Recently there has been a clamp down on cyclists riding on footpaths and having no lights after dark. These practices are obviously an unwanted danger to pedestrians, particularly older people and those who are unable to jump out of the way.

At night they add to the hazards of driving any kind of vehicle when, hardly discernible in the shadows between the street lights, they bump on and off the pavement into the road. In the winding country lanes they become even more dangerous when it’s almost impossible for a cars lights to pick them up until they are within a few yards.

Did You Know?

Between the wars, for much of the population the bicycle was the main means of transport. If it was too far for children to walk to school, they cycled. There was a scheme in some towns and villages for the poorer families to have bikes issued for that purpose. Workers all over the country used them to get to and from work and just as companies and businesses provide parking space for cars today, they supplied sheds with racks where the cycles were safe and sheltered from the weather.

Each employee had his own allocated stall. Around six o’clock when the working day finished, streets approaching workplaces were often filled solid with cyclists looking as though they were starting off on a marathon as they headed for home. Fortunately there were not many other vehicles to negotiate on the road at that time.

In the late 1930’s every cycle had to have a red reflector and a white flash on the rear mudguard. After dark it was compulsory to have a red light at the back as well as the light at the front. If you had a dynamo you could usually run both off it. However, most people had lights with batteries. There were still carbide lights available but they took time to maintain and get going and were often extinguished and difficult to light again when there was a strong wind. When the war started in 1939, the top half of front lights on all vehicles had to be blacked out. In unlit areas this made it even more difficult to see your way in the dark.

All shops and businesses had trade bicycles for their deliveries built with a carrier on the front to hold a box or basket for their wares. Their name and profession was clearly displayed on a plate fixed under the crossbar. A few of them, like chimney sweeps, had a small trailer fitted to the back where they carried such things as their rods and brushes as well as bags of soot. Window cleaners had a small open carriage fitted to the nearside of the frame and supported by an extra wheel to carry their ladders and bucket. The Post Office, Railways and other large businesses supplied bicycles for their employees to use in the execution of their duties. A few still do!

The Penny Farthing and other original cycles were really only suitable for fun and pleasure. The Three Wheeler was very popular in its day, particularly with the ladies. A few have survived and can still be seen around today. It must be remembered, although there was little or no traffic to worry about in those days they didn’t have the nice even smooth roads we have now. They often had to ride on rough tracks negotiating large potholes and puddles. That is why the rear mudguard was so essential.

The rear wheel on ladies bicycles often had strings threaded through holes on both sides of the rear mudguard stretching down to the hub to form a shield that prevented their long skirts getting caught up in the spokes of the wheel.

Later, as the design improved, cycling became a favourite pastime among all Classes. Some youngsters went everywhere on their bikes and learned to do all sorts of tricks: — Riding without holding the handlebars, going downhill standing on the seat, seeing how many could ride on one cycle, sitting on the handlebars facing the wrong way and lots more. Children were always racing each other and anywhere there was a gravel pit or suitable steep slope they could ride down, it was looked on as a challenge and resulted in many a buckled front wheel. They were all dangerous activities and probably foolish. Nevertheless, it as all good fun.

Riding on the rough roads and tracks there was always a good chance of getting a puncture and all new cycles had a ‘puncture outfit’ contained in a small leather bag fixed to the back of the saddle by two small straps. They also had a pump attached to the frame. If you developed a small or ‘slow’ puncture you might be able to reach your destination by constantly stopping and pumping it up. [A faulty valve, when the rubber had deteriorated, often reacted this way.]

When you got a larger hole in the tube and it wouldn’t hold the air, if you knew how, you could turn the bike upside down on the side of the road and mend it by putting a patch over it. However, it wasn’t that easy!! — If you were able to get the tyre off and the tube out you still had to locate the puncture. Unless it was a large one the only way to find it was to pump air into the tube and pass it through a bowl of water until air bubbles revealed exactly where it was.

It then had to be dried thoroughly and rubbed over with sandpaper before applying the glue and sticking on a suitable patch. French chalk was rubbed over and around the patch to ensure it didn’t stick to the inside of the tyre. The tube then had to be put back into the tyre and having made sure the adapter containing the valve was in the correct position the tyre could be pulled on over the rim. Having achieved that much you only had to pump up the tyre and continue on your way.

For most people cycling for pleasure, like walking, has become a thing of the past. This was the way whole families regularly used to set out to enjoy the countryside. Some couples even invested in a tandem so they could ride closer together. Or perhaps it was easier for the one at the back! It is now much too dangerous for younger children to be allowed on the roads without supervision and they can no longer make a habit of jumping onto their bike every time they want to go somewhere regardless of how far it was.

If only we could bring back those bright sunny days when a family could set off on their bicycles to a favourite spot. Mother might have a picnic box secured onto the carrier behind her and a basket, containing a bottle of lemonade and apples or other fruit, strapped to her handlebars. Fathers sometimes had a seat fixed onto their crossbar with a footrest attached to the frame so he could take any child that was too young to have its own bike. Youngsters loved sitting there holding onto the handlebars! Other members of the party would take a bat and ball or whatever they wanted to play with after they had eaten.

No doubt families have similar things to do today. They jump into the car and head off to a pre-arranged destination where there’s a playground and usually all kinds of amusements and food and drink available. 

It’s always good to go to these places and see everyone enjoying themselves, — But I can’t help thinking: — “There was something very special about those old family outings when we all sat on the ground round a clean cloth helping ourselves to cucumber and cheese sandwiches and a hard boiled egg you had to peel the shell off”. They never seem to taste quite the same today!

valley lad – [FORTY-SIX]