29 March 2014

A Holy Text From The Patron Saint

Look at the picture, but don't look at the little box in the lower left hand corner.  (Yeah, right!)  This photo is the cover of a magazine. What kind of magazine? (Remember, you're not supposed to look at the box! ;-))

The same magazine featured this on the cover of another issue:

Lest you think they were concerned only with the French countryside, at least as a cyclist might experience it, take a look at this cover.

OK, so it's from 1970.  I think even Kirkus Reviews had a psychedelic edition around then.  Paul de Vivie might not have approved, but they can be forgiven.

Some of you may know that Le Cycliste, which was published from 1887 until 1973, was founded by someone who wrote under the name of "Velocio."  What you may not have known is that he was none other than Paul de Vivie, also known as "the patron saint of cycling."

If he isn't so recognized by Rome or anyone else, he should be known as the progenitor of a genre of cycling and the godfather, as it were, of a development in bicycle technology that most of us take for granted but wasn't allowed in the Tour de France during his lifetime.

That piece of machinery is, of course, the derailleur.  Whether or not he invented it, or even came up with the idea for it, is disputed.  What is generally beyond doubt is that he did more to make it a part of nearly all high-mileage (and some not-so-high mileage) cyclists' steeds. 

If there is any other person who did as much to popularize the derailleur--as well as other pieces of equipment that are included in every cyclotourist's (and racer's) kit--it's someone whose drawings regularly graced the magazine's pages.

You guessed:  Daniel Rebour.

Now to the kind of riding Velocio inspired, through his writing as well as his own riding:  It's what you all know as randonneuring.  And, of course, there are variations on it, such as the Audax and Gran Fondo.

Now, of course, when he was doing those 800-kilometer rides in five days through the mountains, Velocio did not have to stop at any check points or get a booklet stamped. However, in every other way, his rides are prototypes of randonnees and audax rides:  They were not races, but he always attempted (and usually succeeded) in covering a certain number of kilometers, to a particular destination and back, with as few and infrequent rest stops as possible.

He was not, as some of his critics charged, "hypnotized by speed"or "intoxicated by distance".  Rather, he was enamored of the ways in which such long hours of riding opened his senses to details no one could notice from a car or train (or plane).  A passage Dr. Clifford Graves quotes in an early issue of Bicycling! magazine is evidence of that.

Velocio/de Vivie (With a name like that, why did he need a nom de plume?) died in 1930.  The magazine continued for more than four decades after.  I haven't been able to find out why it ceased publication.  Perhaps the reason is that the number of serious randonneurs and cyclotourists declined in France, as it did in the rest of Europe, after the devastation of World War II was replaced, rebuilt or simply abandoned.  About a decade or so after the war, relatively large numbers of people could afford automobiles and drive them on the newly-created autoroutes.

Now, with  a resurgent bicycle touring community in the Old World as well as in America, Le Cycliste would probably do well--especially given that cyclists tend to appreciate tasteful, crafted work as well as nature.  Le Cycliste combined them beautifully. Thankfully, a current cycle publication seems to be doing something very similar:  Jan Heine's Bicycle Quarterly.