The 1880s and 1890s saw the unstable ordinary or ‘penny farthing’ giving way to the chain-driven smaller wheeled safety bicycle. Mikael Pedersen – a Danish inventor who by 1893 was living in Dursley, Gloucestershire – took out a patent in the same year for a very different design of bicycle weighing only nineteen pounds.
Pedersen had been a cyclist for twenty years and had found seats very unsatisfactory. He therefore developed a hammock type saddle and tried fitting this to current frames before devising his own frame to carry the saddle. The first machine had hickory wood stays, and it is said that these were bound to the joints with fisherman’s twine. All later models used metal tubing, sometimes of remarkable lightness.
Pedersen did his best from 1893 to 1899 to interest cycle manufacturers in his machine, but with limited success. Critics said it lacked lateral strength, its fixed handlebar and saddle heights were inconvenient and its price was too high. However, others praised its strength, lightness, robustness and comfort.
Production of machines in Dursley began in 1897, while other companies made them under licence. In 1899 he joined forces with Robert and Charles Lister to create the Dursley Pedersen Cycle Company. Sales never reached predicted levels as prices were always high compared to other makes – in 1903 when a B.S.A. gents bicycle could be bought for £3, the cheapest Pedersen was £17-17-0. Most machines were therefore bought by the well-to-do.
Pedersen invented a 3-speed hub gear in 1902 and this was put on production models in 1903. Pedersen modified the friction clutch for over a year before he turned to toothed drive. The long delay led to voluntary liquidation in 1905 and a take-over by R.A. Lister and Co. Pedersen then had little to do with the machine but draw royalties. The manufacture of Pedersen cycles ceased in Dursley in 1914 although they were still sold, and perhaps made, in London until 1922.
Mikael Pedersen was a brilliant inventor, but it took over a century before his famous machine was afforded the iconic status it deserves. In the 21st century the Dursley Pedersen has become one of the most sought-after and collectible vintage bicycles. But at the time – in common with most cycle manufacturers – the company was beset by financial difficulties, and marketing was made more difficult as the high cost of manufacturing made it an expensive bicycle.
It had a relatively short production run, with manufacture ending in 1914.
Many cycle companies ceased production at the outbreak of World War 1, most turning their factories over to war production. Of course, most of their staff enlisted, and there was a serious shortage in the country’s labour force. Sales were also obviously seriously disrupted. This combination of factors led to company failure in many instances.
According to known records, Dursley Pedersen’s final batches of machines are believed to bear frame numbers up to 7800. This Cantilever machine, with a frame number of 7190, comes from the last year of production.
1914 Dursley Pedersen No 5 Cantilever Standard
With Dursley Pedersen 3-Speed Frictionless Gear
Frame No 7190 Size 5
This Dursley Pedersen, from the final year of production, is a size No 5, ideal for a rider with an inside leg measurement around 33 inches.
It has been in dry-storage since the 1970s when the saddle was replaced and new tyres were fitted. It’s in very good unrestored condition throughout, with a solid frame, and the three-speed gear functions well. Apart from the replacement saddle and tyres, it is in its original state.
My friend first saw this machine in 1993, when it was owned by a clock collector, and he recently managed to buy it from him. A close inspection reveals a small dent in the top of the chaincase. The tyres pumped up. As well as a service to check everything before riding, it needs a good clean, as it has gathered a lot of dust during its recent decades of standing among a collection of old clocks. This is a good opportunity to buy an unmolested original Pedersen for display or riding.
1910 DURSLEY-PEDERSEN CATALOGUE
DURSLEY PEDERSEN PRODUCTION & FRAME NUMBERS
DURSLEY PEDERSEN FRICTIONLESS THREE-SPEED GEAR