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Old 2017-07-08, 08:59 PM   #1
song
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Historical question

A book, The Fasting Cure, published in 1911 by American muckracker Upton Sinclair, mentions a man who “runs five miles in 26 minutes and 15 seconds, and rode a wheel 500 miles in seven days.”

Was unicycling so accepted in 1911 that you could just say “rode a wheel,” and everyone would understand, or does it mean a penny farthing bike, or am I completely missing the point and it means something else that I haven't even thought of?
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Old 2017-07-08, 09:16 PM   #2
MrImpossible
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Casual Googling says it means bicycling, e.g.

Cycling Trade Review, 1890 - "He first rode a wheel in 1882"

Introduction of Bicycles to Korea - "He [Lansdale] is said to have been the first man that rode a wheel on Korean soil [in 1884]. The natives came running from all sides when they saw him pedaling through the streets of Chemulpo on his high machine." (1899 newspaper obituary)
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Old 2017-07-08, 09:49 PM   #3
LargeEddie
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Agreed. Ngram. The usage might have started when the most familiar bicycles had one huge obvious wheel along with a much smaller one, but it looks like it continued to be applied to chain-driven "safety" bicycles.

Used as an example of figurative language in an 1897 book:
Quote:
Quite as common is Synecdoche, or the using the name of a part for a whole, as when we say "wheel" for "bicycle" or "trolley" for "electric railroad."
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Old 2017-07-09, 01:06 PM   #4
song
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Wow, didn't know about Ngram. Its possibilities as a research tool are endless! Thanks.
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Old 2017-07-09, 06:43 PM   #5
LargeEddie
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Glad it helped, Song. Yeah, Ngram is cool. Those books, journals, etc, are useful in a lot of ways, especially the older public domain stuff. I'd guess that the scanning and OCR work is pretty well automated and I wonder sometimes whether I'm the first person in at least a century to read something.
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Old 2017-07-09, 08:21 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by song View Post
A book, The Fasting Cure, published in 1911 by American muckracker Upton Sinclair, mentions a man who “runs five miles in 26 minutes and 15 seconds, and rode a wheel 500 miles in seven days.”

Was unicycling so accepted in 1911 that you could just say “rode a wheel,” and everyone would understand, or does it mean a penny farthing bike, or am I completely missing the point and it means something else that I haven't even thought of?
It would mean penny farthing or "high wheeler" also known later as an "ordinary bike" - in order to differentiate it from the "safety bike" which was an early version of the modern design with 2 equal wheels and chain drive.

There was also an American variant which had a large directly driven rear wheel and a small steerable front wheel.

I have ridden a genuine Victorian penny farthing. The small wheel hovers slightly at speed and to all intents and purposes it is a unicycle with a single stabiliser.
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