This bicycle is thought to be a well-made reproduction of the first type of rudimentary bicycle, known as the hobby horse. The most startling feature of this bicycle is that it has no pedals or cranks and the rider gained propulsion by merely pushing his feet along the ground. It was invented by the German-born Baron von Drais (1785-1851) and was patented in France in 1817. He called his invention the 'running machine' but to the French public it became known as a Draisine or Draisienne. It was a breakthrough in personal transport and became enormously popular, with special riding schools established to teach the art of cycling. Machines could also be hired, and a ladies' model with a drop down bar was devised.
The idea was a great success and quickly spread to the United States of America, Germany and Britain. In 1818 a coach builder, Denis Johnson of Long Acre in England, made his own version, which he called the 'Pedestrian Curricle'. It was soon dubbed the 'hobby horse' or 'dandy horse'. The English hobby horses were an improvement on the Draisine. They were made of iron instead of timber, featured an adjustable seat and a cushioned arm rest and had a different arrangement for the handles.
The hobby horse was enthusiastically adopted by rich young men around London's parks and became the subject of caricaturists and satirists. Like any fashion, it was short lived after the novelty had worn off, and it disappeared but acted as a stepping stone for the next development in the bicycle, the invention of the first practical pedal or treadle driven two-wheeled machine attributed to a Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick MacMillan in 1839.
Beeley, Serena. 'A History of Bicycles', Wellfleet Books, New Jersey, USA, 1992.
Information supplied by Paul & Charlie Farren
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry