1869 Velocipede (British)

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1868-70 was the heyday of the velocipede. This novel means of personal transportation caught the public imagination, and blacksmiths, carriage makers and wheelwrights across the country were inspired to construct either parts for velocipedes or complete machines.

French makers in this period are renowned for the high standard of their workmanship. Unfortunately, the Franco-Prussian War, which took place between 19 July 1870 and 10 May 1871, ruined the new velocipede-building industry in France, and production moved to England.

The International Velocipede and Loco-machine Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace in September 1869 saw over 200 machines, from Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and America on display. But it was so popular here that British production soon outnumbered that of other countries.

1869/1870 Velocipede
36″ Front Wheel
30″ Rear Wheel
Metal band tyres
(Now sold)
French velocipede manufacture stopped in July, 1870 when the war broke out between France and Prussia. The British bicycle industry was founded in 1869 and, as a result of the war in France, Coventry took over from Paris as the world centre of velocipede construction. British velocipedes were built to a high standard of engineering, though, in Britain, functionality took precedence over aesthetics.

This velocipede appears to have been manufactured in Britain between 1868 and 1870. The maker is not known. It’s an older restoration, with various repairs done to it over the years to keep it on the road. The wheels were built by a wheelwright around 30 years ago and are in good condition, so that this 151-year-old machine is fully functional and ready to ride and display.


The brake is activated by rolling the handlebar to pull the string; this allows the brake lever to pivot onto the rear wheel. It is an extremely basic form of braking …a more effective way to stop the velocipede is to stop pedalling.


At first the press did not fully appreciate the achievements of this new machine and what it meant for the future. However, soon everyone started to recognize the importance of this new mode of transport – a velocipede may have been expensive, but it did not need food and stabling like a horse. And it could be used for independent long-distance travel. It required athletic abilities for long journeys, was dangerous down hills, and it scared the living daylight out of other road users and pedestrians …but a velocipede is actually surprisingly reliable. Velocipedes were raced extensively. In France, even women raced velocipedes! Below you can see the first ladies’ velocipede race (Le Monde Illustre, 1st November, 1868).

The American Harper’s Weekly (19th December 1868) covered the story too; but in their illustration, below, the women’s bare legs have been covered!

The weekly satirical magazine The Ferret added to comments of the day. Its cover of March 22nd, 1870, illustrates women riding velocipedes with extremely risque attire.