Author Topic: Did bicycles expand the gene pool?

Did bicycles expand the gene pool?
« on: March 07, 2013 »
Bella Bathurst writes:

There's an often-quoted theory that it was bicycles which allowed the expansion of the  European gene pool. A man can walk 20 miles a day, a horse can travel 30 miles a day, but a cyclist can comfortably manage eighty miles. So, the theory goes, instead of having to make do with the small, inbred selection of potential mates from the nearby village, the Victorian cyclist could now go further, faster and for longer – in all senses.

But it's a tricky theory to test. By the end of the 19th century, railway travel was ubiquitous. And there was only a brief gap - a generation's span - between the moment when bicycles finally became affordable mass market objects and the point in the 1920s when automobiles began to do the same. Besides, without getting too personal or too anatomical, how exactly do you quantify cycling's power as an aphrodisiac? ...

Did bicycles really expand the gene pool? Are some of us here in this room because our grandparents were seduced by the flash of a diamond frame and the pong of warm tweed?  Or is it the opposite, and are bicycles stealing our children? There are plenty of modern studies which seem to prove a link between cycling and male impotence, and there is good evidence that saddle shape and position does have an effect on virility. Over the past century the clothing may have changed, but the correlation between costume and attractiveness hasn’t.

The gene pool is surprisingly resilient to the attentions of cyclists.

Eminently breedable Victorians?

That male contribution to DNA which hasn't been onanistically spent on Victoria Pendleton usually fertilizes partners who are uninterested in cycling. (Women's fantasy life is a mystery except to scientists and women, but research shows that provocative images of Hoy, Wiggins et al. actually disrupt estrus.) On the other hand, female cyclists have been known to attract potential mates from distances as great as eighty miles. This pool of applicants is considerably winnowed as many fall prey to potholes and tempting bike shops along the way. The female typically chooses the winner of a final commuter challenge. Given that his virility, while proven on the field of battle, may have been compromised by the very saddle which has carried him to victory, the possibility of two cyclists mating and producing at least a third are remote. But it happens.

Take my mother's side of the family. Her maternal grandmother was an extraordinary woman of little means and mercurial moods; a suffragette who wore a bandolier of cigarettes yet still expected men to light them for her. A more complex personality never strode the streets of Cleveland Ohio. She met her future husband, a streetcar conductor, when he accidentally pinched her bottom while attempting to recalibrate his ticket machine. Her slap was like a love tap on his whiskered jowls. Though opposites in every particular including polarity, they quickly married.

In between her meetings with anarchists and his with the temperance league, they produced a prodigious brood of children. All were taught to cycle at a young age so they could keep up when the family moved house, which they did often to keep ahead of the private detectives he hired to keep an eye on her. (She found whiskers to be an aphrodisiac. There was a lot of exotic facial hair to chase back then.) Those who learned from their mother did so quickly, as she tended to set them on a bicycle and thrust them into traffic: the sink or swim method, she called it. Her husband took a different approach involving training wheels and pillows to stabilise and cosset. (Their eldest, Hubert, could still be seen in his 80s carefully making his way down Cuyahoga Blvd., pillows strapped to his chest and bell ringing at every unexpected stop sign.) It will come as no surprise that those subjected to her regime turned out to be more confident awheel, venturing further afield in their search for love or as their mother called it, a good time. Unfortunately, none produced so much as a single cyclist. Too many potholes.

My own interest in cycling is a result of neither nature or nurture, but rapture. One day I fell down on the road and saw the light. But that story may be apocryphal.

photo: Toni Frissell, Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida 1947

PS. I have no children.