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Saturday, 17th May 2008

he trade cycle, that rather worrying economic principle of boom and bust which a certain Mrs Thatcher tried to abolish in the UK economy (primarily by ensuring we were almost always in continual bust.)

Once again there is talk that the boom in the UK economy is coming to an end and a period of bust is upon us. Boom caused by over-spending and generally making hay whilst the sunshines eventually means higher interest rates (can't they think of anything else) to suck in all that spare money and throw it down the drain (better than the consumer spending it, afterall, inflation might go up a bit and unemployment might fall, economic disaster I would say.) Enough of this three pint economic posturing.

If you are sitting there wondering what boom? What consumer spending? You will not be the only one.

What has all this got to do with cigarette cards?

Absolutely nothing! I cry with glee.

I wrote the title and then got side-tracked.

There have been a number of things happening which has meant this article is an absolute must.

Many of the cards in this set show just such attempts to re-invent the cycle.

The first was going to an antiques fair in Towcester and seeing an old Velocipede (don't ask me which type I am no expert.) Secondly my trip to the SWest exposed me to a Penny farthing in a shop window and tandem higher along the seafront. Thirdly (there is always three) I have had to supply this set a couple of times this month and it seems to crop up almost everywhere I look at present. Fourthly (I never said I was stopping at three) I have always wanted a trade cycle, you know, like a butchers bike, not like a tedious economic theory. Not to ride you understand, just to have.

Anyway bicycles have also held an interest for me. I can trace this to 'fact cards' I used to read in infant school. I blame these cards for a surprising knowledge on the Plimsol line and lugworms, all incredibly useful stuff. I must have read hundreds of these cards but only these three caught my imagination enough to be remembered. If I close my eyes I can see them now. There was one on Pepper's Ghost as well, I like this one because of the idea an actor could appear to be left handed when he was not.

Did you know that in 1939 you could join the Youth Hostel Association for 2/6d (11.5p/23c) a year if you were under 25 and 5/- (25p/48c) for those over 25. If you were Scottish then the age level was 20. Canny those Scots. It is all there in black and white on the reverse of these cards.

Well so far you have been treated to something of a ramble through the back lanes of a tired mind. Back from the tangent; the article is all about Players, Cycling [1939] 50 cards in the set. Card 17 deals with the first pneumatic-tyred cycle.

This is a might colourful set which covers a whole host of good things to do with cycling (where else did I get my useful hostel information from.) The series has the phrase, 'The editor of Cycling' on the reverse of the cards, no doubt quite some authority on the subject.

Ladys Pedestrian Hobby Horse. Pedestrian is about right.

Card 38 of the series tell us that bicycle riding in the US is almost non-existent. On 20 Jul 1985 John Howard (USA) reached 152.284mph on a bicycle. I should hope not if those are the sorts of speed going on over there.

The ladies pedestrian hobby-horse weighed 66lbs. Card 2 suggests there was very little evidence to claim it was a great success. Hardly a surprise when you see the thing. It looks more of a hinderance to walking than enhancement to riding. This highlights the fact that although the cycle is often put forward as a design classic in the sense that we got it right almost from the very start it would seem many people did not realise we had got it right so just kept trying to re-invent it. Many of the cards in this set show just such attempts to re-invent the cycle.

Today there seems to be movement toward describing the design process as something evolutionary, many adverts are pushing this concept. I suspect the reason is that evolution is somehow seen as a wholesome thing and a car that has evolved is somehow better for the environment than one that has been welded together by resource hungry machines and is going to be driven on roads which tear up the countryside poisoning it in the process of burning non-replaceable fuels. Actually it does sound a bit better.

Evolution is blind, it just produces errors and if it is a good error it lives and if it is a bad error it dies. Now that would be exciting, if every car that rolled off the production line had the chance of engineerng mutation, square wheels for example. I'm drifting.

The set goes to great pains to be authentic. Card 12 for example shows HL Cortis riding the Invincible bicycle in 1882 (this is the Penny-farthing we all know and love.) He is being held steady on this machine by MD Rucker (of Rucker tandem bicycle fame. HL Cortis was the first cyclist to cover 20 miles in an hour (card 13). Quite possibly wondering how the blazes he was going to get off the contraption.

Still with the Scots and the cutting edge of cycle technology. Macmillian (he is credited with inventing the bicycle, card 3.) He also gets to set another record when in 1842 he was convicted of the first cycling offence, knocking down a child. (a fact also on card 3.)

Although the set dismisses the US as a rather feeble cycling nation it has to be said the UK has finally come to its senses as well. About the only time you see a bicycle is when a postman is riding it, usually with the same sort of abandon that a cab driver gets from A to B but without the crumple zones. Nothing though compares with the madness that was the Post office centre-cycles (card 11.) Used in the Horsham area in 1883. These remarkable machines had a large centre wheel upon which postie perched and had four smaller wheels set about it, rather like a car in design. This meant baskets of mail could be hung of it. The design soon gave it the nick-name of the 'hen and chickens'. It had to be quickly nick-named as it was soon to fall from favour. Pity really as they look fantastic machines, a real treat.

In the course of researching (although that might be a slightly over-ambitious description of what goes on <g>) this article I stumbled upon a rather interesting fact (I love this sort of thing.) Did you know that the record for cycling the Penny farthing from John O'Groats to Lands End (the north and south extremities of England, distance 861 miles) is 5 days 1 hour and 45 minutes. This was managed on a 53-inch (the size of the front wheel) Humber by a GP Mills of Anfield Bicycle Club.

I reckon this record is ripe for the plucking being set on 4-9 July 1886.

If you want to do it on a modern bike it might be more difficult, 1 day 21 hours 2 minutes 18 seconds.

A family cycle perhaps a bit adventurous