ITEM: cover from Scientific American Supplement, June 26, 1897. 14x10 inches. $125.00
ref: JF Ptak Science Books Post 1345
When I see images like this, I can feel a symphony of bad ideas rattling my bones.
Of contrivances great and unnecessary, that of bringing the bicycle into the field of war--banking on a fabulous interest in the machine and riding a wave of enthusiasms enjoyed by millions--is among the loftiest of lofty unnecessaries of the past 150 years or so. When these pictures were published in 1897 interest in the bicycle was shattering; it was a popular conveyance, and then in just two or three years, an explosion: millions of people suddenly needed one. Bikes seemed to be everywhere, which forced people to imagine new and different uses for the machine. And so the Austrian army came up with a plan to include the bike in its plans of war, and it proved to be as about as useful as a double-decker horse. And just like that--poof--the fragility of the bike's expansive uses fell right off the table, along with the popular interest in it, which by the turn of the century saw the millions who had turned towards the bike turn away.
It is difficult to image a more unpleasant (real) use for the bike than this. The pictures seem as though they are part of a Monty Python montage, but they were indeed deadly serious--though I do need to credit someone, anyone, who came up with the idea of a folding bike to make it slightly more transportable. (Overall though it seems almost as useful as a folding tuba. Or sousaphone.) If employed I think the idea would've proved to be more deadly to the biker than whomever the biker was attacking. Or, more likely, fleeing.
One can only shudder and what it must've been like, sitting on top of that fence, handing bikes (with lights and horns) from one side to the other, bullets flying, attempting an attack with 75 pounds of cumbersome trouble slapped to your side. It must have felt insane.
I think these men would have heard the music too as they slogged their ways through brush and trees and muck and the like, sliding their bikes along that log to keep them dry while the men stood in the wet. They would've heard the music too, a short little symphony played on folded instruments, which sounded as bad as it looked.