The Safety Bicycle

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When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope seems hardly worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought of anything but the ride you are taking. I have myself ridden the bicycle most during my practice as a physician and during my work in letters. In the morning or the afternoon, before or after work, as the mood o’ertakes me, I mount the wheel and am off for a spin of a few miles up or down the road from my country place. I can only speak words of praise for the bicycle, for I believe that its use is commonly beneficial and not at all detrimental to health, except in the matter of beginners who overdo it.

– Dr Conan Doyle, Scientific American, 18th January, 1896

I’ve got no horse to feed,

I’ve got a velocipede.

When the first velocipedes hit the roads in 1869, most observers did not think they would displace the humble horse as primary means of transportation. But everyone did see the advantage of not having to feed them. The first ones were not cheap, so ownership was restricted to the well-heeled (and fit). After a few years of exclusivity, increased availability of new and used velocipedes reduced the market price and attracted what we might now call the ‘boy racer’ type of rider. After a fast ride from town-to-town, a velocipede rider would traditionally throw his wooden steed into the pond in front of the pub while he recovered from his journey with some ale. In direct competition with the velocipede, a more refined style of personal transportation soon evolved: the tricycle. Tricycle riders would congregate in Hyde Park and, after a ride to display their machines and their fashionable attire, they would stop for tea. These social divisions regarding personal transportation eventually evolved into the the difference between cars and motorcycles.

Subsequently, the Ordinary – also known as a ‘Penny Farthing’ or ‘High Wheeler’ – attracted enthusiasts of all social classes, but still restricted the pleasures of cycling to young, athletic and expert riders. As a result, demand for safer alternatives which required less skill grew steadily. The ‘safety bicycle’ is defined as one with smaller wheels, about equal-sized, and a chain and pedal drive to the rear wheel. After the invention of the safety bicycle in 1886 and Dunlop’s introduction of the pneumatic tyre in 1888, and with various subsequent refinements, the basic machine was created that anyone could learn to ride.

By the 1890s, bicycle design had improved sufficiently to inspire a new industry, with a heyday of cycling around 1895 to the early 20th century. At first, the pastime became a fashionable craze and anyone who desired to stay up-to-date purchased and rode a bicycle. Landed gentry had them brought round to the hall-door as if they were horses; shop girls were proud to do their own polishing and small maintenance jobs. Machines paraded in Hyde Park daily according to the weather, just like the horse addicts on Rotten Row; villages became filled with passing cyclists – the only traffic worth talking about since the growth of the railways emptied the roads fifty years before; the Cyclists Touring Club did great work inspecting and recommending hotels and inns for cyclists’ use, advising on routes and repairers, providing maps, road books and periodicals as they had already done for twenty years.

At first, few people thought of the bicycle as a means of getting to work – few people indeed lived more than a mile or two from their jobs, and a walk did everybody good. Bicycles were for pleasure, and for those who could afford them. A large proportion of these were women.

This area of the museum celebrates the introduction of the SAFETY BICYCLE, exploring its development over 30 years until World War One. The designs that had evolved by that time stayed virtually unchanged for the following half a century, and are essentially the same as today’s bicycles.



This revolutionary new form of independent transport was a major influence in changing attitudes, empowering women and also the working classes. The 1890s was the most interesting decade of bicycle design. This was a time before cars and motorcycles, when bicycles were king of the road. You can read about that era here, before following up your visit to any of the other areas of the Online Bike Museum.

Enjoy your journey through the 1890s …and don’t forget to return soon 🙂

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.

– H.G. Wells, 1896

These Online Museums are a public database. You are free to use any image here and also my text. The etiquette of the non-commercial sharing of information on the internet requires adding a link to the source of whatever we use. Commercial use is obviously frowned upon: I’ve spent years learning and researching to be able to compile these websites. Since 2007 (in addition to running my own business) I spend more than 40 hours a week on the computer to create, manage and update these sites. Thank goodness for insomnia and a patient wife and daughter.

I was initially inspired by Andrew Pattle and his pioneering work in creating an online vehicle database. I’ve been helped and inspired by many friends, particularly Patrick Fort, who introduced me to vintage bicycles, Dom Reid who showed me how to blog, and fellow collectors, restorers and archivists: James Peatling, David Higman, Ricky Howard, Ray Miller, Doug Pinkerton, Paul Adams, Rod Safe, Alan Bond, Lorne Shields, Phil Saunders, Tony Hall, Alain Touchet and Barry Sharman, each experts in their own field. Unfortunately, I never met bicycle historian Gerry Moore: he published many excellent articles in Boneshaker magazine and, in 2010, I purchased most of his research material to add to my collection. Gerry was a prolific researcher and writer and, with the blessing of his family, is now introducing his material to the public domain.

My other inspiration has been keen cyclist and author H.G. Wells, pictured below with his wife Jane on their ‘lady-front’ tandem, which they rode from Woking to Cornwall. I carry a copy of his 1895 book The Wheels of Chance in my pocket whenever I ride my safety bike.

There’s no advertising on any of these museum websites …apart, of course, from vintage adverts. The only commercial link is to my business – – where I sell obscure vintage vehicles worldwide and provide an additional public database for motorized machines. I can only buy more bikes by selling others in my collection.

The V-CC archives and Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia have been invaluable resources: these ongoing projects are becoming the world’s primary source of information on vintage bicycles. The V-CC’s system of marque enthusiasts is unrivalled throughout the world. I recommend every vintage bicycle enthusiast to join the V-CC to access these (and many other) excellent facilities.


copyright 2010

My hero H.G. Wells with his wife Jane