The Invention of the Draisine

Mannheim, Southern Germany, June 1817. Two years since Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, 195 years before a Briton will win the Tour de France. A group of well-to-do Germans are meeting after lunch. They drink schnapps and smoke cigars. The mood is jovial; the banter is German. They are listening to Beethoven who is playing the piano. In the next room the ladies are watching a dancing competition. The house belongs to Baron Karl Drais von Sauerbronn. He speaks to his assembled friends.

‘Gentlemen, I wish to present to you my latest invention.’

There was a groan.

‘I remember your meat grinder,’ said Baron Kenwood. ‘Too slow.’

‘And your typing machine,’ said Baron Qwerty. ‘That was clever but very difficult to type anything quickly I found. The layout of the letters was really confusing.’

The Baron ignored them. He clapped his hands and a servant entered wheeling a large wooden contraption; two wooden wheels were separated by a short, narrow plank. Attached to the front wheels rose a pair of what resembled horns. The servant sat on the plank and grasped the horns and then moved in a circle around the assembled guests, using his feet to push himself along.

Everyone gasped in amazement.

‘What is this?’ they shouted, almost as one.

‘It’s a laufmaschine, One day this will replace the horse,’ said the Baron.

‘That’s a terrible name,’ said Baron Raleigh. ‘Call it a chopper.’

‘No,’ said Baron Bianchi. ‘Call it a Bianchi.’

‘Call it a bicycle,’ said Baron Bicycle.

‘Fixie,’ said Baron Hipster who had a bushy beard and was chewing a lentil.

‘Velocipede,’ said Baron Velocipede.

‘Nein,’ said the Baron.

‘Dandy horse,’ said Baron Segway, who stood in the corner, rocking back and forth, ‘that’s a good name.’

‘I’m not calling it any of those things,’ said the Baron. ‘I invented it so I shall name it after me. I shall call it the Draisine.’

‘Es geht nicht um das Draisine,’ said Baron Armstrong.

‘What’s it made of?’ asked Baron Colnago.

‘It’s cherry tree wood and soft wood,’ said the Baron. ‘And some iron.’

‘Carbon fork?’ said Colnago.

‘No, wood,’ said the Baron.

‘Wood’s not strong enough,’ said Baron Van Nicholas. ‘What else have you tried?’

‘Can you fold it up?’ asked Baron Brompton, trying to lift it up and bend it in the middle. ‘That would be useful.’

‘That plank of wood looks uncomfortable,’ said Baron Fizik.

‘Looks perfectly comfortable to me,’ said Baron Brooks. You’ll get used to it when you’ve gone 1000 kilometres; it’ll be broken in.’

‘Broken, more like,’ said Baron Bianchi.

‘If I had one too,’ said Baron Strava, who was taking notes, ‘we could have a race and write down who was the fastest. And you could see when you did your fastest time, your personal record. And we could see who was first to climb a hill and they could have a title – what about Baron of the Mountain?’

‘King sounds better,’ said the Baron, ‘I like King of the Mountain. Or Queen, if the ladies also like the Draisine.’

‘We could cheer and clap and show our appreciation,’ said Baron Strava. ‘You know, give kudos.’

‘Only when deserved,’ said Baron Wolff.

The Baroness knocked and entered the room.

‘You’re not leaving that in the house,’ she said. ‘It can go in the garage.’

‘We don’t have a garage,’ said the Baron.

‘Shed then, put it in that silly shed where you spend all your time.’

They all trooped out to the shed. The servant followed on the Draisine. It was difficult descending the stairs.

The shed was a large wooden building and untidy. Half built contraptions and inventions lay all around. However, all of the Baron’s tools were stored in a wheeled tool cabinet with sliding drawers; allen keys, torque wrenches, spanners were all there – painted red and neatly labelled.

‘Is this all your tools?’ said Baron Park. ‘Nice. Don’t like the colour though.’ He examined all the tools, weighing them in his hand, admiring the design.

‘You’ve even got a torx tool,’ he said. ‘What do you use that for?’

‘I don’t,’ said the Baron. ‘My Draisine doesn’t have any torx bolts in it. But who knows? Maybe some day.’

A half built Draisine hung from the ceiling on a pulley. The bits of another one were spread out on a large table. Another, larger one with a longer seat was leaning against the wall.

‘That’s for 2 people,’ said the Baron. ‘I call it a tandem.’

