“Bobby Goes A-Bicycling” (E50)

  • Originally printed: Life Magazine, December 23, 1926
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Robert Benchley



A rather lackluster entry in the Benchley family phantasmagoria. Throughout his career, RB showed a decided fondness for the depiction of barbed interactions between grade schoolers and their guardians. This could sometimes generate real hilarity (see “Another Uncle Edith Christmas Yarn” – E18); but, in this case, we get an unfunny filial fizzle.  Purportedly written by young Bobby Benchley Jr. (aged 7 in 1926), the piece announces itself as the chronicle of Benchley père et fils’ efforts to join in the then-current race to the North Pole, with the dubious help of some kibitzing crony called Lieutenant Commander Connelly. From the start, however, the author is more interested in establishing his portrait of Young Mister Benchley as a precocious practitioner of dire dad jokes at his own pop’s expense.

As you might expect from such a trio (or however many people there are in this two-wheeled caravan), they don’t get very far, stalling out somewhere near White Plains, New York. Along the way, the son-persona jabs mercilessly at the patriarch’s pet peeves, triggers, and insecurities, without occasioning much mirth. Benchley deprecating himself is generally a delight – but Benchley delegating that task to a prepubescent print golem of his own flesh and blood forces the author’s sense of guilt over his increasingly absentee parenting a little too palpably onto the page.

Favourite Moment:

Four days out from Scarsdale, the expedition is now somewhere around North White Plains, N.Y. If things go on at this rate, we’ll need a new map before long.

“‘Bicycling’, The New Craze” (E42)

  • Originally printed: DAC News, April 1925
  • First reprinted in: Pluck and Luck
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley (Drawings by Rea Irvin)


Here RCB adopts the persona of a trend watcher and lifestyle columnist intent on selling bicycling as the latest fad amongst America’s favoured classes. He does a thorough job of it, providing a deadpan etymological breakdown of the 50-year old word, delving into the trial and error process of its development by inventor Philip G. Bicycle, and even advising early adopters on the best way to fall off their ultra-modern contraptions.

Examining his subject along lines suggested by the “baseball is a game of inches” school of sports writing, Benchley tells us that old Philip G. tossed his prototype aside when he realized that “there won’t be enough people in our world who can stretch their legs out from one to four feet to make any decent kind of sale for my machine at all!” Temporarily soured on practical mechanics, Bicycle went off and invented the apple instead. But he never completely abandoned his first love (if he had, America’s favourite desert would be known as Bicycle Pie). At last, a vision of pedals situated a leg’s length away from the seat flashed into his mind, and the thing came together very quickly as a status symbol among the rich at play in Newport, Rhode Island. Some of them are even managing to make it move forward! Soon, all major mergers and distribution contracts will be negotiated by executives hunched over their handlebars. If you want to make your way in this world, better give bicycling a tumble!

Favourite Moment:
That is one thing about riding a bicycle. You can’t stand still once you are seated and ready to go. There are three ways for you to go – forward, over to the right, or over to the left. Let us say that at first you go over to the right side. This is the most popular side for beginners, as it carries out the arc begun by the process of mounting. Once you have fallen over to the right side, try the left.

Reprint Notes:

  • Original drawings replaced by a Gluyas Williams illustration.
  • Reference to Rea Irvin’s Figure 2 (of the falling rider) is removed, as there is only one Figure in the book.