Bicycle History                        

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The Draisienne was invented in 1817 by the German inventor Baron Karl Friedrich Drais von Sauerbronn (1785-1851) from Karlsruhe he received a patent on  January 12 1818 from  Baden-Württemberg city Germany.

   In late 1818 a English coach builder named Denis Johnson , improved the design of the Draisienne and received a patent for it, he called his vehicle a “pedestrian curricle” or “velocipede,” but the public preferred “hobbyhorse,” after the children’s toy or, “dandyhorse,”

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Click the Hobby Horse below for a photo gallery

  Johnson's Hobby-horse was a more refined version of von Drais's machine and provided the inspiration for the English-made hobby-horse featured in the exhibit (810202*).The machine was built around 1819 and was originally owned by the Duke of Argyll (its maker is unknown). It was eventually acquired by a Canadian cycle collector, Lorne Shields, who subsequently donated it to the Museum. Like all machines of this style, riders pushed along the ground with their feet to propel it. Once riders got going, they could coast, particularly on hills. The machine was equipped with an adjustable saddle and a tiller mechanism to control the front wheel. A dashboard, located immediately behind the front wheel, provided additional support for steering and pushing. To brake, riders dragged their feet.

After the hobby-horse craze of 1818-19, interest in the machine seems to have died out almost as quickly as it began. Once the novelty had worn off, the machine appears to have fallen into relative obscurity. There are very few references to hobby-horse use after 1820 in English or French cycling literature, although in central Europe there are reports that machines were made and sold into the 1830s. Nevertheless, the hobby-horse provided the basis upon which further developments were made.



British mechanics keep the art of cycle building alive.

After the decline of the hobbyhorse in the 1820s, a handful of builders and mechanics continued working on this form of wheeled transportation. Most of their improved vehicles were awkward multi-wheelers propelled by pedals or treadles attached to levers and cranks. A few, like those built by Willard Sawyer in the 1850s, were finely crafted machines (810203) that enjoyed some popularity among the wealthy class.

Elegant or awkward, these vehicles and their makers contributed new knowledge and skills to cycle design.

    Some people believe credit for  the first pedal-driven 1840 two wheeler should go to the Scotsman Kirkpatrick Macmillan a Blacksmith from Courthill Dumfriesshire Scotland.


The next major development in bicycle design was the velocipede. It was initially developed in France and achieved its greatest popularity in the late 1860s. The artifact on exhibit was produced around 1869 by Michaux et Cie of Paris, France (810204). The velocipede marks the beginning of a continuous line of development leading to the modern bicycle. Its most significant improvement over the hobby-horse was the addition of cranks and pedals to the front wheel. This allowed riders to propel the machine more easily and provide more power to the wheel, which meant that substantially greater speeds could be attained.

The use of metal frames on the more expensive models reduced the weight of the new bicycle and provided it with a sleeker,more elegant design. Different types of braking mechanisms were used, depending on the manufacturer; in the case of the velocipede on exhibit, the small spoon brake on the rear wheel is connected to the handlebar and is engaged by a simple twisting motion. The velocipede was not perfect. The rigidity of its frame and iron-banded wheels resulted in a bone-shaking experience for riders on the cobblestone streets of the day, earning it the name of "boneshaker" in England. Also, the wheel would chafe the rider's calf when turning. Consequently, many riders wore riding boots, as can be seen in the photographs of this period.

The velocipede enjoyed considerable popularity in Europe and North America. The design was patented in the United States in 1866 by Pierre Lallement, who is credited by some as being the true inventor of the velocipede. However, Pierre Michaux and his family, Lallement's former employer, were certainly producing velocipedes by that date in France. On both sides of the Atlantic the popularity of the machines spread quickly among a growing urban and rural middle class. In Canada the velocipede craze hit full stride by 1868-69 and riding schools opened in many major centres. By early 1869, Halifax boasted at least five velocipede rinks. There is no evidence of any Canadian commercial velocipede manufacturers; however, we do have evidence of home-built machines in the form of visual and written records as well as actual Canadian examples of simple velocipedes constructed out of wood in the 1860s and 1870s. In the end, one of the major contributions of the velocipede was that it created a market for bicycles that led to the development of more sophisticated and efficient machine.



Riding High  

A new high-wheel design makes bicycles lighter and faster.

In Britain, after the velocipede craze died away, the search for a better cycle continued, fueled by an enthusiastic sporting and club movement and an active manufacturing industry. By 1870, British cycle makers had come up with a new form of two-wheel velocipede with a much larger front wheel. They made it practical by devising a new way of constructing wheels.

