It may be one of the worst titles of the canon, considering there is never a solitary cyclist at all. In fact, the very heart of the problem is that Violet Smith is pursued along a lonely road whenever she travels it. The very danger that sends Violet to seek the aid of Sherlock Holmes is the very reason the title of the story should not be The Solitary Cyclist. Perhaps The Pursued Cyclist would have been better. The Slow Cyclist Who Didn’t Talk to the Other Cyclists? I don’t know, but the title Doyle gave the story made me laugh!
The unfortunate truth is that after 3 very strong episodes, we have our first bit of tedium and a crime that barely holds up as a crime at all!
Violet Smith seems to be the object of affection by both Mr. Woodley and Mr. Carruthers. Carruthers, in disguise, stalks her when she goes riding an isolated country road, while Woodley absconds with her to marry her in the woods against her will. A disgraced priest is to perform the ceremony – in fact, he completes the ceremony – but Carruthers has genuinely fallen for her and shoots his former accomplice. So we have a forced marriage and an attempted murder.
Smith was to inherit quite a tidy sum from her uncle who died in South Africa. Woodley, Carruthers and Williamson, knew her uncle but contrive a story that he died penniless. They plan to marry her to get the inheritance. They can then split the money between them. However, Carruthers develops a conscience and can’t go through with it having formed feelings for young Violet.
Frankly, it’s a moronic idea. Woodley actually has a license to prove their marriage, but does it mean anything? Being married under duress surely would not be considered binding, even in the late 1800’s. Not to mention, remember three episodes ago when the marriage of Irene Adler and Godfrey Norton required a witness? Well, where was the witness?? Surely no law of the land would agree that a marriage took place without a witness and with a wife who claims to have been bound and gagged! Of course, that wouldn’t have prevented the villains from murdering Violet after the marriage was completed, but they may have been shocked when they went to cash in on the inheritance! I do think the law would want proof that the marriage lasted for more than 5 minutes before the death of the wife. Nevertheless, for Sherlock’s adversaries, the mistakes come about from internal strife. Holmes almost fails to save Violet from the scoundrels had it not been for their own problems. Honor among thieves indeed!
Undoubtedly, the most enjoyable scene is where we see Holmes’ famed boxing skills. Watson had said he was an accomplished pugilist and watching him deck the “odious” Woodley is probably the biggest highlight of the episode and the most notably Holmesian element of this wretched story. Having said that, Michael Siberry plays Woodley for all he’s worth and he makes for an utterly loathsome character. The director also deserves credit for capturing that performance so perfectly that it’s physically impossible to like Woodley. Alas, the fight starts poorly with Holmes being backhanded across a room before he engages in the fight, but it’s such a ridiculous hit that one wonders how he suffered even a minor cut from it. Then again, Holmes is a bit melodramatic too, and might have played the part just to attract attention!
There are a handful of humorous moments in the episode, most notably watching Holmes and Watson paw Ms. Violet to read her fingers and determine her profession. I would have loved for her to pull back and tell them to stop touching her! Also when Watson hides in the most awful of hiding places, Holmes accuses him of shoddy work. Watson asks, “Did I really do remarkably badly?” Holmes pauses for a mere second and says, “Yes!” Sorrowfully, that also sums up the episode. But it should be noted that this was the very first episode I saw and it was my entry into these episodes, which means it impressed me once, and I think the reason I dislike it now is that most of the stories are far superior to this one. Had this been the only one I’d ever seen, I might still praise it but by contrast to all the others, all I could say is that this one was “remarkably bad!” ML