On my second day as an Elgar-ologist, the film crew asked me to go to Malvern (fair enough) and take part in the Elgar Vintage Bicycle Ride. This sounded worrying, suggesting images of a penny-farthing inching up the Malvern Hills. In fact the helpful people at Malvern Cycles lent me a bike with seven gears – more gears probably than the rest of the ride put together. For instance, the gentleman in the photo sporting number 102, a little ahead of me (no 117) was riding an iron bike he found in a farm sale, with no gears and no brakes. To descend the many inclines, he had to half-dismount, standing on the right-foot pedal, while periodically slowing the bike’s motion with his left foot touching the ground. Since Elgar’s cycle can’t have been much more advanced than this, you have to admire his fitness during the period he was riding, for instance sometimes making a forty-mile trip to Wolverhampton to see Wolves play at Molineux (or so I read during some ‘intensive biographical research’ on Google.)
Actually Elgar’s relationship with the bicycle is instructive for present-day cyclists. Buying his first bike in 1900 (which he named “Mr Phoebus”) for a whopping £21/10/-, he was keen enough to upgrade to a new model three years later, giving the old one away to his publisher August Jaeger. But already by 1908, when invited by Wulstan Atkins to make a trip somwhere by bike, Elgar was replying that it wasn’t worth it because there were ‘so many motor cars’ on the road. This situation has hardly reversed itself in the intervening century, and our ride round Malvern revealed that the town has its fair share of narrow pavement cycle-lane strips which suddenly deposit you in the middle of an A-road. But regular cycling in an area like this must be good for you, as was clear when meeting all the energetic local people, many either very young or quite old, at this enjoyable event. Thanks again to Malvern Cycles, who organise an Elgar cycling day every year.