First introduced by Reynolds and May on their “Phantom” (810205), suspension wheels had wire spokes, which made them lighter, and rims covered with rubber, which absorbed more vibration and made them easier to propel.

The first cycle maker to take advantage of the suspension principle to build bigger wheels was James Starley. His 1870 “Ariel” (810206) had a 50-inch (127-cm) front wheel.

The rider had to sit right over the front hub to reach the pedals. Starley reduced the size of the back wheel to save weight. This basic design was copied by most other cycle builders and soon buyers could choose from a variety of 60-inch (152.5-cm) bicycles. Even with the increased size, makers were able to reduce the overall weight by building frames from steel tubing, which was available by the late 1870s.

Within a few years, tubular frames were standard on most bicycles, making them faster and lighter than ever before. The Museum’s Humber racing bicycle (810209) is a good example of high-wheel design and construction





The High Wheel - Increased Speed and Comfort   s and t

The high-wheel bicycle was developed between 1870 and 1885 in direct response to the limitations of the velocipede, both in terms of speed and comfort. Given the fact that bicycle manufacturers remained tied to the idea of a direct-drive machine, the only means of increasing the gear ratio and speed of a machine was by increasing the diameter of the wheel. Fortunately, even with the increased diameter, machines with the new rubber shod, metal-spoked wheel weighed less, had better suspension and was more comfortable to ride. As the size of the driving wheel increased, the other wheel had to be reduced to maintain the stability of the machine.

The Ariel (810206), produced by Starley& Smith in 1870, is recognized as the first commercially produced high-wheel bicycle. This machine exhibits most of the characteristics of high-wheel technology; because of the obviously larger driving wheel, the seat was positioned almost directly over the hub and pivot steering. The Ariel proved to be an effective design and continued to be produced for a decade. Throughout the 1870s and early 1880s, other designers and manufacturers worked to improve the high-wheel design.

There was a burgeoning market for the new machines among the growing number of young, male, middle-class cycling enthusiasts, who avidly took to the road in Europe and North America. However, because the high-wheel bicycle was both expensive and difficult to operate, it created an elitist atmosphere within many of the cycling clubs that had been established to encourage cycle touring. In Canada, clubs had been formed in every major city by 1880, and in 1881 the Canadian Wheelmen's Association, patterned after its American cousin, was established to coordinate events and disseminate information.

By the early 1880s the high-wheel bicycle had reached its most advanced form. Machines such as the restored Humber Racing Bicycle (810209) on exhibit characterized the highest standards of bicycle design. They were light-weight, powerful and comfortable and, with 152-centimetre wheels, could reach previously unattainable speeds. Yet despite these improvements, bicycle use was still limited to a highly athletic group, excluding a broad sector of the population. Even by the 1880s, cycle manufacturers realized the commercial limitations of the high-wheel design and began to seek a safer machine that could be sold to a wider market

Penny Farthing

Speed soon became an obsession and the velocipede suffered from its bulk, its harsh ride, and a poor gear ratio to the driven wheel. In 1870, the first light all-metal machine appeared. The “ordinary” or penny farthing had its pedals attached directly to a large front wheel, which provided improved gearing.The penny farthing, or ordinary. This bicycle is believed to have been manufactured by Thos Humber of Beeston, Nottinghamshire, England, circa 1882. The braking limitations of this vehicle’s layout are obvious! (Photo credit: Glynn Stockdale Collection, Knutsford, England.)

Custom front wheels were available that were as large as one’s leg length would allow. Solid rubber tires and the long spokes of the large front wheel provided a smoother ride than its predecessors. This machine, which was the first to be called a “bicycle,” was the world’s first single-track vehicle to employ the centre-steering head that is still in use today. These bicycles enjoyed great popularity among young men of means during their hey-day in the 1880s. Thanks to its adjustable crank and several other new mechanisms, the penny farthing racked up record speeds of about 7 m/s. As is often said, pride comes before a fall. The high centre of gravity and forward position of the rider made the penny farthing difficult to mount and dismount as well as dynamically challenging to ride. In the event that the front wheel hit a stone or rut in the road, the entire machine rotated forward about its front axle, and the rider, with his legs trapped under the handlebars, was dropped unceremoniously on his head. Thus the term “taking a header” came into being.

Manufacturers made tricycles to cater to a wider riding public. By the late 1870s, the high-wheel or “ordinary” bicycle, as it became known in the 1890s, had created a new cycling fad. The problem was most people couldn’t or wouldn’t ride these demanding mounts, so cycle manufacturers began to design and build a variety of safer types.



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