The fabulous Mr Schopp

"The Rights of Man"? How about "The Rights of Velocipes"? JIM McGURN writes about (probably) the first ever campaigner for this most noble of causes...

MR JONATHAN SCHOPP was an absurdly rich American and a 'noble republican'. His bicycle was the finest money could buy, and was built to the order of his manager, a gentleman mysteriously known as the ‘Napoleon of Velocipedes'. Schopp was to pedal heroically around the world, facing constant danger and covering unbelievable distances. Thus began the first instalment of a fictional travelogue which appeared in the world's first viable cycling magazine, the Velocipede Illustre, which was published in France from 1869 onwards. A short time after the first Jonathan Schopp instalment the editor received a letter:

'Sir, would you please give me the address of Jonathan Schopp or of the Napoleon of Velocipedes. I can be of great service to them since I am the inventor of a velocipede which will go at an unlimited speed.'

Another reader wrote in to say that he had followed the same route as Schopp through Germany. But how could the American possibly have covered the distance in such a short time, and on such dire roads? And how on earth had Schopp befriended the Germans he met along the way so easily?

The magazine was edited by Richard Lesclide, who was probably the first ever bike campaigner. 'First came the Rights of Man,' he wrote, 'now let us secure the Rights of the Velocipede.' He campaigned against a threatened ban on velocipeding by arguing that it was no more dangerous than walking, since pedestrians are exposed to the risks of sprained ankles, sunstroke and falling chimney pots.

The Velocipede Illustre had some trouble coming to terms with women who wanted to velocipede, and male journalists were liable to associate plain, practical clothing with disreputable exhibitionism. This seems to have happened in an article signed 'a Tailor':

'If one organises ladies' races it is probably because of the particular charm which they endow. As soon as women dress like street urchins the whole purpose is lost. These races should give the appearance of grace and elegance.'

The writer felt that women should use more fan­tasy in their choice of clothes. He suggested a Russian helmet-style hat topped with a long plume or two, a lined or braided tunic and lace pantaloons.

Jonathan Schopp was perfectly broadminded about lady riders. Weary of circumvelocipeding the globe in manly isolation, he welcomes the company of a lady velocipedist who joins him on his travels. Of course, the relationship remains at all times innocent and honourable.