The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll
© 1896 H.G. Wells
What an odd little story! Begin with one J. Hoopdriver, a draper’s assistant who lives for nothing but spare opportunities to ride his bicycle — or rather, to crash repeatedly on his bicycle, banging up his legs but still delighting in sheer momentum. Mr. Hoopdriver, at the novel’s beginning, is finally embarking on his yearly vacation: a cycling tour in England. Immediately he spies a beautiful woman, crashes dramatically, and earns her pity and his own chagrin. He chances to see her again, later on, and this time in the company of another fellow who claims to be her brother. His love-sickness not withstanding, Hoopdriver can tell that something’s amiss, especially after the “brother” accuses Hoopdriver of being a detective. Delighted at having a game to play, Hoopdriver pursues the odd couple, eventually changing roles to that of a clumsy knight- errant once he and the woman (Jessie) realize the other chap is a genuine cad. Jessie’s intention was to Be Her Own Woman, but her first ally turned out to be a manipulative fink. Eventually the gig is up for everyone, but Hoopdrive ends the tale most invigorated, having gone on a quest and discovered a friend who could put a little steel in his soul and allow him to dream of doing greater things with his life.
Although the story is nearly inconsequential, there’s much charm. Wells’ writing is often fun (one passage remarks that while Hoopdriver was in the throes of indecision, gravitation was hard at work and thus the man found himself on the ground with a bleeding shin, still wondering what to do), and sometimes beautiful, as when he’s describing the landscape or the dreams of these two. Still, there were two reasons I picked this book up: bicycles and H.G. Wells — and that, in the end, was the reason I finished it. If nothing else this is literature from bicycling’s first bloom of mass popularity.
Bicycles: The History, David Herlihy