A 2K Lysander – More Fun Than A 2K Erg?

An advertisement from “The Rowing Almanack and Oarsman’s Companion”, 1878.

17 December 2018

By Tim Koch

While a remarkable machine in many ways, it is unfortunate that the modern rowing ergometer produces all the pain of rowing, but few of the pleasures. Perhaps ‘land rowing’ could be made more enjoyable by bringing back Charles Spencer’s Patient Rowing Machine – which was much more boat-like. It was also superior to its modern counterpart in that it had to be balanced: ‘The boat rests on its keel…. thereby the rocking movement is obtained’. Further, the popular saying amongst those with unimpressive splits and times, that ‘if you put an ergo on the water, it sinks’, may not apply to the Lysander.

Charles Spencer manufactured all sorts of gymnastic equipment, less contrived than the Lysander. He also ran a gym and in 1866 produced a very influential book, “The Modern Gymnast”. The building that housed his factory, on the corner of Old Street and Sycamore Street in east London, still stands today as a bar and restaurant – but the exterior is little changed.

Charles Spencer is now little remembered for his rowing machine but is known in the cycling world as a pioneer who popularised the bicycle. In 1869, he imported a ‘velocipede’ from Paris and became, in the words of a piece on the late Victorian ‘cycling craze’ on the London Library blog, ‘an ardent devotee and tireless promoter of the new invention’.

In 1877, Spencer published another best-selling work, The Modern Bicycle. In this, he noted that the bicycle ‘has now gone successfully through the various stages of being laughed at as a toy, and tolerated as an amusement, so I am firmly of the opinion that it will eventually become generally useful as a means of locomotion’.

A plate from “The Modern Bicycle”. In 1873, Spencer cycled the 800 miles from London to John O’Groats in Scotland.

The Lysander was not Spencer’s only eccentric invention. In 1872, he patented ‘a new or improved boomerang, and mechanical apparatus for propelling or projecting the same’. It sounds like it would be more fun than any rowing machine.

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