Taming the Bicycle

Mark Twain on the unexpected complexities of learning to ride a bicycle.


| August/September 1993



139-096-01

Mark Twain was a master of many things, but bicycle riding was not one of them.


PHOTP: FPG INTERNATIONAL

Mark Twain on mounts, dismounts, and the joys of having an expert around..  

I thought the matter over, and concluded I could do it. So I went down and bought a barrel of Pond's Extract and a bicycle. The Expert came home with me to instruct me. We chose the backyard, for the sake of privacy, and went to work.

Mine was not a full-grown bicycle, but only a colt—a 50 inch, with the pedals shortened up to 48—and skittish, like any other colt. The Expert explained the thing's points briefly, then got on its back and rode around a little, to show me how easy it was to do. He said that the dismounting was perhaps the hardest thing to learn, and so we would leave that to the last. But he was in error there. He found, to his surprise and joy, that all he needed to do was to get me on to the machine and stand out of the way; I could get off myself.

Although I was wholly inexperienced, I dismounted in the best time on record. He was on that side, shoving up the machine; we all came down with a crash, he at the bottom, I next, and the machine on top. We examined the machine, but it was not in the least injured. This was hardly believable. Yet the Expert assured me it was true; in fact, the examination proved it. I was partly to realize, then, how admirably these things are constructed. We applied some Pond's Extract and resumed. The Expert got on the other side to shove up this time, but I dismounted on that side; so the result was as before.

The machine was not hurt. We oiled ourselves up again and resumed. This time the Expert took up a sheltered position behind, but somehow or other we landed on him again.

He was full of surprised admiration; said it was abnormal. She was all right, not a scratch on her, not a timber started anywhere. I said it was wonderful, while we were greasing up, but he said that when I came to know these steel spiderwebs I would realize that nothing but dynamite could cripple them. Then he limped out to position, and we resumed once more. This time the Expert took up the position of shortstop, and got a man to shove up behind. We got up a handsome speed, and presently traversed a brick, and I went out over the top of the tiller and landed, head down, on the instructor's back, and saw the machine fluttering in the air between me and the sun. It was well it came down on us, for that broke the fall and it was not injured.





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