Monday, January 12, 2009

The More Things Change...: Bicycles in the News

Throughout its history, the bicycle has often been met with hostility out on the road. In fact, this hostility even predates the automobile. A trip to the New York Times archives reveals that cyclists clashed with horses long before they clashed with cars. It also reveals that, for a brief moment in time, the bicycle very nearly held its own against the motor vehicle. Following are four actual articles from the Times archives which provide insight into the early days of the bicycle, as well as the slightly-less-actual responses they received at the time. I hope we can learn from history:


The article:

The response:


It was with great dismay that I read your recent article, “A Test Bicycle Case: Shall the Machine Be Allowed In Central Park?,” which contains many spurious reports of bicycle-induced horse-frightenings. Indeed, the central event recounted in the article concerns Mr. Samuel G. Hough, who claims some character called Glass startled his horse, thus causing his buggy to topple and Hough himself to be rendered “utterly helpless.”

As a Christian person of good breeding, I wish it to be known that this Glass fellow is in no way indicative of the sorts of men who operate bicycles. The vast majority of us neither labor under the misapprehension that we are Birdie Munger, nor do we dash about the sidewalks on our bicycles with the heedlessness of Ottoman brigands. Rest assured that the Wheelmen’s Club to which I belong, the “Chicago Wasps,” consists entirely of gentleman, and we would never accept a fellow like Glass. Not only does he comport himself poorly, but his surname also implies that he may be a Jewish person, as does the fact that “he rode the bicycle to save his horse-car fare.” This suggests his recklessness is exceeded only by his avarice, as is characteristic of the denizens of the Red Sea.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hough has taken his misfortune as an opportunity to wrongly decry the bicycle as “the most dangerous thing to life and property ever invented,” when in fact this is far truer of the Jew than it is of the bicycle.


John C. Cumpson


The response:


It has been thirteen years since I’ve written, but I am chagrined to find this news-paper once again maligning the bicycle, this time by making light of bicycle-and-rider entanglements in "The War Bicycle."

While I realize the buffoonery herein is intended to be humorous, I’m afraid that in my high-wheeling days I’ve seen too many of my fellow wheelmen lose entire limbs to their spokes in this manner, and I find little comedy in dismemberment. (This is to say nothing of the many riders who have lost their actual manhood, which was mitigated to some extent but not entirely obviated by the widespread practice of fastening it to the trouser leg by means of Prince Albert’s eponymous piercing.) Furthermore, this essay belies its author’s ignorance of the bicycle, since the advent of the safety bicycle with its two wheels of equal size has caused the number of wheel-related severings to fall more quickly than a drunken Swede on a penny-farthing.

I also strongly object to the implication that bicycles would make poor machines of war. I for one dream of a day when bicycles will be used by our nation’s military to bring pain, suffering, and death to the furthest reaches of the globe. Had I not been separated from my own manhood some years ago and consequently rendered ineligible for military service, rest assured I'd be among the first to enlist.


John C. Cumpson


The article:

The response:


I was greatly pleased to finally find a worthy mention of the estimable pursuit of bicycling in your recent article, “Many Orders Placed For Motor Trucks.” Having attended the motor vehicle exhibition myself, it was a pleasure to see the bicycle luminaries of yesteryear engaged in the noble pursuits of motor vehicle manufacture and sales, as well as to share drunken reminiscences with them afterwards.

As motor cars become more widespread and road conditions improve, surely this will benefit bicyclists as well. I have no doubt that we are on the cusp of a new age in which transport both motor-driven and human-propelled share these better roads. Bicycles and electric cars will certainly be the vehicles of choice in a cleaner, more efficient future. After all, we’ve already rid the roads of horses; once they are also free of musicians, Quakers and anarchists man’s swift, smooth transport will be all but assured.


John C. Cumpson


The article:

The response:

Dear Mr. Fisher,

I read your letter of March 11th, 1912 in the New York Times with great interest. My father, John C. Cumpson, was both an avid cyclist and a frequent reader of that newspaper. While he held some of the prejudices common to his era, he was also a steadfast advocate of bicycling and a living testament to its health benefits. In fact, he was in excellent physical condition and rode a bicycle right up until his death, which was the result of a physical altercation prompted by an invective he hurled at a Hungarian motorist.

I share your hopes that the bicycle will one day come into its own, and I also long to see who will come to the fore as the dominant manufacturer. I only pray that, whoever this manufacturer is, it is not located in the Orient.


Ronald Cumpson


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


syberjunkie said...

Thanks to smoking crack, I made it!!

leroy said...

What a weekend!

Got back tat of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” but with Vaughters and the Garmin Slipstream squad as Christ and the apostles.


And they’re eating Chipotle burritos!

So, did I miss anything?

streepo said...

Top 10!!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

hey i just want to say stop it, again

Anonymous said...

Woot! Woot!

ryan said...

top 10!!!

Anonymous said...

single digits?

bikesgonewild said...

