Like inline skates, they were meant to free skating enthusiasts of those pesky iceless roads. As an advertisement reads, “Ritter Road Skates allow anyone to practice the graceful and healthful pastimes of speed and figure skating on any road or other suitable surface.”
The skates were sold by the Road Skate Co of Oxford Street, and the company also issued a booklet – free of charge – on ‘Road Skating’ which purports to give “every information on the subject.”
Road Skates were invented by Mr. Ritter, a Swiss, who was foreman at the original Napier Works at Vine Street, Lambeth, London, where (later) the first Napier motor-cars were made. The Ritter skates were popular around 1897/ 1898, and several well-known cyclists, notably M. S. Napier, Walter Munn, and A. Hoffman, formed a club and skated on the road every week-end.
The fellow in the photos is George A. Best. In 1898 he bravely strapped on a pair of Road Skates and reviewed them for The Strand Magazine. Best’s review was ultimately quite brutal. He described the contraptions as “… nothing so much as a pair of miniature bicycles.” The process of getting back up from a fall, he described as a “… series of complicated and spasmodic movements …”