Introduction - Across America - 70 years ago - CycleBlaze


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There was once a weekly magazine in Britain called The Bicycle. Old sorts with dewy eyes and rosy nostalgia remember it as better by far than the establishment magazine, Cycling, that it challenged.

The Bicycle thrived from the 1930s into the 1950s. It then passed to a company with a job lot of other magazines which it had had to buy but didn't want. The new owners put The Bicycle up for sale and of course Cycling bought it and closed it.

The reason old-timers remember the magazine so warmly is that it covered everything, not only the Continental racing and British domestic road-racing which Cycling snubbed but everyday news for cyclists, the politics of the sport (which were riven by civil war) - and touring.

Most of the touring articles now are ho-hum. They probably weren't that special at the time but such sparkle as they had has tarnished. One serialised story, however, stands out. It is the ride of K. S. James, described as "A London Clubman temporarily resident in the U.S.A.", south from the Canadian border down to the tip of Florida.

The past, of course, is another country. They do things differently there. What struck me about James' writing is, yes, how different things sometimes were but also how unchanged they have stayed. There are the same predictions - "you'll never make it"... "you'll get knocked off by a car"... "it's a stupid idea anyway." You'll recognise much that could be from today rather than a world at war.

There are times when James uses terms which strike us now as odd, but they were what he'd have come across in the US. There are references, too, which history shows as naive. His assessment of government care and kindness to Indians may raise eyebrows. But that is the charm of the past - not that it is better or worse but that it is different.

I have no idea who K. S. James may have been. If he is still alive he would be at least in his nineties. The Bicycle, equally, has been dead for half a century. Someone, somewhere may still hold the copyright. I don't wish to snatch that which I don't own but my conscience is largely, if not totally, clear.

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