When Hopes Seem Hardly Worth Having, Just Mount a Bicycle and Go For a Good Spin Down the Road
Arthur Conan Doyle? Sherlock Holmes? Diane Ackerman? Jeremy Withers? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a bicycle enthusiast. He suggested that taking a spin down the road on a bicycle would dispel feelings of discouragement and unhappiness. I do not know the precise phrasing Conan Doyle used. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: In May 1895 “Demorest’s Family Magazine” of New York published a piece titled “What Are the Benefits of Bicycling?”, and a section called “Testimony of an Enthusiast” printed the following words from Arthur Conan Doyle. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:¹
When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hopes seem hardly worth having, just mount a bicycle and go for a good spin down the road, without thought of anything but the ride you are taking.
I have myself ridden the bicycle most during my practice as a physician and during my work in letters. In the morning or the afternoon, before or after work, as the mood o’ertakes me, I mount the wheel and am off for a spin of a few miles up or down the road from my country place. I can only speak words of praise for the bicycle, for I believe that its use is commonly beneficial and not at all detrimental to health, except in the matter of beginners who overdo it.
The bicycle craze seems to me to be only in its infancy, for probably in time we shall witness the spectacle of our business men going to their offices mounted on the bicycle, instead of using the tramways.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In October 1895 the London periodical “Cycling” reprinted the first two paragraphs of the passage above with a short introduction:²
DR. CONAN DOYLE, the popular author, and creator of Sherlock Holmes, is a cyclist, and writes thus sensibly and enthusiastically about the pastime: — “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope seems hardly worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a good spin down the road, without thought of anything but the ride you are taking . . .”
The words were also reprinted in several other newspapers and magazines such as “Scientific American”³ of New York in January 1896 and “The Wheelwoman”⁴ of London in November 1896.
In 1999 U.S. poet and essayist Diane Ackerman published “Deep Play”, and she published a slightly altered version of the passage. The phrase “good spin” became “spin”:⁵
So many artists have been inspired by the bicycle it would take a separate book to consider them all. There are dozens of writers alone. Arthur Conan Doyle relied on his beloved bicycle to give him inspiration for his Sherlock Holmes mysteries. “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having,” he advised, “just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
The statement has continued to circulate in modern times. The 2017 book “The War of the Wheels: H. G. Wells and the Bicycle” by Jeremy Withers included this passage:⁶
An 1896 issue of Scientific American shows Conan Doyle confessing to his own frequent practice of cycling and declaring a belief that “[w]hen the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having” all one needs to do is “just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road.”
In conclusion, Arthur Conan Doyle deserves credit for the enthusiastic comments he made about bicycling published in May 1895. His words have been reprinted many times during the ensuing years. Occasionally, the statements have been slightly altered.
Image Notes: Silhouette of a person on a bicycle from renategranade0 at Pixabay.
(Great thanks to John Neal, Mardy Grothe, and Clint Von Gundy who inquired about a thematically related quotation attributed to H. G. Wells. QI encountered the remark from Conan Doyle while conducting research, and QI decided to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
 1895 May, Demorest’s Family Magazine, Volume 31, Number 7, What Are the Benefits of Bicycling?: Testimony of an Enthusiast: Dr. A. Conan Doyle (Physician, Lecturer and Author), Quote Page 383, Column 1, W. Jennings Demorest, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
 1895 October 19, Cycling, Conan Doyle On Cycling, Quote Page 222 (28), Column 2, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
 1896 January 18, Scientific American, Volume 74, Number 3, Cycle Notes, Quote Page 38, Column 3, Munn & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
 1896 November 28, The Wheelwoman, Medical Opinion in Favour of Women Cycling, Quote Page 28, Column 1 and 2, London, England. (Newspapers_com)
 1999, Deep Play by Diane Ackerman, Chapter Six: Creating Minds, Quote Page 133, Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)
 2017, The War of the Wheels: H. G. Wells and the Bicycle by Jeremy Withers, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page 5, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York. (Google Books Preview)