behavior was a decidedly negative reflection on those poor unfortunates. Her family would from thence on be identified as “you know the people I mean, where the mother rides a bicycle.” The emphasis on “rides” left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the exact status that family enjoyed in the minds of those so kindly disposed to criticize.
At that time could it possibly have occurred to anyone that there might be some benefit to be derived from riding besides that of being transported from one place to another? That it was not at all a desire to be brazen and different that motivated one to step out from the generally accepted order of things? It is to contemplate indeed if the thought ever did penetrate and if so, if it was voiced that possibly there might be more to cycling than meets the eye.
Laughable as it seem today, the subterfuges some girls had to resort in order to follow what they found to more than just the thrill of riding was almost tragic. To cite an actual case, Salina Tait, a young woman over the middle of her twenties, having led a sedentary and somewhat lethargic existence, decided for lack of aught else to do, to take the plunge.
A married friend of hers who had already demonstrated her boldness urged this drastic step. Her arguments must have carried some weight because Salina, with her heart in her mouth, purchased a bicycle, never giving a thought as to where she would keep it. The forbidden cigarettes she could more or less successfully conceal in her purse and stealthily indulge in the privacy of her room. But where oh where could she put so cumbersome an object as the bicycle just newly purchased?
Luckily a girlfriend solved that problem. Her mother was more broad minded. So Salina rode and to her great joy cycled off much weight as well as undesirable inches. The climax came when she found herself face to face with her mother as she was diligently endeavoring to avoid streets usually frequented by that unbending member of her family. Both pretended not to see one another for the time being. Only on the testimony of their family physician did Salina win her point. Then she came riding home happy and radiant.
Suffice it to say that with the change in her physical appearance and ultimate brighter outlook on life, Salina is today happily married and counting the days to the time her young daughter can share in that healthful as well as pleasurable pursuit.
And that is just one case. There are others without end. True, a great number who have been affected by the rationing of gasoline now find a bicycle with a roomy carrier almost indispensable for shopping. For them, the bicycle may assume no further importance but if out of every ten shoppers, one will go on to discovering other beneficial uses, then we can be grateful to gasoline shortage on this count at least. As is commonly said, “It is an ill wind that blows no one some good.”
There is unimpeachable data to the effect that the bicycle is much more than just a fill in for a dire necessity. It has now for some time graduated from the class of being indispensable to the messenger boy, to the telegraph, drug store or grocery messenger for quick, speedy delivery. As for the bicycle being a rarity in its use by women, that contention is now permanently tucked away with bustles and Lillian Russell hour glass waistlines, and that’s that or is it too soon to be so definite?
Well, it looks promising at any rate. At this moment it just does not seem possible that the termination of this war and the resumption of normal living again shall see bicycles abandoned to their original fate. That would be cruel and perhaps unlikely. But when a tide turns it is difficult to conjecture as to what might be swept away and what will be allowed to remain. Circumstances can do much to alter the course of events.
To give credit where credit is due, for some years now columnists have advocated the use of bicycles as a healthful sport, alongside of swimming, tennis and others. A natural timidity has prevented a great number from following the oft repeated recommendation. It is understandable why that was so. Mass psychology is a dominant factor in our everyday existence. We have but to view the transitions of styles, fashions and fashion fads to see it demonstrated.
There are always the venturesome few, then a few more, daringly if somewhat breathlessly following until we are confronted by a veritable avalanche. That path is quite in order where styles and even food fads are concerned because it is not of paramount importance whether a feather tilts up or down or a skirt is tight or voluminous nor does it matter overly if the theory that spinach is all essential to our young hopefuls has been discarded in favor of other foods equally as good.
What matters is that now, when all prejudices have been overcome, when bike riding is positively “being done” by even the nicest girls and women, something should be done to consolidate our advance before it slips away from us.
Whether we admit it or not, we are still securely tied to the apron strings of Mrs. Grundy* and the fear to be faced is that with the removal of the necessity, all will be forgotten and once more bicycle riding will take its place in health columns and be totally disregarded as heretofore.
Has anyone stopped to analyze the relaxing effects of riding? The urge to sing out loud? The feeling of being attune with the world, somehow feeling that soon all will be well again? No matter what weighty matters burden the mind, bicycle riding and worry simply don’t mix. There just doesn’t seem to be any time or place for anything else but the feel of the rush of air in your face, the pull on lazy muscles and the keen enjoyment of skimming along.
To have a companion beside you only tends to increase the pleasure of sharing and enjoying the same health giving activity. You find yourself saying, “Isn’t this wonderful. It simply beats going for a ride in a car where no effort is needed and such exhilaration is missed.”
Yes, you can even gossip, but to your surprise even that pastime seems to be airwashed and somehow lack the usual sting which certain people generally inspire when you referred to them. You talk and plan and just love every moment because at the back of your mind there is the consciousness that you are outdoors, exercising, and enjoying it, not as a must but as an inexpensive and yet such a good for you sport.
“What about uphills?” the unbelieving might put in at this point. “Tough work isn’t it?” Hardly. It is no disgrace to walk up, meanwhile chatting on unconcernedly and before you know it you are up, facing, many times, the reward of a long sweep of downhill.
Why the insistent extollment of a sport which is noted as having been assiduously participated in by some people on the European continent? Of course, even the famous Madame Curie and her equally famous husband Pierre were known to take bicycle trips of several week’s duration through the picturesque countryside of France. And isn’t there also some small tropical island where cars are never used, only bicycles?
The real obstacles, I am afraid, exist in our own fair land. The widespread use of cars may have kept bicycles so much in the background. The tempo of our modern age has been stepped up to such a pace that a bicycle seems almost the equivalent of walking.
The hope of all cyclists today who are nursing secret ambitions of taking trips is that there will be more stopping places arranged to permit indulgence by many who have been thus far discouraged by the sorry lack of the wherewithal. One day soon may they realize the lofty dreams they treasure of taking a holiday that will embody pleasure, exercise and not too great an outlay of funds

* According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Mrs. Grundy is “a narrow-minded, conventional person who is extremely critical of any breach of propriety.”