Gotta love the Kindle.
It's pretty much a personal time machine. While you can't power it up and physically transport yourself to a bygone era (yet), you can do it figuratively through great literature. You don't even need to buy the device to do this. Simply download the free software to your Mac, PC, or smartphone and you can begin reading thousands of classic titles absolutely free of charge.
Christmas Kindle in hand, my very first, free download was H. G. Well's The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll.
Many people tend to forget that before there were cars and motorcycles, people got around by horse. In that transitional period from the mid 1880's through the early 1900's, there was this new conveyance known as the "safety" bicycle.
Pioneered by makers like Edoardo Bianchi, the safety bicycle featured two equal size wheels, a diamond shaped frame, and a chain drive (pretty much the same as it is today). This was a vast improvement over the "ordinary" or high wheel bicycle, making bicycling both physically safer and more accesible for a greater number of people.
The age of bicycling wasn't just a transition in transportation - it was a societal transformation, as well.
Who better to recognize and chronicle this than H.G. Wells?
The story relays a mid 1890's cycling holiday of a certain Mr. Hoopdriver, a lowly draper's apprentice said to be modeled after Wells himself. Despite riding a quite used bicycle and with considerable difficulty to boot, Hoopdriver is quickly mistaken for a man of greater means. The adventure ensues from there.
Wells' storytelling is a bit choppy at times, mostly while reminding the reader that he is, in fact, a narrator and obliged to fill in the pesky facts outside of our protagonist's purview. These flashbacks and flash-sideways are important in understanding the class conflict that will ultimately be revealed in the story's climax.
Reading this short novel today, we can instantly identify with the exhilarating feeling of freedom and adventure the main characters experience while they traverse the English countryside by bike. We notice absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about a man and a woman enjoying a leisurely cycling outing together.
During its relatively short heyday, bicycling ultimately helped knock down barriers of social class, sexism, and even race. It's quite interesting to see this quiet revolution taking place before the very eyes of one of the world's greatest futurists.
Wheels of Chance is a quick and fun read. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading fiction, whether a fan of Wells or not. You don't need to be a cyclist to appreciate a good cycling story, either.
Keep reading and be safe!