From the time of the mass production of bicycles in the late nineteenth century learning to ride one would suddenly mean a literal widening of horizons for the rider, a way out, a means of escape. It can still mean the same for a poor person who has no other form of personal transport.
From Joe Queenan's Closing Time, an account of growing up in the projects in Philadelphia in the 1950s, the son of a violent, alcoholic and barely employed father:-
"About a year earlier, I had purchased a used bike at the Salvation Army for $12 with cash I had saved up from birthdays and my confirmation, but the vehicle was a dud whose steering wheel would never stay in place. To work my way back to the house after a spin around the project, I had to pedal past a playground teeming with inclement white trash, so relying on a bicycle with a defective steering wheel was a bad idea. The bike I'd been dreaming about was going to set me back $33, though I never really expected to make that purchase, because as soon I had $33 amassed - a princely sum that was probably half what my father was earning each week back then - I knew he would requisition it for some dubious emergency, like stocking up on blended whisky in case the state of Tennessee got nuked by the Russians. . .
Two Saturdays after the outing with Uncle Charlie, my mother. .. told me to come home immediately, as a fantastic surprise awaited me...When I nipped through the front door, my uncle Charlie was kneeling on the living room floor, clutching a wrench, putting the final touches on the assembly of a magnificent black English racer. . . No matter how long I lived, no matter how radiantly fortune shone upon me later in life, I never got a better present. I rode that bicycle every single afternoon until the day I went to college. I rode it up hills, down hills, past gangs of hoodlums, through gangs of hoodlums. I loved that bicycle the way a mother loves a son. . . It was the only toy I ever owned that I took care of: I washed it, I waxed it, I polished it, I adored it. That bicycle symbolized triumph; that bicycle symbolized escape. I never forgot that afternoon, and I never forgot my uncle Charlie.
As Queenan's usual tone is one of scathing satire and mean put-downs, this gush of enthusiasm from him is starling. The washing, waxing and polishing of their toys was also carried out by the rich young folk who got the bicycle craze in the 1880s and 90s. They would not trust their precious bicycles to the servants.