In 1896, H.G. Wells, father of science fiction, published a romance about bicycles. The star of The Wheels of Chance is Hoopdriver, a lower-middle-class draper who embarks upon a 10-day cycling holiday. Along the way, he comes across pretty young Jessie, cycling alone, and the two share a magical tour of South England. Jessie imagines herself a liberated woman like the modern ladies of her novels. Hoopdriver is an all-around romantic. “He wheeled his machine up Putney Hill, and his heart sang within him,” Wells writes of Hoopdriver.

It’s not the kind of fantastical, time machine fiction one expects of Wells, but at the time of The Wheels of Chance, the bicycle was in the midst of a golden age. A bicycle was a chariot to near-distant lands and interesting friends. It became a symbol for freedom of movement — geographically, socially, and economically — for women and the working… More…