In H. G. Wells’ 1897 short story “A perfect gentleman on wheels“, Crampton, the snobbish young anti-hero, is resting on a roadside gate when…
“…among others, a very pretty girl flashed by—unaccompanied.
Now, Mr. Crampton, in spite of his regard for Madge, was not averse to dreams of casual romance. And the bicycle in its earlier phases has a peculiar influence upon the imagination. To ride out from the familiar locality, into strange roads stretching away into the unknown, to be free to stop or go on, irrespective of hour or companion, inevitably brings the adventurous side uppermost. And Mr. Crampton, descending from his gate and mounting, not two minutes after she had passed, presently overtook her near the crossroad to Horley, wheeling her machine.
She had a charmingly cut costume, and her hair was a pleasant brown, and her ear, as one came riding up behind her, was noticeably pretty. She had punctured the tire of her hind wheel; it ran flat and flaccid—the case was legible a hundred yards off.
Now this is the secret desire of all lone men who go down into the country on wheels. The proffered help, the charming talk, the idyllic incident! Who knows what delightful developments?”
Contemporary understanding of the diversity of human desire may dispute Wells’ comic suggestion that all men who go cycling alone in the country are secretly hoping to come across women with punctures. There is however no doubt that – in the absence of a more autonomous, reliable or dignified strategy – ‘eye-liner mechanics’ offers some kind of fall-back plan. Assuming the person with the problem has allure for the characters who carry puncture tools, not just for their own convenience, but also in hope of ingratiating themselves with others found in distress.
Relying on aid from a passing stranger is called ‘eye-liner mechanics’ because its exponents may substitute a kohl pencil for a tool-roll, pump and, one or more new or carefully patched, tubes; although many modern-day ‘Cramptons’ find a rare mixte more fascinating than subtle use of mascara.
You may not guess it from the masthead picture…
…taken outside the Swan public house, Hackney sometime between the advent of the safety bike and the demise of the old Ordinary – but owntheroad.cc is fully committed to equal-opportunities.
It is therefore pleasing to report that the first response to the no.1 Owners Club competition is a sequence of still photographs – submitted by reader J. Stables – that explode Well’s crude Nineteenth Century gender stereotyping like it were a tube trapped awkwardly between a rim and a tyre-bead. Bang!
Not only is the person in Jane’s pictures clearly unstressed by a crevaison, she has also chosen an indoor repair location. This wise precaution eliminates the risk of socially awkward, bike fanciers – who may pass en groupe – getting injured in any stampede to offer unnecessary assistance.
A puncture is not an emergency.