Only 10 years into the 20th century and already Motor Cycling magazine was looking backwards as well as forwards. It’s hard to exaggerate the speed at which bikes evolved in those pioneering times.
by The Pilgrim
Motorcycling – Then and Now.
FROM THE BEGINNING of things – things motorcycling, that is – I had a conviction, an obstinate conviction, which none of my more practical friends could uproot, that the invention of the motorcycle was not a mere sport of the human brain, not an imitation tool that would prove, on use, to be nothing but a toy, but that, on the contrary, it contained the germ of something practical. In short, I felt sure that the road of the motorcycle was not a cul-de-sac, but one leading through to somewhere, and that one of the things the new and ridiculed contraption was destined to become was a touring carriage, a tireless vehicle upon which a man might transport himsellf as he might wissh through the country in search of the health and pleasure that lie along the open highway.
It was either in 1896 or 1897 that a cousin of mine had the opportunity of disporting himself on one of the early motor-bicycles that came over from Germany about that time. I never saw the machine, but I believe it was one of the old Wolfmullers. Its natural speed on the level when it got going was between fifteen and twenty miles an hour, and no less pace was possible without stopping the engine. Moreover, the vibration both from engine and road shocks was excessive, so that it was not a mount to evoke enthusiasm. My cousin, as became an engineer, had a very practical mind, was little given to dreaming, and threw very cold water on any idea of mine that a bicycle and a motor could ever be happily wedded. A tricycle – well, perhaps, though doubtful; a single tracker, no!
However, fools, as some people thought them, still went on wasting their money in trying to bring about that union, and front-driven Werners, old-type Singers, and a few other French and English makes came out on the roads, either, mothlike, to burn themselves in the flame of impractibility, or as harbingers of the day of realisation that was coming, according to the view they took. To come to a later date – only a few years back – when numbers of slender-pursed makers began to collapse and honoured firms timidly dropped the two-wheel motor, the prophets of the Fourth Estate began to toll the bell for approaching obsequies and proclaim to the great British public that the motorcycle was doomed, if not actually dead, an impossible idea, a hopeless failure.
Well, there is no need to write motorcycling a certificate of health to-day, its robustness is patent to anyone with eyes. A good deal of my dream of what the motorcycclist might become is still a dream, but enough has come true to justify my optimism.
The motorcycle, with its big brother the car, and its parent the cycle, has taken its place as a means of travel, and its improvement is as sure as time itself. It has its own particular charms and advantages, shared by neither of its relatives, and it can play many parts in business affairs; but so far as I am concerned, the end of motorcycling is to take one out of cities into the pure and rejuvenating air of the country, to whisk one away from the turmoil of towns to the placid charm of the old village.
That hundreds, or perhaps more truly thousands, have found this out, the roads at any fine week-end leave no one in doubt, for the smart, crisp pop of the two-tracker’s exhaust is always on the ear in the neighbourhood of any of the highroads that radiate from our great centres of population. But half of them have found our something more than this; they have discovered that the delight of moving through the cool, pure air, along a firm, white road, with a varied panorama of fields and woods and villages and streams and hills flying past on either side, is not all that their pastime has to offer them. From the sheer enjoyment of motion they have gone on to find an interest in the hundred and one quaint and curious objects or scenes of charm past which they journey, and they have learned to enjoy the gentle art of sloth as well as well as, or perhaps as a foil to, the more vigorous art of haste.
Not so very long ago, if one saw a motorcyclist not on the move, one might be pretty sure that it was only breakdown or adjustment that had pulled him up; the joy of moving and the joy of tinkering were the only two joys he knew. Nowadays the ingenuity of the makers has whittled away the excuses for tinkering, and the opportunities for moving have been therby so increased that they tend by their very cheapness to lose something of their preciousnesss, so that the rider has had time to find a pleasure in more external things, and has, in fact, acquired the touring spirit.
Now the motorcyclist may be seen wherever there is anything interesting to view. I have met him looking over out-of-the-way country churches, I have met him sight-seeing in old castles, I have met him eagerly drinking in the beauties of a Highland glen, or the charms of the view from Broadway Hill, I have met him painting on the emerald coast of Brittany, and I have met him exploring the byways of the Fenland and even the trackless mystery of a Roman road.
In particular, at this moment, I am thinking of the two motorcyclists I met at Strasbourg. I stood on the top of the famous minster towers and watched two minute British motor bicycles wind through the streets to the little square hundreds of feet below, jack up their machines, and disappear into the church to see the famous clock and other sights. And then I saw half the youth of Strasbourg inquisitively gather round the two strange cycles, which had doubtless brought their two riders down the long road by the Rhineside, or else across France and through the battlefields of 1870.
Presently out came the riders, unmistakably insular in their light holland dust coats, and off they went, the same magic which brought them wafting them away to some other part of romantic Germany.
The motorcycle, now made as reliable as the car, has proved itself a touring vehicle, and the motorcyclist is using it as a tool which will unlock for him the treasure house of the country. He has room in his mind for other thoughts than those of mecahnism, and is interesting himself in routes and holiday grounds, in maps and guide-books, and in the numerous topics that he comes across in his quest for the picturesque and the curious.