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LATEST ARTICLE_______________________________________

On a Bicycle Built for One or Two
by Bob Brooke


Bicycles have been an important part of American life since the first crude one appeared in 1818. People use them for transportation, racing, touring, as well as for everyday exercise. In China and The Netherlands, they’re an inexpensive way to get around.

By definition, a bicycle is a vehicle with two wheels, front and back, with a seat or saddle between, propelled by means of pedals working on a crank shaft. However, this wasn’t always the case. The first bicycle, invented by Baron Karl von Drais in 1817, had wooden wheels, no pedals and no tires. People propelled themselves on it by pushing on the ground with their feet. Riders steered one of these contraptions, called “pedestrian curricles,” using handle bars, much like they do today. Though the Baron added front-wheel ratchets in 1821, pedals didn’t come along until about 1860.

Bicycle History
Legends and lore fill bicycle history. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci did not invent the bicycle in 1492. The drawings he allegedly made proved to be a hoax that dates to the 1970s. The true history of the bicycle can be traced to 1817 and the invention of what Baron von Drais dubbed his “walking machine.” It consisted of two inline wheels of the same size, mounted on a frame straddled by the rider.

In the mid-1860s, a machine propelled by foot pedals attached directly to the front wheel came about. People called these “velocipedes,” but they were only popular for a decade or so. The earliest were all wood. Later ones had sturdy metal frames and wooden wheels which made for a rough ride on cobblestone streets or country lanes, thus riders gave them a more appropriate name—“boneshakers.” Although popular for a while, the bone-shaker was awkward and inefficient, so its popularity waned quickly.

The Dexter velocipede of 1869 at long last had brakes. But its seat was too low to be comfortable. The front wheels were a little higher than the back ones.

The “Ordinary” Debuts
In 1871, James Starley designed the high wheel bicycle in England. He crafted his first model entirely of metal. It was an efficient machine and quickly became popular. As with the boneshaker, the pedals were attached directly to the front wheel, but now with solid rubber tires the front wheel produced a much smoother ride. Since the large wheel went a good distance on one revolution, a rider on a high wheel bicycle could go farther and faster with less pedaling than a person on a bike with a smaller wheel. This design was the first to be called a bicycle families could afford one. People referred tp this machine as an "ordinary bicycle." Soon they simply called it "the ordinary."

People also called high wheel bicycles "Penny farthings" for the big wheel was compared in size to the Victorian penny and the smaller rear one to the tiny farthing. They were extremely dangerous to ride for brakes had not yet been added. Lallemont invented pedals which turned on their pins. He also added a saddle on a curved spring.
The ordinary made its debut in America at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

One of the pitfalls of the high wheel’s design was the tendency to dump the rider over on his head whenever the bike encountered an obstacle in the roadway. Taking a header was common. The familiar expression originated in bicycling since applying the hand brake to stop the high wheel could also flip the rider over on his head. Riding downhill on a high wheel was especially dangerous.

Because of the dangers of the ordinary, women didn’t participate in bicycling except for a few who rode high-wheel tricycles. Tricycles eliminated many hazards for women and also for gentlemen who were less agile and sporting. Other developments in design of the high-wheel bicycle soon moved the larger wheel to the back and other inventions made high-wheel safety bicycles less prone to throwing the rider headfirst over the handles.

The development of the chain and sprocket allowed bicycles to evolve with wheels of the same size. This provided increased safety and efficiency for the rider. This immediately allowed women to use bicycles. Unfortunately, the early models did not provide any means of absorbing the shock of the ride. so it made for a choice between the comfort of the high wheel and the safety of the safety designs.

The high wheel safety bicycle came along later as a result of the hazards of riding high. Easily recognized because it has the small wheel in front, it eliminated the worry of taking a header but it had problems of its own. Most riders find it difficult, while its design makes it easy for a rider to tumble off backwards.

As bicycle designs evolved, the use of chains and gears enabled makers to eliminate high wheels and lower the eats. Tires, safety, convenience and efficiency improved, but Nichols maintains he seat is one thing bicycle manufacturers still haven't changed for the better.

The Air-Filled Tire
n 1888, an Irish veterinarian named Dunlop developed a pneumatic air-filled tire that provided both comfort and efficiency. Adding that to a new diamond frame and more efficient chain drives, the newly designed safety bicycle soared to new heights of popularity, especially among women. In fact, Susan B. Anthony in 1896 proclaimed, "The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the 19th century." The 1890s became the golden age of the bicycle and millions of bicycles were manufactured in that decade.

The "safeties” have many rare and valuable forms. For example, the Sanauizzis of 1910 had metal wheels with bamboo spokes. The lvoer's tricycles eventually became "bicycles built for two."

The era of the bicycle ended after the automobile arrived at the turn of the 1900s and the bicycle became more of a child's toy. The 1930s ushered in what collectors call the era of classic bicycles, which had a new balloon tire. The newer, more colorful and artsy designs appealed to kids because they included elements taken from automobiles and motorcycles, a reverse of what the bicycle had provided for the motorcycle and automobile in the 19th century. These classic bicycle designs are now extremely popular collectibles with baby boomers who have fond memories of their preteen years on their classic bicycle.

A bicycle built for two, the “Sociable” was only one of several variations of the somewhat dangerous but popular 19th-century high-wheeler, whose brakes were either nonexistent or very crude.

The bottom line for bicycle collectors is cost. High wheels typically cost $3,000 and up. Even a reproduction high wheel bicycle costs at least $3,000.

There's more to collecting bicycles than finding and buying them. While some people collect antique bicycles for display, others buy them to ride. A large group of collectors of antique and classic bicycles are constantly on the lookout for designs of yesteryear. These dedicated enthusiasts make regular visits to antique shops and shows, flea markets and auctions seeking ready-to-ride bikes and bike parts for a restoration project.

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