Bicycle Beginnings

The Advent of the Bicycle or Velocipede… and what people of the 19th century were really saying about it

by Stephen Channing

Stephen Channing’s earlier tome, The Victorian Cyclist focused on one of the sport's pioneers – an anonymous author from Margate who described in great detail the routes he took around East Kent in 1886 – and garnered universal praise for its wonderful writing and meticulous detail. Bicycle Beginnings now plays the spotlight over a wider domain, excerpting hundreds of 19th century newspaper reports and letters to convey the atmosphere in which the first cyclists found themselves.

The mammoth work (over 190,000 words, covering the period 1779 to 1912) contains race reports, legal developments, technical innovations and inventions, records, advertisements, acrobatics, clothing, poems, arguments for and against the new-fangled vehicles, debates over women cyclists, and a long travelogue, “Berlin to Budapest on a Bicycle” capturing the excitement of a forgotten age of adventure on two wheels.

Not all the inventions were two-wheeled, however. This book also reveals the numerous variations that came into being before makers standardized on the shapes we commonly see nowadays: tricycles, ice velocipedes, water-paddle hobby-horses… These are explained with the aid of numerous illustrations, covering the gamut from cartoons to technical drawings and photographs. Even the race reports demonstrate far more variety than we are accustomed to seeing: ‘ordinaries’ (penny farthings) versus ‘safety’ bicycles versus tandems, monocycles, dwarf cycles, tricycles, double tricycles, four-wheel velocipedes, horses, ice skaters, steamships…

Rather than a single narrative to be read in one go, it is an anthology of fascinating glimpses into cycling’s ‘golden age’, providing a new understanding of a bygone age of experimentation and much amusement, whenever the reader dips into it.

Note: the paperback edition includes several indices not present in the Kindle version.

Format Royal Octavo paperback
Published 1 December 2017
ISBN 978-1-5210-8632-2
Length 495 pages
Available Amazon
Format Kindle eBook
Published 8 May 2017
Length 190,000 words
Available Amazon

Reviews of the earlier book Victorian Cyclist:

Everything Bicycles: "Lovely… wonderfully written… terrific"

Kent on Sunday (25/2/2012, p.29): "Rare and insightful" [local copy, 1.2MB PDF]

BikeBiz (Jan 2012, p. 59): "Interesting… informative… detailed historical insights"

Veteran-Cycle Club: (News & Views #347, p.6) "Unique and fascinating book… quality is very good… of considerable interest" [local copy, low-res JPG]

Forty Plus Cycling Club: (Signpost): "Superb… illuminating… well detailed… The easy flowing prose, which has a cadence like cycling itself, carries the reader along as if freewheeling with a hind wind" [local copy, 290K PDF]

Also reviewed in Essex CTC's 'Spotlight' and The Fell Club magazine.

Listen below to an interview with the authors (on Thanet Community Radio/Kaspaar):