Cycling on the ‘Continong’ in 1906

Two things that jump out from a cursory glance at The Continong by the pseudonymous Anar de la Grenouillere, F.O.N.S., of which a file copy of the fourth edition of 1906 was found at Jot HQ the other day, is first the rather forced facetious tone of its advice to travellers to France, and secondly the predominance of references to cyclists.

In 1894, when The Continong  first appeared, the motor car had only been around for a handful of years and so presumably the author did not feel it necessary even to acknowledge its existence. But by 1906, when many more manufacturers were producing cars, this rise in traffic is not acknowledged in this ‘revised and updated ‘edition. Touring France for the English speaker was still all about railways or, in Paris, ‘buses and trams  ( though not the Metro, although this had been established by 1906)  possibly walking, horse-drawn ‘cabs’ but most of all, cycling. Compared to the four pages devoted to railways and three on cabs and cabbies, the author provides fifteen pages of advice for cyclists.

The first few pages of this advice are devoted to what to expect on arriving in France. British cyclists are urged to join the TFC (Touring Club de France) which was founded in 1890. For a mere five shillings a year, benefits include a Handbook, and the exemption of duty on their cycles, and for a few extra francs a Year-book containing a list of over 3,000 approved hotels, at which members enjoy a privileged position as to charges, a Year-book for foreign countries and a book of ‘skeleton tours’ for the whole of France and adjoining countries. Incidentally, a compulsory requirement for cycles being ridden in France and elsewhere on the continent was a name-plate ‘bearing the name and address of the owner (and) attached to the machine’. This seems to have been the equivalent of a car licence plate, which back then became a legal required for motor vehicles in 1903. Again, this suggests that cycles were seen as the predominant form of personal transport, at least in France.

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eBikes: some Jottings

Ever heard of electric bikes? When it comes to ebikes I’ll be the first to ‘fess up that I was quite sceptical in the early days.

Way back in the late Nineties and early Noughties (when I first heard rumours about these fancy new-fangled bits of tech) I figured that they were most likely just a bog-standard pedal bicycle with a big old lawnmower engine welded on to the back end. Practical? Possibly. But I didn’t really feel that they were going to have the “Cool factor” that I craved.

But, fast forward a decade or so, and I began hearing more details about them and I thought to myself okay, maybe, they’re closer to motorbikes. Take off the petrol motor and replace it with an electronic motor? I reckoned that they’d probably look like those impossibly futuristic-looking bikes in the film, Tron. Very, very cool but, unfortunately, with a decent chance of getting me wrapped around a large oak tree.

Fast forward a bit further and I decided to do some detailed research on these intriguing new bikes and found they’re actually really incredible. Whilst they can absolutely do all that standard pushbike stuff, they can actually do a huge amount more.

Interested? Want more? Okay, let’s have a quick look to whet your appetite a bit more.

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The 1930s bicycle craze

228171160abd0b30de1fd875c621c37dFound among a pile of newspaper clippings at Jot HQ is this substantial analysis in the 2 December 1935 issue of the Financial Timesof the thriving bicycle industry.

It was prompted by the large number of exhibits at the twentieth International Bicycle and Motor-Cycle Show, which had opened by Transport Minister Hore-Belisha at Olympia a few days before.

Reading it one recalls the similar rise in the popularity of cycling that followed the spectacular success of the Team Britain cyclists at the 2012 Olympics in London. The sales of bikes of all kinds—from mountain bikes to state of the art racing machines was something that had not been seen since, perhaps the thirties. Suddenly, quiet country lanes were thronged each weekend with lycra-clad twenty-somethings careering down hills. Parents were seen cycling with their children in leafy suburbs. And six years on, the craze for cycling doesn’t appear to have waned.

Back in 1935 the rise in popularity was measured in share prices and output. The Financial Times—ever alert to trends in the market—published a fascinating analysis of bicycle companies and their rising profits over a three year period. The trend, it seems, was for companies who had hitherto focussed on turning out cars and motorcycles, to take on cycle manufacture or to increase their production. One of these ( and positioned at the top of the list )was the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), which back then was perhaps better known for its motor-bikes. Others were Matchless Motor Cycles, New Imperial Motors, Humber and Triumph. The sales figures of Raleigh, the specialist cycle manufacturer, which had been founded in 1886, weren’t quite so impressive. Perhaps they had become complacent in the face of new competition. Continue reading

French bicycle poster – Durex ‘en vente ici’

Found! Actually the gift of an American colleague and dealer in ephemera- this hanging wall card for cycle parts from the French company Durex. Probably from the early 1950s, the company appears to be now defunct.... This poster may amuse some Brits as Durex is the pre-eminent maker of condoms in Britain. Durex is practically synonymous with condoms there in the way Hoover is with vacuum cleaners.

In the USA it is Trojans which, although not unknown in Britain, is also the name of several different companies on the sceptered isle including an electronics company, an arms dealer ( Trojan Group) and a timber crating company.

The arms dealer Trojan sells assault rifles  with this quote from Voltaire: 'God is not on the side of the big battalions but  on the side of those who shoot best.' Exactement.

Fancy cycling 1901

A splendid work lent to Jot101 by a visitor: Fancy Cycling : Trick Riding for Amateurs / by Isabel Marks.[Sands, London 1901]

From Ms Marks preface:

In the following pages it will be my humble endeavour to give an account of the many graceful, daring, and altogether fascinating feats which may be accomplished by any rider possessed of an ordinary amount of nerve, the virtue of determination, and a few spare moments secure from the rude intrusion of unsympathising spectators.

It may safely be assumed that this same practice of trick riding does not diminish the zestful country excursions, nor the pleasures and pains of the annual tour, for to the cyclist no side of the sport is devoid of interest, and among the most ardent the merry trickster prominently figures. More especially are such riders fitted to cope with the difficulties presented by those mountainous regions whose charms appeal so strongly to the lover of beautiful scenery; to them ascents present no difficulties, to them descents are naught.

Very pretty it is to see two ladies ,secure in the knowledge of each other's skill, confident with the trust born of tried experience of each other's capacity, coasting side-by-side,  their hold of handle- bars relinquished, their bicycles moving as one,  their figures gently swaying in graceful unison,  their fingers lightly touching each other's shoulders, their eyes  bright with the joy of motion  and with the pleasure of congenial comradeship.

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