Saturday, May 12, 2012

Victorain Bicycling

It's almost the May long weekend here in Canada, which some consider to be the start of the summer. The weather is getting so nice, I actually went outside without a jacket today! So my thoughts are turning to outdoor activities for the season. The BF suggested getting a bike so we could enjoy the nearby parks and trails. This got me thinking about the history of a contraption we tend to take for granted.

The forerunner of the bicycle was the draisine or velocipede. Patented in 1818 by a German, Baron Karl Von Drais, it was the first commercial two wheeled self propelled machine. One would straddle it while walking along. Nicknamed the "hobby horse" or the "dandy horse" it was a fad for upper class gentleman. Its popularity faded due to some cities restricting their use because of increasing accidents involving these new contraptions.

(This pic is so inexplicable. Why is there a UFO and a cow in the upper left corner?)

From the 1820s through to the 1850s three wheeled and four wheeled machines became popular on the market. These tricycles and quadracycles were more stable and were propelled by pedals or hand cranks. They were heavy though, and could be difficult to move due to friction.

In 1863 a French design for a two wheel bicycle with pedals connected to the front wheel came out. It became popular in the late 1860's. First made out of wood, it later was built out of metal, including the wheel. This made it lighter and easier to mass produce. It did earn the name "boneshaker" though, as the metal wheels on cobblestone did not make for a comfortable ride.

This lead to the development of the penny-farthing. The larger front wheel design made riding more comfortable, but it was fairly dangerous. If one got going at a good speed, and hit a rock or bump in the road, riders would topple forward, head first, often getting their legs caught in the handle bars. It was from these accidents that the phrase "taking a header" comes from. The most common injury was broken wrists, though it also lead to some . deaths. The penny-farthing was most often rode by young men due to their dangerousness. Women and older men tended to stick to the tri and quadracycle models.

A breakthrough came in the 1880s with the invention of the safety bicycle. This new model had a chain connected from the pedals, to the rear wheel of the bicycle, making cycling safer by limiting it's speed. The addition of rubber tires also made the ride more comfortable. These new bicycles became extremely popular, and were mass produced making them an affordable mode of transportation for the masses.

A woman in a bicycling outfit.

These affordable and safe bicycles had an impact on the women's movement. They could now travel about by themselves cheaply and easily. It also lead to a movement for more "rational" women's wear, and the decline of full skirts and tight corsetry. Women cycling was seen as a political statement and became synonymous with the suffragette movement. Susan B Anthony praised the bicycle for it's emancipating effect.
Not everyone liked this new breed of bicycling woman. In 1897 some Cambridge University male students burned an effigy of a bicycling woman, to protest their admission as full members. Others were shocked by the bloomers these women wore. How dare women show they actually had legs!

Oh my! Scandalous! Ankles and calves!

So whenever I get my bicycle this summer, I will cycle with pride, enjoying my freedom to wear what I like while propelling my university degreed self on two wheels.

What are your thoughts on cycling?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. What an interesting little history. thank you! Gosh, can you imagine cycling in a long skirt?? wow

  2. Good article, well done. You need a pic of you on our Harley Davidson now!! (D)