I’m excited to announce a very special event in conjunction with the Melbourne Writers Festival on 24 August and 30 August. It’s called “Ride: Pedal-Powered Essay”, and it’s a cross between a social bike ride and a public lecture, exploring the past, present and future of cycling in Melbourne.
To prepare for the event, I ordered cycling journals from the 1890s through the State Library of Victoria and spent many days pouring over their musty, faded pages, gleaning some interesting (and rather quirky) anecdotes about Melbourne’s early cycling history.
I discovered, for example, that an early sighting of what we might consider a bicycle was in an undertaker’s shop. A group of young engineers had heard about this novel device – called a ‘velocipede’ – and decided to check it out. Perhaps not knowing that it needed momentum to balance, the young men tried to get it to stand up while stationary, but it kept flopping to one side. Puzzled and disappointed, one of the engineers suggested that the undertaker had probably concocted the apparatus from “a purely business point of view”, anticipating that its introduction would be “immediately followed by a startling and desireable increase” in mortality.
Here’s the full story in Australian Cycling News, November 10, 1883:
One of my favourite images came from a journal called The Austral Wheel, published in Melbourne in the 1890s. Mr. Chas. E. Duryea, described as “a leading American cycle mechanician”, is quoted as saying that the diamond-frame bicycle design is inferior and will be surpassed by a triangular design. With utmost conviction, he declares: “Ages hence, when by the slow process of blundering along, progressing and retrogressing by turns, we find ourselves using the perfect bicycle, it will look something like this.”