On the construction of velocipedes
Sir, I am desirous of offering some observations respecting velocipedes in reply to your correspondent “Evander,” if the subject should appear of sufficient importance to deserve a place in your columns. The first velocipedes were introduced into this country from France upwards of twenty years ago and the novelty of the machine excited a great degree of public attention at the time. The novelty soon passed away and their use excited so much ridicule, that they were speedily laid aside. This velocipede consisted of 2 wheels about 2 ½ or 3 feet in diameter, connected by a pole, one wheel being in front and the other behind. The rider sat on the seat across the pole and propelled himself by striking the ground alternately with his feet. The appearance of a man striding across a pole, it must be confessed, somewhat justified the ridicule which these machines ultimately excited. A second velocipede was introduced soon afterwards, invented by Mr Sievier, which was of far superior construction and appearance. It consisted of two wheels of about 5 or 6 feet diameter, between which the rider balanced himself on a seat; it was propelled in the same manner as the former and was constructed with a degree of lightness scarcely to have been expected. The public being tired of the matter, this machine was very little known and has probably been forgotten. Various kinds of velocipedes have from time to time been presented to public notice, almost all of which have been constructed with an utter disregard of the most simple mechanical principles. Most of them have been propelled by turning a winch with the hand and thus acting on the wheels. It has been entirely overlooked that mechanical labour is far less efficient than the progressive power of the feet and lower limbs, so that it was far more laborious to move a mile with one of these machines than to walk five. It was also forgotten that the class of persons who would be likely to use velocipedes would be speedily fatigued by any kind of labour or motion to which they had not been accustomed. Every kind of velocipede hitherto introduced has therefore remained a useless toy. The subject is, however, by no means exhausted and due attention to certain practical principles would enable a velocipede to be constructed of some real and practical use. Having paid considerable attention to the subject when they were first introduced, with a view to their improvement, I will detail, for the benefit of your correspondent, the result of my enquiries It appears that a very important power of producing motion has been entirely overlooked, or has been very inefficiently applied. I mean the weight of the human body. The average weight of a man is about 140 or 150 pounds and this judiciously applied, would give a power nearly equal to the average draught of a horse in drawing a light carriage. Let a carriage be constructed with two wheels of 5 or 6 feet diameter and with a third wheel of a smaller diameter placed behind, moving on a pivot, as in a garden chair. The axle of the front wheels is to be cranked and to these cranks stirrups are to be attached, on which the weight is to be thrown alternately. The motion has too much of the treadmill character to be agreeable and this carriage could only be used to enable a man to carry an invalid for exercise, for which purpose a light seat behind would be required and also four wheels instead of three. To render this motion agreeable, it could be contrived so as to resemble the exercise of riding on horseback. The stirrups are to be placed on the same crank and the rider is to throw his weight alternately from the seat to the stirrups. The seat is to be shaped like a saddle hinged in front and with a powerful and elastic spring under the back part. When the rider leans forward, a great part of the weight is taken off the seat, which throws him forward with his weight on the stirrups. By this means the fatigue of continuously rising from the seat is prevented, the action resembling that of rising in the saddle when on horseback. A third stirrup fixed on an opposite crank for occasional use would enable the first- described mode of progression to be used at pleasure, or when greater power was required. I will now describe that kind of velocipede, which I believe to be superior to any other with which I have become acquainted and which I believe, is capable of being rendered of considerable practical utility. It is but a slight alteration on the plan of Mr Sievier already described. Two wheels of about 6 feet diameter, of the lightest possible construction, are to be placed between 3 and 4 feet apart, connected by an axle board forward and carrying a seat properly balanced and raised a proper height. From both the back and front of this seat, a bar is to pass obliquely downwards. At the end of each of these bars a wheel is to be placed of from 12 to 18 inches diameter. These wheels are to reach within 6 or 8 inches of the ground. The rider is to have two stilts made of bamboo, or other very light material, extending from 18 to 30 inches below the feet; they are to have flat stirrups to support the feet and to be properly arranged in construction. It is obvious that each step of the rider would carry him many yards and the action would not be fatiguing, as he would balance his weight in the intervals. The two small wheels are merely safety wheels, as the rider loosing his balance would immediately rest on one or other of these wheels. A carriage of this description would enable a person to travel on a level road from 12 to 15 miles an hour. It would be of infinite value in such weather as we have had this last winter, or on the frozen canals of Holland and on a railroad, the wheels being adapted to the rails, information to be conveyed would enable from one point to another with the speed of a steam engine. By having four wheels it could also be used for taking out a lady, or invalid for exercise. I have omitted some minute detail of construction which would not interest the public, but if your correspondent requires more detailed information, I will forward it in any way desired.
Feb 10, 1841