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 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’.
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.