When the pedal propelled velocipede was invented in the 1860s, it was seen by the general public as a ‘difficult’ machine which required great skill in order to master the balance and propulsion. Circus performers rapidly adopted the velocipede and, by 1869, there were troupes of velocipede performers in the music hall and in the circus in many countries in Europe and in the United States.
By the 1870s these acrobats found that it was possible to balance on a single wheel and performances on a unicycle were given by a circus performer, Señor Scuri, on a solid-tyres unicycle specially constructed for him by Focke of Liepzig and now in the Technisches Museum in Vienna.
– Scotford Lawrence
Unicycles are an interesting – though generally overlooked – part of cycling history. The first unicycles were penny farthing bicycles with the rear end detached. Circus performers became skilled at adapting bicycles to suit their individual requirements. By the 1890s, after penny farthing production ended, performers turned to building more versatile unicycles with smaller wheels, driven by chain and separate pedals.
Initially ridden almost exclusively by performers, cycle manufacturers discovered the sales potential of unicycles in the 1960s and made smaller versions. As a result, children started to master the art of unicycling.
1930s Unicycle for Trick Cyclists
HEIGHT: 75 inches
This is an old-time circus bike, built in the 1930s. I’ve photographed it without its saddle because the one fitted to it was broken. The tube diameter is not the same as a seat post so I’m having an adapter tube fabricated. It will be replaced before the unicycle is sold.
It’s interesting to see BSA fittings used in this one-off circus bike. They were the best components available for building a bicycle. As an example, Maurice Selbach only used top quality parts on his machines, and you can compare the BSA fittings used in this unicycle with similar parts on the Museum’s 1935 Selbach Peerless Short Wheelbase Tandem.
1935 SELBACH TANDEM