An excerpt from the 1899 Georges Richard catalogue (above) discusses female cycling costume.
During the 1890s Georges Richard and his elder brother, Félix-Maxime worked in a bicycle repair and manufacturing business. The business flourished and the brothers created Société des Cycles Georges Richard. The brothers’ belief in the quality of their bicycles enabled them to include a life-time guarantee against manufacturing defects when selling the machines. This enhanced the reputation of Georges Richard bicycles and sales boomed. New customers included large-scale users of bicycles such as the health services and the military, along with the postal and telegraph services. Expansion led to a name change, the business becoming the Société de Construction de cycles et d’Automobiles Georges Richard.
The company’s first automobile was a two seater propelled by a single cylinder 708cc power unit producing a claimed maximum output of 3.5 hp. This voiturette, known as the Pony and constructed between 1896 and 1902. The first automobiles were exhibited at French national bicycle shows, and Georges Richard subsequently became more famous for automobile production than bicycles. So early examples of Georges Richard bicycles have now become very collectible.
The Paris Exposition (World Fair) of 1900 was a landmark show in France, and every manufacturer worked hard to present the latest features on their machines. Upmarket French cycle companies displayed their machines at this fabulous event, including Georges Richard.
1901 Bicyclette de Dame ‘Georges Richard’
Christy Anatomical Saddle
Georges Richard was one of the most prestigious go the turn-of-the-century French cycle manufacturers, though within a few years the company focussed more on their new automobile business than bicycles. This 1901 example is in unrestored original condition, missing one handlebar grip but otherwise complete and ready to ride. It is fitted with a rare Christy ‘anatomical’ saddle.
This bicycle would make a superb display alongside one of the George Richard bicycle posters shown here.
EXTRACTS FROM 1899 GEORGES RICHARD CATALOGUE
GEORGES RICHARD POSTERS
Fernel created G Richard’s most famous poster, above. He was born in Brussels, Belgium, around 1872. He made his name not only as an painter but also as a poster artist, humorist and illustrator of children’s books, including Mes Joilies Poupes in 1900. He died in 1934.
THE CHRISTY ANATOMICAL SADDLE
The saddle can be tilted on every bicycle as desired …in this way a girl could, by carrying the peak or pommel high, or relaxing the stretched leather in order to let it form a deep hammock-like concavity which would fit itself snugly over the entire vulva and reach up in front, bring about constant friction over the clitoris and the labia. This pressure would be much increased by stooping forward, and the warmth generated from vigorous exercise might further increase the feeling.
In the 1890s, as the safety bicycle became increasingly popular with women, men started to feel challenged by this new-found female freedom. Of course, women had already ridden horses independently, for many centuries. But, unlike the horse, a bicycle did not require food and lodging; it was therefore taken up by many more women. Also, while women could ride a horse side-saddle, that was not an option on a bicycle.
Men had long suspected that the traditional saddle was a threat to ‘female purity’ –
‘The moment speed is desired the body is bent forward in a characteristic curve,’ explained one physician. ‘The body is thrown forward, causing the clothing to press against the clitoris, thereby eliciting and arousing feelings hitherto unknown and unrealised by the young maiden.’
It seemed that inadequate men were starting to feel impotent as a result of independent female travel. The result was the ‘anatomical’ or ‘hygienic’ saddle, essentially a saddle design that removed the pommel.
1900 EXPOSITION UNIVERSELLE, PARIS, FRANCE
The Paris Exposition of 1900 had a major impact on the French cycle industry. It was the first forum for the country’s existing bicycle and component manufacturers (and also sales agents) to meet all the engineers, inventors and general retailers who wished to move into the bicycle business. Several cycle events and races were held at the Exposition, as part of the 1900 Summer Olympics. The cycling part of the World’s fair included 250 competitors, 160 of them French. In the two Olympic events, 72 competitors (all men) from six nations competed.
It was held between 15 April and 12 November 1900 to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next. New inventions featured at the fair included escalators, Ferris Wheels, Rudolf Diesel’s new diesel engine (which ran on peanut oil), bicycles, talking films and the Telegraphone, which evolved into sound-recording. The Eiffel Tower also made its debut. Much of the architecture at the fair, in particular the Porte Monumentale entrance (above) featured Art Nouveau styling.
In every part of France, engineering workshops were ready to buy bicycle frames and components from the major suppliers, to assemble and sell to the new markets emerging in their own areas. As France’s own industry was still in its infancy at this time, most of the parts available were either British or American; both countries had many agents in France selling British and American bicycles. Within just three or four years, the French agents selling foreign bicycles had started their own French businesses, manufacturing both bicycles and components. And the small regional manufacturers who started out by using British and American components were able to start using French-made parts.
The ‘Moving Sidewalk’ (above and below) was designed by American engineers Schmidt and Silsbee. One level was stationary, the next moved at 4 km per hour, and the third at 9 km per hour. The fun of getting on and off this electric three-tiered sidewalk made it one of the fair’s greatest amusements.