This bicycle is a good example of a Velocipede or Boneshaker and was one of a collection of nine early machines acquired by the Museum in 1954 from an English collector based at Brooklands in Surrey, to show the technological development of the bicycle. It was made in about 1869 and is known as a Michaux type after Pierre Michaux who made the first commercial crank operated bicycles in Paris in 1864. The Velocipede was a step forward from the Hobby Horse or "running machine" of 1817 which was propelled by the rider's feet striking the ground.
Nevertheless, the Velocipede was difficult to mount, requiring the rider to run along beside the machine and vault into the saddle! It weighed about 60 pounds (27 kg) and could travel at 8 mph (13 kph). Braking was achieved by back pedalling with the assistance of an unreliable spoon brake on the rear wheel activated by a cord while the front wheel tended to clean itself on the rider's trousers when turning corners.
The Velocipede was part of the developmental process in the search for an efficient form of personal transport made from about 1864 until 1871. Like the Hobby Horse, it was very popular for a short time with some 50 firms in England and over 100 in France making the machines. By 1870 public interest had waned, the heavy iron frame and wooden wheels did not make it a practical form of transport and after that interest in boneshakers was confined to racing and touring club enthusiasts. As the machine began to be used increasingly for longer distances and faster speeds, consumers demanded better efficiency, which led to product improvements. At the same time, production shifted from the blacksmith and individual craftsman to the professional builder using precision engineering techniques. One design trend at this time was increasing the diameter of the front driving wheel so that more ground could be covered with each revolution of the pedal. The stage was now set for the next cycling development, the high wheeled Ordinary bicycle or "penny farthing". The Velocipede did remain in use a bit longer in riding schools, being less intimidating than the penny farthings.
Beeley, Serena. "A History of Bicycles", Wellfleet Books, New Jersey, USA, 1992.
Information supplied by Paul & Charlie Farren
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry