by Anniel 11/1/15
The early bicycles had no brakes at all. The rider had to coast to a near stop and put his feet down to avoid losing balance and tipping over. How some of the rigs with a big wheel on the front and a small one at the back ever stopped without accident is beyond imagination. Many people were injured or killed when they took “headers” over the front of their bicycles. The first brakes were “paddles” against the rear wheels. It wasn’t until New Departure Brakes became available in the United States in 1898 that bicycles became more safe
Bear’s Grandpa Otto and his friend, who became known to Otto’s family as “Uncle Rousseau,” graduated together from cheese making school in Geneva, Switzerland. In the late 1890’s they left their home country and came to the United States, then spent some time traveling by bicycles around the country before settling in California. Uncle Rousseau, who had no children of his own, loved to tell Otto’s children and grandchildren about the two men’s early adventures.
Some of the stories Bear wanted to hear had to do with how they managed to travel without good brakes and the trouble that caused. One thing Rousseau said they did was cut logs big enough to slow them down, tie them to the back of the bicycle frame and toss them out to drag when they reached a downhill grade.
Bear’s favorite all time story was about a morning when Otto and Rousseau came to a rather twisty dirt road with a pretty steep grade. They carefully tied their logs to the bicycles, threw them on the ground and Otto started down first. The road was too narrow for two riders at a time, so Rousseau waited for some time for the dust to clear before he began his descent.
In the meantime Otto came around a switchback and spotted a farmer and his family driving their wagon to town. The farmer’s wife and kids were all clean and gussied up for their big day. There was nothing Otto could do but pull around them on the side of the road and continue on his way, spooking the horses and leaving that huge trail of dust behind.
The farmer had just gotten his horses settled, helped his wife and kids get cleaned up, and probably quit swearing, just about the time Rousseau showed up, pulled around the side and kept going. This time not only the horses were spooked, so the farmer not only swore, but also pulled his shotgun and began sending buckshot after the two men.
Neither Otto nor Rousseau felt their help to clean up would be welcome, so they pedaled as hard as they could, on down the hill and through the town as fast as they could go lest the farmer should get a posse after them.
Otto and Rousseau laughed about the story as they told it to the children. I wonder if the farmer, or his wife, ever forgave the men and learned to laugh, too.
The only thing I know for certain is that the farmer’s kids never had such an exciting experience and I’ll bet they laughed and talked about it through all the years of their lives.
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For those who are interested, here is an interesting site on the history of bicycles: The Development of the Bicycle
And this is an interesting history of New Departure Brakes. • (800 views)