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The Bicycle and Health (1894)

What Physicians and Riders Say in Its Favor

By

Women on Bicycles, 1894

A woman's adaptable bicycle costume, about 1894.

Adapted by Jone Lewis from a public domain illustration.
"The head doctor of the New York Hospital on Fifteenth street states that no case has ever come under his notice where any organic weakness or derangement could be traced to bicycling."

Article reprinted from The Ladies' Standard Magazine, April 1894. This document is presented for educational and entertainment purposes only. Health and safety advice is from 1894 and is not based on current knowledge.

The Bicycle and Health.

WHAT PHYSICIANS AND RIDERS SAY IN ITS FAVOR.

The greatest obstacle for a sensible woman in this, as in all exercises, is an anxiety for the health. Some one has told her that bicycling and the running of a sewing machine are injurious, and, as she long since decided she could not sew, it seemed sheer madness to expose herself to a companion injury.

Experience alone can effectually explode this theory, yet it must be rational to a sensible thinker to deem the movements unlike when it is explained that on the wheel the action is distributed. When the right foot is at its lowest reach the left is highest, thus bringing an entirely different set of muscles into play and rest in each limb. With the sewing machine both feet fall and rise at the same time, thus extending all the muscles of the thigh and leg at the same time, and throwing them back into rest the next fraction of a second. Besides, the revolution of each pedal describes a circle of considerable dimensions, and thus makes the relaxation and extension of muscles easy and in better time. The wheel is propelled by pressing the balls of the foot to the pedals, and exerts the greatest stress upon the muscles in the calf of the leg, just as correct walking will do.

Others claim that nothing is so fatiguing as walking, and compare the up and down movement on the pedals to walking. This is true and yet not true, for although all the benefit and exercise which is derived from walking is present in wheeling, the wearying is obviated, as the weight of the body is supported upon the saddle.

Another feature of riding the wheel is that so many portions of the body are called into action. The arms, while extended and constantly in activity, are spared any pulling or reaching. This is a point in its favor, as few women can withstand the inroads upon the health caused by over-exertion in the arms. Heart trouble is one form of opposition to it. Cycling calls for activity, alertness, accuracy and grace in the upper portions of the body, but in no place is there an undue strain.

It is no wonder some women dread becoming round shouldered in view of the fact that some riders stoop so over their machines. This is a fact to be deplored, but it should in no way reflect upon the exercise, as it is the fault of the individual, and does not accompany real skill. The straightest riders are the most expert, and, like bad walking, it is an unpardonable awkwardness.

There are so many physicians of both sexes riding to-day that it seems folly to quote them—their adoption of the wheel is its own argument—yet it may be well to state that, although several women who have hesitated at first because of their fear of physical injury, are now convinced by physicians that a wise decision may be made in favor of the wheel.

For stomach troubles — dyspepsia and the like — this exercise has no peer. Of course there are organic weaknesses which debar women from any exercise, even walking, and in our wide circuit of interviewing physicians the most adverse criticism was almost laughingly given in some such terms as — "Well, you know, there is a saying that if consumptives can stand sea air it will benefit them, and so with this sport, which grows yearly more fascinating for women."

The head doctor of the New York Hospital on Fifteenth street states that no case has ever come under his notice where any organic weakness or derangement could be traced to bicycling. This is a sweeping assertion, considering the disinterested, conservative personality of the speaker, and the vast number of sufferers from every human ill who yearly come beneath his notice.

Moderation is the first rule for delicate riders, and new beginners are apt to let enthusiasm get the better of prudence. Use Dr. Johnson’s rule for eating in the case of bicycling, and leave the feast while you yet have appetite for more, and next time you may extend your time a little longer.

Taking cold is to be guarded against, and is a likely result, unless an entire suit of wool is worn when riding, Winter and Summer.

This is kept of uniform weight in all seasons by some riders, there are others who wear it much lighter in Summer. With a complete suit of heavy wool you may, without fear, ride and exercise into a profuse perspiration and be safe from cold. Cotton or silk underwear will cause one to become thoroughly chilled as soon as the air strikes the dampened surface, and the heat of exercise is abated. Some women carry a sweater, and when taking long rides slip it on after dismounting from the wheel. In this case an inner vest of wool is not needed.

When the rider only goes out for light exercise it may be easily gauged just what weight of clothing is required.

C. M. H.

Article reprinted from The Ladies' Standard Magazine, April 1894. This document is presented for educational and entertainment purposes only. Health and safety advice is from 1894 and is not based on current knowledge.

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