On the bench was a wheel truing jig containing a wooden wheel. Another Draisine stood in the corner on a sort of treadmill facing the wall. There were 12 paintings of landscapes attached to a wheel on the wall. The Baron turned the wheel on the wall. The landscapes seemed to move.

‘I call it a turbo,’ said the Baron. ‘And these are moving pictures.’

‘I like that,’ said Baron Zwift. ‘That’s clever. When it’s cold or raining or you can’t be bothered to go outside you can just come in the shed and practice your Draisining.’

‘You should be outside in all weathers,’ said Baron Strack. ‘MTFU.’

‘There aren’t any mudguards,’ said Baron Blumels. ‘Your Gammler is going to get dirty.’

‘No it won’t,’ said the Baron. ‘I’ve got a Gammler saver.’

‘What group-set does it have?’ asked Baron Campagnolo.

‘It doesn’t have a group-set,’ said the Baron.

‘No group-set?’ said Baron Campagnolo, shocked.

‘No group-set?’ said Baron Shimano who was visiting from Japan.

‘No group-set?’ said Baron Sram but everyone ignored him.

The Baron took the Draisine from the servant and went outside.

‘Do you wear special clothes?’ asked Baron Castelli. ‘Bibs? Leather shorts? Gabba? Neck warmer?’

‘I’m not wearing leather shorts,’ said the Baron. ‘They’d get all hot and sweaty.’

The servant spoke up. ‘My sister Lycra could help, Sir. She can make clothes for you. She’s invented this revolutionary new fabric; we call it cloth.’

‘I’m thinking of designing some clothes too,’ said Baron Rapha. ‘But you can only wear them if you have a beard. They’ll also be very expensive.’

‘Perhaps it would be more comfortable if you wore a nappy like a baby or had some padding in your trousers,’ said Baron Chamois.

‘What shoes do you wear?’ asked Baron Sidi. ‘Are they special shoes?’

‘Just shoes,’ said the Baron. ‘They’re my own design. I call them trainers.’

The track was deeply rutted with lots of puddles. The Baron straddled the machine, sat down and grasped the horns.

‘You could do with something to put on those horns,’ said Baron Lizard. ‘Provide a bit of grip.’

They all watched as the Baron started to trot along and the machine picked up pace – and then got stuck in a rut.

‘You’re in a rut,’ said Baron Tarmac, unhelpfully. ‘These tracks are terrible; pot-holes everywhere.’

‘Those wheels are noisy and must shake a lot,’ said Baron Zipp. ‘And they’re not very aerodynamic. You could do with a wider rim.’

‘And wider tyres,’ said Baron Dunlop.

‘What are tyres?’ said the Baron.

‘Good point,’ said Dunlop, ‘talk to me later.’

‘Give us a push,’ called the Baron, trying to escape from the rut.

‘I can see this catching on,’ said Baron Wiggle. ‘But it would be good if we could go some place and get everything we needed. Like a big shop. Or just get it delivered.’

‘Can you use it when it’s dark?’ asked Baron Knog.

‘You should wear something on your head to protect it,’ said Baron Kask. ‘If you fell off it could be dangerous.’

‘How many Draisines have you made?’ asked Baron Giant.

‘Five,’ said the Baron.

‘I think you’ve got enough Draisines,’ said the Baroness.

‘You can never have too many Draisines,’ said the Baron. ‘The correct number is N + 1 where n equals the number you have already.’

‘No,’ said the Baroness. ‘The correct number is S – 1, where S is the number at which your wife will divorce you.’

‘I’d better build another one then,’ said the Baron, under his breath.

The Baron wheeled his way back to the shed. He leaned the Draisine against the wall.

‘You should lock it up,’ said Baron Krypton. ‘Someone might steal it.’

‘Who’d want to steal that?’ sneered Baron Bianchi.

The Baron turned on him in fury.

‘You think you’re so clever. Why don’t you come up with something instead of just sneering? Listen to you all, making comments but never doing anything. Why don’t you do something yourselves for a change?’

‘Maybe we will,’ they chorused.

He went back in the house and the others followed him. Once back inside the Baron calmed down. He asked Beethoven to start playing again.

‘I might start a club,’ said the Baron. ‘We’ll go out on our Draisines, all in a group, maybe stop somewhere for coffee. We’ll all wear the same colour shirt. No-one will be left behind.’

The Baron lit a cigar and clapped his hands. The servant appeared.

‘More schnapps!’ cried the Baron. ‘A toast to the Draisine.’

‘Es geht nicht um das Draisine,’ said Baron Armstrong.

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