Sunday 14 August 2016

Olympian (not Olympic) Cycling

von Drais's Non-BIKE 
Daft diversion this week has been wondering what bikes the Olympian gods would have ridden if the ancient Greeks had invented the velocipede. I have been moving house to Cambridgeshire with no functioning TV or internet, yet somehow have still been deafened by the national media’s obsession with ‘British supremacy’ at cycling in response to the feats of Bradley Wiggins, Laura Trott etc. 

Kirkpatrick MacMillan
I don’t often pull my northern ancestry card, but it needs pointing out that all three claimants to the title of ‘inventor of the bicycle’ were actually Scotsmen: Kirkpatrick MacMillan, Gavin Dalzell and Thomas McCall. (I do not count Baron Karl von Drais’s silly Laufmaschine, which was not a machine at all, but a pedal-less glorified scooter). MacMillan was a blacksmith from Dumfriesshire who worked, appropriately enough, at the Vulcan Foundry in Glasgow.  His 1839 two-wheeled vehicle really did transmit power from human feet via crankshafts to rotating hubs.

Hephaestus' magic wheelchair
Given that the ancient Greeks, especially Vulcan/Hephaestus, were brilliant at mechanical engineering, I have always been puzzled that they did not invent the bike. Hephaestus, who was club-footed, made himself this elaborate chariot, but still ended up on most vases riding a humble donkey.

So while we unpacked the endless boxes and worried that the cat might head off back to the Cotswolds, I mentally suited pictures of historical bikes to some of the Olympians. Any suggestions for those still missing—Athena, Apollo, Hermes etc.—gratefully received.

Demeter and Persephone

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