LOVE’S VEHICLE IN THREE CENTURIES: THE REAR-STEERING TANDEM
As the illustration above (from the 22 August 1896 issue of ‘The Lady Cyclist’) will attest, while lovers in 1696 had to sit on a horse with the female pillion sidesaddle, and lovers in 1796 could trot along side by side in a two-wheeled carriage, the lovers of 1896 required no equine assistance whatsoever. Because they had a courting tandem. The lady sat at the front, with billowing skirt and feather in cap, while the chap (in matching hat and breeches) steered the contraption from behind.
A ‘rear-steering’ tandem combined a loop frame with a diamond frame, and was the dominant pattern of tandem from 1895 until the end of the century. Steering rods connected the rear handlebar to the steering head so that the gentleman retained control.
In fact, as you can see in the short video below (of me on a similar rear-steerer), it can even be ridden from the back without a front passenger.
1898 Orient Rear-steering Tandem
22″ Frame (rear); 20″ frame (front)
28″ Wooden wheels with tubeless tyres
Corbin Duplex Coaster Brake (1903 pattern)
Matching Ladies’ & Gents Christy Saddles
Sprung seat post (front)
This tandem was a state-of-the-art machine in its day. 122 years down the line it’s a rare survivor. What tales could it tell?
It’s in very good original condition all round and the only modification I can see is a homemade chainwheel cover on the front. I’m not absolutely sure if the paintwork is original or if it was repainted many decades ago and has now mellowed. It’s fully functional and ready to ride.
Cycle racing was the world’s leading sport in the late 1890s, and Waltham Mfg Co, makers of the Orient, was one of the top contenders, with the result that they enjoyed considerable success with sales of their bicycles. (I’ve read a report that they sold over 100,000 bicycles).
Nevertheless, the ‘bicycle boom’ ended in the USA in 1897 and, within a few years, nearly all American cycle manufacturers merged or liquidated. Waltham Mfg Co owner Charles Metz diversified into motorised transport and, in a deal with the French company De Dion Bouton, imported and sold their motor tricycles and quadricycles in the United States. Waltham Mfg Co then built their own motorcycles and automobiles, including the Orient Motor Pacer in 1898 which was used in cycle racing, and Waltham became one of the leading automobile manufacturers before the company was taken over in 1908.
The Orient rear-steering tandem design appears to have been unchanged between 1897 and 1903, apart from the addition of a chaincase and brakes. I’m not 100% sure of the age of the one featured here. It is fitted with a New Departure coaster brake that I think is a 1903 model, so it could have been sold as late as 1903. However, the tandem frame is identical to the 1897 illustration below and its porcelain headbadge was apparently made by the same company that supplied Iver Johnson with their porcelain head badges that were used on their 1898 models. So I’ve assumed a manufacture age of 1898.
The Waltham Orient head badge, with its porcelain centre, is surely the most ornate of any bicycle
WALTHAM CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
REAR STEERING LINKAGE: CLOSE UP VIEW
REAR STEERING TANDEM PATENT
1903 CORBIN NEW DEPARTURE DUPLEX BRAKE
WALTHAM Mfg Co MOTOR PACERS
Waltham Mfg Co were the first to produce a motorised tandem, in 1898, used as a pacing machine for racing cyclists. The first powered machines were generally known as motor bicycles. But, the following year, he described it as a ‘motor-cycle’ and that name stuck.
MATCHING LADIES’ & GENTS’ CHRISTY SADDLES
In the 1890s, as the safety bicycle became increasingly popular with women, men started to feel challenged by this new-found female freedom. Men suspected that the traditional bicycle saddle was a threat to ‘female purity’ – “The moment speed is desired the body is bent forward in a characteristic curve,” explained one physician. “The body is thrown forward, causing the clothing to press against the clitoris, thereby eliciting and arousing feelings hitherto unknown and unrealised by the young maiden.”
The result was the invention of the ‘anatomical’ or ‘hygienic’ saddle, essentially a design that removed the pommel. The Christy’ was the most popular type, and is nowadays the most sought-after among vintage cycle enthusiasts. Understandably, the female version was sold in much greater numbers, so the male version (illustrated below) is much harder to find, and a matching pair is very rarely seen.
WALTHAM Mfg Co RACING SUCCESSES
SPRUNG SEAT POST
A variety of sprung seat pillars came onto the market around 1899 in Britain, France and the USA. They were short-lived in their use on bicycles, as they were not popular – it’s a bit unnerving bouncing up and down on your saddle as you are riding along. And, as roads improved, they became obsolete. I don’t know the maker of the one used with this Christy saddle, but here’s a patent and a few advertisements for similar seat posts with suspension.
ORIENT MULTICYCLES & The 1899 ‘ORITEN’ (10 SEAT TANDEM)
The Orient pacing tandems were spectacular to watch, and were a major advertising coup for the company, helping to sell their bicycles and tandems to the public. The Oriten – with ten seats – is now on display at the Ford Museum in Detroit.
1898 PORCELAIN HEADBADGES: IVER JOHNSON & ORIENT