Little Tin Gods on Wheels. - The San Francisco Examiner - Sunday, May 05, 1895
Little Tin Gods on Wheels.
WHEN Society takes up a fad it does it thoroughly, whether it be for wheel or whoa. Just now it is wheels, and the horses are standing forgotten in their stalls, while the world tools itself over the broad red roads. Some go so far as to say that the horse's day is over forever, and that we will trundle down through the ages pneumatic tired, with moist foreheads and abnormally developed calves.
But a good horse has been dear to mankind - or unkind - from the days of Bellerophon, and he isn't going to be cut out at this late day by an impertinent bicycle. Besides, a large portion of the community will presently awake to the fact that taking its girl out Sunday afternoon on a wheel is after all tame and flat compared to the dear joys of a one-horse buggy.
When the bicycle first came in some years ago in the shape of the tall "ordinaries," that look so grotesque now, society went wild over it. At least, the masculine portion of it did. Girls were somewhat less advanced then, and contented themselves with amusing one another's brothers while the broken limbs were setting and the blackened eyes fading. With back curved like a parenthesis and a cap the shape and size of a batter puff perched over one ear, the gilt-edged youth clung like a spider to the top of his shining web, until the people took it up, and the craze began to spread down into retail circles. That gave the bicycle a worse black eye than it had ever favored its aristocratic owner with, so he got reluctantly down and went in for something else - tennis, wasn't it?
Meanwhile the public went placidly along on its machine, making improvements all the time, and at last it appeared on a full-fledged safety. The tide of approval began to back up towards the social heights it had apparently left forever. Paris murmured that it gave a chance for a charming costume. London added that it was glorious sport. New York cried that they were doing it over there, and all the social world joined in the chorus of "Let's!" The tide broke over the highest pinnacle, and rumor whispered that Queen Victoria, God bless her! had been measured for bloomers.
So once more appear our Little Tin Gods on Wheels. They involve themselves in golf suits, which are about as appropriate as yachting caps at Castle Crag, but which give an alluring appearance of English respectability and fatted calf. They moonlight it through the Park, tag after relay races and take flying trips all over the country; and they talk nothing but wheel. Pause near an intense-looking tete-a-tete, and in place of the old-fashioned common-places about life and cosmic relations you catch fragments of "Up hill all the way back, mind you"; "If my tire hadn't punctured I should have done it in-" and so on.
It is the simplest thing in the world to arrange a dinner now. Put those who wheel beside one another and their good time is assured, and there isn't any one who doesn't wheel. The ponderous head of the family sneaks down to the cyclery for a private lesson; mamma is held up and encouraged with the promise of losing twenty pounds in a fortnight if she just keeps on, and the girls practice in the Park in the early morning, getting arrested for riding on forbidden paths and falling off every time a horse comes in sight, till they have passed through their apprenticeship and can take their places in the ranks of the moonlight parties.
THE woman question for the present has resolved itself into "Bloomers or not bloomers?" Paris, with Parisian audacity, climbed at once into the most fetching of puffed trousers, altogether charmed with England frowned, shook her head, and voted on the side of decorum. New York sighed, wept a little for the dear, dashing knickerbockers, but remembered her copybook lesson, "Divided we fall," and cast in her lot with England and skirts. San Francisco remained true to her cosmopolitan nature, and recognized both bloomers and skirts.
Bloomers are undoubtedly the safest and comfortablest when worn for convenience in bicycling, but they are getting their death-blow from the women who bicycle for the fun of wearing them. Oh, that detestable type of the whitewashed face and greenish-yellow hair, the scanty trousers and the pleased consciousness of their scantiness, let us wheel her down the long slope of disapproval straight into the ocean of innocuous desuetude.
The saddest thing about this bicycle craze is that it can't last. Nothing does in this fickle world of fashion. A new favorite will come up and the wheel will be dubbed "Micky" and thrown aside. People tell you very earnestly that they are going to keep on riding, no matter what others do and are never going to give it up for anybody or anything, but they said the same about tennis a few years ago, and now they can't tell a lob from a Lawford. Perhaps people said the same even about croquet a generation or so ago, though it is hard to have such a poor opinion of our ancestors' intellect.
It is not slavish devotion to fashion, as unfashionable people are apt to call it, that leads the world to drop one thing in favor of another. The interest dies out of itself, almost without people's noticing it. They wake up one morning and find they don't feel like playing, wheeling, whatever it is, that day, and it bores them a little, and that is the beginning of the end. In time the bicycle will meet it Waterloo; but, after all, what does it matter? There will be something else eagerly waiting to take its place, and no one will waste a regret on the deposed monarch, relegated to its lonely Elba in the attic.