Thursday, March 13, 2014

Celebrate Pratt's Birthday!

Charles E. Pratt (center) on the 1st Wheel Around the Hub

It's March 13, the birthday of Charles Eadward Pratt, perhaps the Father of American Bicycling, who was born in Vassalborough, Maine in 1845. Pratt was a highly influential early cyclist, the author of the first American guidebook for cycling, and the first president of the League of American Wheelmen. We've written about Pratt and his accomplishments before. Here's a piece that he wrote in 1889, on How to Ride a Bicycle - for Good Health and Plenty of Fun (below).

HOW TO RIDE A BICYCLE: For Good Health and Plenty of Fun (1889)
By CHARLES E. PRATT, Ex-President of the League of American Wheelmen.
            The best way to learn to ride is to take a bicycle and ride it. I answered that question for myself in that way eleven years ago, and have been learning how ever since; but my experience confirms me in the belief that it is an art which though simple and rational and easy, cannot be easily imparted or acquired by description. How to ride a horse is only to be learned by taking the horse and riding him. Buy one if you can; if not, borrow one, or hire, or beg the best one, if possible; but any way a bicycle— and ride it like a man on the road. If you have not ridden before, you have the pleasure of conquest before you. If you are sensitive or cautious, go into a riding school early, before others get there, or ask a friend who has the art to give you some suggestions or to answer your questions; to hold the bicycle while you mount it and try the pedals with your feet and the handles with your hands, and move back and forth and up and down on the saddle and get the adjustments comfortable to you, and then let him hold the back-bone abaft the saddle while you tread the pedals until you get the motion of the machine, and then he will let go when you don't know it. You must feel out for yourself mostly how to mount comfortably and to dismount and to guide and to propel with the least exertion, to "take" ruts and gullies and grades—in short to ride.
            These things are the rudiments of riding; once acquired they are always kept, and become second nature. They are exercised without much thought, just as we walk, or ride, or drive, or swim or paddle a canoe. After they are acquired the bicycle is ridden either for business—and then the exigencies of business will suggest how—or for pleasure, and then the how becomes complex. I would suggest riding slowly, at a strolling gait, that is, at an average of eight or nine miles an hour; then the rider does not become exhausted, does not become absorbed in the riding, but is free to look at everything along the way and to think and to feel the beauties of air and scenery and sky. Ride not too long distances, especially at first acquaintance or in the spring after the disuse of winter. Ride in the early morning, but not without taking a slice of bread and a glass of milk or a light breakfast first. Ride in the evening as a rest and diversion from the cares of the day, then take a warm bath and sleep as only the honest wheelman can. Ride for an object on the holiday or the half day off, to some picturesque valley or noble hill, to some ruin, to some place of historic associations, to a pond and take a swim, to a wayside inn and eat as only a wheelman can. Ride in vacation or on an excursion of several days and nights. Here the true charm of bicycling is found. One is surprised at the freedom he may enjoy, the light encumbrance he needs, the non-necessity of almost everything which takes his attention usually, and the worth and comfort of things he does not usually think of. A few small toilet conveniences, a map or two, a pocket compass, a measuring tape and a rule—the few things that he can put in his pocket and in a bag a quarter of a cubic foot in capacity and carry on his machine without inconvenience; let him add, too, to his outfit a small camera and a few extra plate-holders with ready plates. Let him take one or two companions, not more, for good fellowship. Thus equipped he may start in any direction, be free of time-tables and stables and public places, be out of the crowd, stop when he pleases, stay as long in any place as he finds it pleasant, forage on the country, make topographical surveys, observe the inhabitants, and think and dream and breathe and eat and sleep and recuperate and be careless and thankful.
            But the more I write the more I am conscious and you become aware that I cannot tell you how to ride a bicycle. I tried to do so in a little book called "The American Bicycler," published some years ago. Both editions of it are now out of print, but if any one is sufficiently desirous of knowing the best things I could write on that subject when the flush of enthusiasm was upon me, let him ask his second-hand book-dealer to find a copy of that book for him, and read it. But by all means ride the bicycle, for to ride anyhow is better than hesitating about how to ride. Ride resolutely, notwithstanding Ruskin. The wheel is the Continental yacht. Ezekiel prophesied it, Michael Angelo sketched it, and Karl Kron has written of it lovingly and as patiently as Walton wrote of fishing.

[from Alfred F. Aldridge (compiler), Brawn and Brain: considered by noted athletes and thinkers. New York: John B. Alden, ©1889, pp.52-55]