1880s Mergomobile Youth-size Wooden Bicycle
Rear wheel 19.5″
Front wheel 17.5″
The Mergomobile is a strange contraption, powered by treadles, cables, pulleys, and a ratchet and pawl mechanism. It seems the first examples were made in Germany around 1877, followed by France and then, in the 1880s, in America. It looks to me like the American examples have a solid frame, while the European frames have two large rectangular holes in the frame.
This is an American one. I bought it in a US auction 6 years ago. Unfortunately the auctioneer’s description was inadequate (like usual) and there was only one photograph, showing its left side profile. When I eventually received it, I was pleased to see that it had a plaque on the side with its name. I was not pleased, however, when I realised that it only had one front lever! So I had one made: you can see the that it’s a good copy, though a different colour.
I did not get around to varnishing the bike or setting up wires or string to illustrate how the rear hub is turned to propel the machine forward. Otherwise, it’s a well-preserved and very rare surviving example of this obscure piece of cycling history, and it deserves to be on display in a museum.
Not a lot of information is available regarding the Mergomobile. The name suggests German origins. The book Veteran Cycles (compiled by Ray Miller) states: ‘An interesting machine built for a teenager c1880. Both wheels fitted with solid rubber tyres. Powered by treadles, cables, pulleys and ratchet and pawl mechanism.’ It illustrates the example above that was formerly in the Cheddar Museum (since closed), which had a spoon brake on the front wheel and a sprung front fork mounting.
The example illustrated below suggests a manufacture year around 1875. It seems a bit more primitive, so perhaps it’s an earlier one? It also says it’s French. I’ve also seen a picture of one that claims its origin as American. So it’s likely that they were originally German, but copied in various other countries.
MERGOMOBILE IN A FRENCH MUSEUM
In the 1970s the island of Staffa, off the coast of Scotland, issued a series of stamps featuring iconic historic bicycles. The Mergomobile was one of the models they illustrated (above).