...can you feel it ???...the tension is palpable...the hopes, dreams & fears of "the refreshers"...fingers poised, clever attitudes in place...

..."can i do it, will this be my day...can i podium or better yet even be the exalted ***ta-da, numba one 1st*** ???...oh god, this is ruining my stomach...i can do it, i can do it, breath deep, wind it up, get ready, i know it's coming...he can't hold us off much longer...god dammit snobby, where are you...i want this so bad !!!"...

Anonymous said...

20th, Yeeesssss

Anonymous said...

Top something or other...I was busy listening to Herman's Hermits.

Daddo said...


I'm detecting we're gonna get a second post today.

Anonymous said...

Why did I read this post?

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:51 PM

same reason you posted???

Seattle Yarper said...

What would Mr. Cumpson have thought of the bike lane versus no bike lane debate?

Or bicycle polo?

Or skitching?

And how do you skitch on a penny farthing?

It'd have to be behind a cement truck with your enormous waxed mustache.

leroy said...

As for that Glass character, J. Reginald Prolly begs permission to note:

"I know him pretty well and he's a solid dude and has been riding bikes for a long, long time for whatever that's worth."

Tattoo Comments Forbidden said...

Birdie munger? Only a more stupid article could come from the OP. What an ignorant writer at the time.

Anonymous said...

damn! I was so friggen close

ice cube said...

I wonder if his nurse knew somethin about birthin babies.

Anonymous said...

I have not spunk enough to [verb] at anyone. What are those supplements that the porn stars use?

My first time refreshing and it wasn't. I need a refresher course.

And I was listening to "Kites Are Fun".

Rantwick said...

1894 did not spell the end for military bicycles. War Bicycles have re-emerged, this time as recreational trainers for up and coming pilots! Find out more ar

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jimmy Swaggert said...

It's just a way to get from point A to point B, not a religion.

Anonymous said...

excellent post! the only thing it is missing is a warning to those who are contemplating a tattoo in the future. In the early 20th century anyone with a tattoo was branded heathen scum...much like today

kale said...

I dunno...

I got my Prince Albert for other reasons. But now I know there's another reason for having an Aerospoke.

Jesus Christ!

Anonymous said...

Those Chicago Wasps have always been a bunch of anti-semites.

Anonymous said...

...denizens of the Red Sea.


Anonymous said...

Nice post evoking those heady days of yesteryear. Those quaint fellows en plein air with their knickers and mustaches riding their gearless machines... I wonder what they would think of our sophisticated, modern ways?

Ritchie trumps Balf said...

Balf review
"Birdie Munger, a Jewish speed and biking enthusiast"

Well... he practiced Judaism and liked amphetamines or was there some variety of ingestable known as "Jewish speed" in the drug-peddling argot of the times?

Anonymous said...


no more posts about tattoos please. you got all of us anonymous hot and bothered.

Anonymous said...

weak. VERY weak.

Hew Naven?? said...


Brilliant. Best post ever!

"I for one dream of a day when bicycles will be used by our nation’s military to bring pain, suffering, and death to the furthest reaches of the globe."


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir:

John C. and Ronald Cumpson were my Great Great Grandfather and Grandfather respectively. I do not take kindly your light hearted mockery of their xenophobia and anti-semitism, which was most scientifically derived by the greatest minds of their generation.

Furthermore and moreover, I must note in passing their positive and warm-hearted nature, and their prescience regarding the future of the bicycle. Their enthusi-asm for the bicycle and forthright, honorable Christian advocacy in favor of it kept numerous young men from the paths of demon rum than Carrie Nation's Medusa-like visage; and their advocacy of the bicycle, in spite of or perhaps because of its deleterious effects on the vertiginously erectile portions of the manhood of young men, did more to advance the cause of male chastity than Carrie Nation's Medusa-like visage.

Be that as it may, the times have changed and it falls to me, as presumptive heir of the Crumpson Biscuit Flour & Laxatives, Inc. fortune, to point out to you that the Velocipedes, Safety Bi-Cycles and Penny Farthings (known in my family as 'Hows'yer Fathers') are all superceded by by the Darwinian march of technology and science, by newer and more enlighted forms of advanced tech-nology.

To wit, Dear Sir: the state of the art in bi-cycling is now best represented by the recumbent tricycle, which permits a young man to recline as if on an Egyptian seat-of-leisure, whilst pedaling furiously and moving in a manner both sublime, and unobservable to most patrons of multi-use paths. In this way, no horses, or Gypsies, are scared. This has the added benefits of preserving the young man's manhood for the righteous purpose of procreation of the Christian race.

Moreover and furthermore, the operation of a recumbent tricycle permits the operator to wax his moustaches or to douse himself with ice cold water should his passions become aroused by the sight of any passing members of the distaff gender.

As always, I remain,

Your humble & faithful servant & etc.,

Q. Pennypacker Crumpson IV
- Mastic Beach, NY

urchin said...

