The Cycle Industry/Chapter 14
THE BICYCLE ON THE CONTINENT
A book on the cycle industry would hardly be complete without a chapter on the Continental type of machine and some reference to British cycles used on the Continent.
The French are, perhaps, the next largest users of the bicycle to the British. The pastime has made great strides there in the last ten or twelve years. Races are extremely popular with Parisian crowds and they throng weekly to both winter and summer tracks, the former being covered in to protect them and the spectators from the elements.
The average French cyclist is rather different from a British rider; he is seldom a tourist and appears to follow the pastime more for the sport of racing than riding from town to town on touring bent. The French bicycle is therefore, as may be expected, largely of the road racing type. It is more often minus brakes, mudguards and similar fittings, has light wood rims, small light tyres, and no free wheel. Some of the road machines used in the neighbourhood of Paris and other large cities are marvels of lightness. Their riders adopt a racing attitude, and so noticeable is the difference between French and British riders that the latter's nationality would be known at a glance by their more upright position in the saddle.
The free wheel and the three-speed hub had been in use for years in this country before French makers took any notice of either. The French mechanic is most ingenious and had designed and made many different types of change speed gears for bicycles, but none caught on, and now if a change speed gear is specified by a French rider it is usually a British Sturmey-Archer that is supplied, if and when obtainable. On the other hand, many British racing cyclists favour a certain type of French racing bicycle which, in small numbers, is being imported into this country. British touring bicycles are very much admired by certain classes of French riders and they often pay very high prices for a British made machine, but generally speaking the trade is small on account of an almost prohibitive import tariff on bicycles of about 1s. per pound weight.
At one time the leading British cycle makers all had big sales depots in Paris, but the Government, goaded by the French makers, gradually squeezed them out one by one by raising the tariff higher and higher as the French cycle makers' production facilities increased.
History is repeating itself in regard to motor cycles, and several British firms opened agencies in Paris before the war. It is expected that their fate, in due course, will be that of the pedal cycle makers.
With regard to other Continental countries the British bicycle is favoured everywhere by those who know what a bicycle should be. Since the war it is, however, very difficult to speak confidently of the future. Russia, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, etc., were all large buyers of British bicycles up to August, 1914, and doubtless will be purchasers again when conditions are more settled and our home and colonial trade is supplied.
In pre-war days Germany conducted a big business in bicycles in all the Continental countries, and will no doubt make every effort to restore those connections to their former proportions. At the time of writing, Germany is very short of rubber for tyres, but that will not prevent the exportation of bicycles without tyres, provided the German makers can obtain sufficient supplies of other material such as steel tubing, saddle leather, etc. The rate of exchange is against Germany at present and likely to be for some years, so that it is almost useless to make any comparisons that are likely to be of value.
Touring on the Continent. It is the ambition of almost all cyclists to make one cycling journey to the Continent. The change of scene, customs, dress, and language alone repay the rider for any inconvenience that may be experienced, without counting the old world towns and cities that may be visited in France, Belgium, and Holland, to name the three countries most easy of access from our shores. The Cyclists' Touring Club, Euston Road, London, N.W., work in conjunction with similar associations in the countries named and advise members as to routes, hotels, customs duties, and other particulars necessary to know before undertaking a Continental tour.