A potter around the (until now very well-kept secret) Brooks underground vault at Smethwick this week threw up some truly amazing surprises. Did you know, for example, that Mr. Brooks filed a patent in the 1920s for what appears to have been a primitive form of internet called the “Highway Code”?
Even more interesting, however, was the box containing Brooks catalogues from the 1890s. Not only for the abundance of inventively realised solutions to cycling quandaries found therein, but also for the charming use of language thrusting like a B50 “Climax” from every page.
Back then, if a cyclist was experiencing friction difficulties, it was off to “Riding School” with him, where he could be instructed in the manifold ways of achieving “greater reach and power”.
It seems that “Riding School” wasn’t a euphemism either. Instructors presumably ran a rope through the loop of their “Instructors Belt”, tied the rope to the instructee’s handlebars, and proceeded to haul him briskly over a mile of cobbles until he could handle himself like a butcher’s delivery boy. Alternative suggestions (preferrably non-smutty) gratefully received.
Of course, on the unforgiving streets of 1890s Birmingham and elsewhere, the spectre of inner-tube-puncturing was never far away. Most astute riders tended to have spare tubes on hand in case of the unthinkable occurring. The smallest glue receptacle available in the 19th century was, after all, a string-tie two pint bag.
By the same token, pumps also tended not to be quite the microscopic, telescopic pieces of kit they are today, necessitating their attachment as luggage to the frame. Mr. Brooks was, as ever, there to help.
Inflator Slings are a minimum requirement at any tweed-themed cycling event this year. Preferrably holding something a little more ‘period’ than a Topeak. But then again, pneumatic tires can sometimes come across a touch arriviste, non? Best run solids.
Long before Kara Ginther was a twinkle in her great-great-great-grandfather’s eye, or, if you prefer, a century and a quarter before we released our Vans saddle, somebody else had hit upon the notion of making a fine Brooks saddle even finer. Clue – his initials are J.B.B.
Without extra charge? One sees ads everywhere these days mendaciously claiming “We’re practically giving them away!”, but they don’t come close to approaching this example of Mr. Brooks’ famed philanthropy at work. Which example becomes even more magnificent when we consider the fact that he paid full overtime rates (as soon as the special orders started stacking up) to his carefully selected band of saddle embossers. Or debossers, depending on how you look at it.
Rather curiously, if a gentleman cyclist wanted a design done on his B50, say, his request was met with a polite refusal. If he offered to pay for the privilege the refusal was equally firm, but somewhat less polite. Ladies only. Different times.
In the 1890s the practise of japanning was much more widespread and far more well-thought-of than it is today. Your buckles were nothing if they weren’t japanned, irrespective of whether they were on your shoes, your belts, or your little name-tag-to-travel-bag-attaching-holder things. And if the spring-loaded notepad compartment didn’t come with refills, well then, you knew it wasn’t a Brooks.