Snapshot Stories: The Flying Bicycle

Have you ever wondered about the stories behind old photographs? Snapshot Stories is a series of short, fictional narratives prompted by that curiosity. This installment features this photograph of unknown date and origin.

For thirty seconds, all heads were inclined the same way – to the man on the flying bicycle. He was now parallel to the ground, high enough for some spectators to wish for binoculars, to see if he was really up there. Strangers were elbowing each other, whispering half-formed thoughts, as though talking would disturb the man’s concentration.

“This insanity finally paid off.”

“Those wings don’t look like they can hold him up.”

“The landing won’t be pleasant.”

“I could do this too. It must be just like riding on the ground.”

The wind had picked up for the first time since the spectators gathered at the Longchamps racecourse an hour after dawn. Conditions were just right for trying to compete with birds. The first sign of haziness started to make its way into the cool air, and soon the July heat would weigh down any outlandish ambitions of flight.

The man was still pedaling furiously, forcing some to entertain the idea that he could keep going, across the racecourse and into the thick of Paris, landing on a rooftop, and settling in for breakfast.

More than a few spectators, even those enthusiasts of new technology, couldn’t shake the thought of witnessing the man’s great fall and enjoying it. One small gust of wind or ill-timed shift of balance would send him hurtling downward without grace. He would be a modern-day Icarus and his attempt at flight a commendable yet foolish gesture of youthful bravado.

The bicycle lost momentum and began gliding downward at a slower pace than anyone had expected. When the wheels touched the ground, the man leapt off the seat and ran alongside until both came to a standstill. The crowd applauded appropriately, lamenting his achievement of one extraordinary feat before breakfast. What a nice story to tell their friends during dinner that night.