Fine stuff indeed--an offering from the musty end of the cellar. It's an acquired taste, duckies...


ye old town crier said...


i read the actual articles you claim to translate from. the first one was about curing rickets with leeches from an French colony in Africa. the second one was about how Edison's light bulb causes cancer and makes women loose. the third was about a new study showing that lifting up your cape all day causes hernias that can only be cured by drinking an elixir from Dr. Pepper. and the fourth was about how eugenics proves white southerners are inferior.

please get your translations correct.

innerlight said...

"Now, if a corps of cyclists should be defeated in the field, they could move to the rear with both rapidity and dignity on their bicycles, and would thus contribute to their own safety and to the satisfaction of the enemy. Should the General in charge command offer a prize to the bicyclist who should make the best time in a retreat..."

Then he would have accurately predicted the state of French cycling since the 1990's


Anonymous said...

The next time some Fred screws up the paceline, I'm going to accuse him of being an Ottoman Brigand.

red neckerson said...

eugenic inferiority?

what do you get when you cross a redneck with an alligater?

im about to find out

Anonymous said...

not made in the orient

Exohexoh said...

Would all of you contrarians, kindly indulge yourself in a suckling of one's genitalia...

Qualified Eugenicist Scientician said...

@ red neckerson:

give me your address and our team of qualified cranium measurers will determine how much freedom the upstanding intelligent citizens of the US shall grant you. we have just come back from the reservation...

kaydeon said...

bloody good stuff

Seminoles, not Gators said...

red, didn't your mama tell you not to hump the chunks of truck tire on the shoulder?

As for whaddya get, um... a lot lizard? Burt Reynolds?

C'mon! Whaddya get?
I'm a stupid yankee, I can't figure it out for myself.
I gotta cheat or bribe someone.

Anonymous said...

Top 50....AGAIN!!!!

carlos said...

slow news day...

broomie said...

I am now iappropriately answering the phone at work with a giggle.
Good thing its not a suicide hotline.

Jeff said...

As an avid cyclist, I find comments to news articles the best way to right every wrong I see in this world.

I am avid in my cycling. I would consider myself the most aviddest of the avid. As such, you must accept my opinion as valid. Avidly valid.

Snob, you're a genius.

broomie said...

Anon 3:28

Thanks for making me laugh again. I'll watch out for Gypsies on my next ride.

Udder said...

I have dreamed of colored nurses attending to me.

Commiecanuk said...

Bah..nothing's changed, we're still plagued by Hungarians and Quakers. And, you can't openly tell the IQ of an avid cyclist anymore since these cranial safety buckets don't allow you to count head bumps.
I'm sure at some point Crumpton predicted sustained peace between Hamas and the Israelites, right after the electric car.

Anonymous said...


Alas, your statement could only fit along the front rim of the a p-far.

Commiecanuk said...

Udder...which color?

Those letters are so racist...they sound like a bunch of filthy Serbians.

Eeberleeber said...

Amazing post! Way to exhibit some range.

Anonymous said...

Just a small time ago just before the sun passed the horizon I was returning from a bike ride(which brought me passed the peddler bike shop where I bought both a front and rear hipster cyst to put on my handlebars) when a minivan driving 16 year old coasted right through a 4-way stop sign and almost into me!(luckily I have handbrakes on my whip). After her gesturing at my stop-sign(which I did dip below 5 mph for. I feel that's more than adequate) and me gesturing at hers we both began on our way again.
That's when another unrelated female middle aged passer by(who did stop at the stop-sign)rolled down the window of her iron cage and yelled, "Stupid Cyclist! Go to hell".
I promptly replied, "You'll beat me there tell me how it is!" much to the appeal of two bmxers in a near-by parking lot who gave me a thumbs up.

Todays post just reminded me of that.

bluecolnago said...

i thought avid made brakes

Anonymous said...

filthy serbians? i believe you meant lesbians.

Anonymous said...


Is Cumpson your true last name?

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League said...

Time to lawyer up, snobbiepants.

Anonymous said...

Please go back on holidays.... this is the worst BSNYC to date.

Sprocketboy said...

The War Bicycle!

bikesgonewild said...

..."red neckerson said...

what do you get when you cross a redneck with an alligater?"

...ah, the answer would be "what is the kinkiest cross-species sex imaginable, alex"...
...i'll take 'southern lifestyles'again for $500, please alex"...

Anonymous said...

ADL. bring on the humourless.

denizens of the Red Sea.

Bsnob - this is the first article i have read where i have felt the need to comment.

Truly glorious!

asm, London UK.

Hilldodger said...

The image of the guy falling from the Penny shows Fred Wood of Leicester, England. He lived about 100yards from where I'm sitting now!

The picture was staged and was taken during his trip to New Zealand in 1887.

Fre was Englands most successful rider of the Penny Farthing era, winning many World titles in his career.


Roger the Hilldodger. Leicester's most handsome penny farthing rider.

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