Early Experiments

The earliest velocipedes, including the dandy horse, were largely made of wood. The mass-produced French bikes had frames made from two pieces of iron bolted together. The 1860’s also saw the first attempt at making a motorcycle, which was then described as “the Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede.” It was simply a bicycle with a steam engine attached to it.

The 19th century saw a lot of experimentation during the development of velocipedes. Early engineers dismissed the idea of a two-wheeled velocipede as impractical and thus concentrated on tricycles and quadracycles during the first half of the 19th century. The various manufacturers used a wide array of designs that employed pedals, hand-cranks and treadles to propel the velocipede. Most of these designs were rather unsuccessful, as they were heavy and cumbersome. As they were made of iron with wooden wheels, early bicycles were uncomfortable to ride and were therefore called “bone-shakers” in the United States and England.

Quadracycles date back to 1853 and their four wheels gave them the advantage of stability. They typically seated more than one person and came in tandem (in-line) and sociable (side-by-side seating) models. As bicycles improved, quadracycles gradually fell out of favor, but some still exist. Modern quadracycles are generally used for touring.

The 1870’s saw improvements in the bicycle’s design such as ball bearings and solid rubber tires that made the ride a lot smoother and more comfortable for people. The high-wheel bicycle, which had a big front wheel and a small rear wheel, became popular around this time. It was the fastest bicycle yet made, and it was also quite dangerous to ride. Ten or so years later, the so-called “safety bicycle” was developed. These had wheels of equal sizes and were the first bicycles to have a chain drive. They became the ancestors of modern bicycles.

The military became interested in bicycles in the 1890’s, and in some countries, including France, they developed folding bicycles that could easily be stored and transported. Tandem and recumbent bicycles were also developed around the turn of the century.

Post navigation