By 1903 Sturmey-Archer had started manufacturing internal three speed hub gears but they were probably not in wide use in 1904 so riders still used single speed with a freewheel to allow them to coast or a reversible wheel fixie with a different sized cog in each side so the rider could stop, reverse the wheel, and continue in a new gear - a far cry from the electronic shifters I am starting to see. Modern derailleurs would not be invented until the 1950's.
I note that American machinist Johnson patented and manufactured a two-speed internal hub gear in 1895 but it seems unlikely that French cyclists would use them.
Fortunately pneumatic tires were available by 1889, greatly reducing the weight and increasing the comfort of bicycles. As tires were previously made of solid rubber, you can imagine this brought great relief to cyclists of all denominations. Pumps were made of wood or steel and looked very much like frame pumps do today.
|1904 Gentleman's Meteor Rover|
Take a look at the pedals on this bike. They are platform pedals with rubber grips. Toe clips existed at the time, in fact photographs of Tour de France racers from 1904 clearly show them. Below is a photograph of Maurice Garin - winner of the first Tour de France in 1904. You can plainly see his toe clips. Our modern so-called "clipless pedals" were invented by Look in 1984. So early randonneurs rode with platform pedals or, if they were wealthy, with toe clips.
|Maurice Garin and his toe clips|
Talking of bags - they haven't really changed all that much. The invention of Velcro and reflective tape have improved things somewhat. Carradice, a major manufacturer of today's randonneur's bags wasn't founded until 1932, and Gilles Berthoud were not around back then either but the duck canvas and leather that they use today were widely used in 1904 so the bags would have looked very familiar to us.
Saddles have changed as much as you want them to. In the photo of the Meteor Rover above you can see the saddle is a Brooks B73 which is still made over 100 years later. The owner of this bike was obviously a serious tourer. With a saddle like this, who needs a fancy carbon or titanium frame?
One last thing to look at on our 1904 bicycle photo is the front brakes. There are no cables - it's a solid pull rod that pulls the whole brake mechanism upwards and pushes the brake pads against the underside of the rim. The rear brakes had a similar mechanism running alongside the top tube. There is a lever mechanism just above the brakes that magnifies your leverage but you still had to squeeze the brake levers really hard to get any stopping power. Imagine that with road numbed hands.
|Veeder odometer circa 1895|
Early randonneurs had no computer to tell them how far they had traveled. When I was a lad I had a mechanical device that attached to the front fork that had a five spoke wheel that got moved forward 1/5 of a turn by a pin in the spokes and gave me some indication of my distance traveled, although even with young eyes it was hard to read and impossible at night. This device actually existed in a similar form prior to 1904 so many of the first randonneurs may have owned one. GPS? We have it so easy!
Take a look at the carbide lamp below. Although battery lights were available for bicycles in 1904 they were weak and didn't last long. If you had to do much night riding you would attach one of these lamps to the front of your bicycle (take a look at the standard lamp mount on the front of the Meteor Rover above).
|"Carbide lamp on a bicycle". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons|
This lamp works by placing calcium carbide in the lower chamber and dripping water onto it from the upper chamber. This released acetylene gas (C2H2) through a jet which was then ignited and burned with a bright white flame. I'll take a Li-ion battery and a 5 Watt LED thank you very much! Tail lights, which have lower power requirements could be battery driven even in 1904.
I was surprised to discover that bottle dynamos (they aren't technically dynamos because they deliver AC whereas a dynamo uses a comutator to deliver DC) existed in 1904. In fact there is a German patent for one dated 1886. It's quite possible that some randonneurs would have used one of these instead of the carbide lamp. Can you imagine riding in the rain, hoping your stash of calcium carbide wouldn't get wet and explode?
In actual fact lights would not have been a big problem for the first randonneurs because their target was to ride 200k in daylight so extended night riding would not become a staple of randonneuring for several more years. However it was a requirement for the first Tour de France riders in the same year.
As for nutrition they would have home made bonk bars for which there were many recipes. Most included nuts, fruit, rice, and some kind of binding agent like treacle. One requirement was that they didn't make you handlebar tape sticky. There would be water in the bottles, or maybe some cordial or watered down beer.
Lycra gel-padded cycling shorts - not until the 1970's by Tony Maier.
Gel padded handle bar tape and gloves - Nope. Even cork tape wasn't invented until 1987.
Aerobars - 1984 Jim Eliot.
So those riders had heavy, single-gear steel bikes with Brooks saddles and canvas bags similar to ours. They might have toe-clips, leather shoes, cotton or leather handlebar tape, shorts, and gloves. Their jerseys would be cotton or wool and they probably didn't wear helmets. They navigated with a map, compass and an odometer accurate to perhaps 5%. If they rode at night they might have had weak electric lights or a highly combustible acetylene light. And all the men had mustaches, and some of the women.
One advantage they had was that the surge in the popularity of cycling towards the end of the 19th century meant that many previously gravel roads had been metalled (paved). That, and the absence of large numbers of cars meant this would have been a wonderful time to be a cyclist.
While researching this blog I found a wonderful resource for those interested in old bicycle history at http://www.oldbike.eu/museum/. It's poorly organized and antiquated but full of old treasures.