The Four-wheeled Velocipede (1869)

The Four-wheeled Velocipede.

After the Celeripede and the Dandy Horse had lost their popularity, public interest in manu-motive and pedo-motive machines seemed to flag and except the occasional productions of some ambitious mechanic, velocipedes were very rarely to be met with. The Crank Axle whereby a rotatory and perpendicular motion can be combined, is— strange to say—an invention of the present century, and very soon after its first introduction several attempts were made to utilize it in the production of pedo-motive machines. The form of construction which came into most general favour was that of a frame work and seat fixed upon four wheels, the first two of which were used for guiding the machine, and the hinder two, or driving wheels, having a cranked axle driven by treadles, placed upon levers working into the front part of the framework. The treadles were placed directly under the driver and by the alternate pressure of his feet downwards the axle was driven round. In front of the machine the driver grasped a handle which controlled the guiding wheels, and enabled him to turn it with great facility. Some of the contrivances were however much more complicated and allowed the hand as well as the foot to be employed in the working. In others of them the hands alone were brought into requisition and many were arranged to carry two or more persons. A four-wheeled velocipede worked by two operators, sitting back to back, and using both hands and feet, or hands only were probably, at the time, the most convenient. Since the invention of the crank axle, a number of patents have been taken out for machines, availing themselves of the principle, but differing amongst themselves more or less in minor details. Perhaps the perfection of the crank-axled velocipede may be found in one patented some four or five years ago and known as the “Rantoone.” It combines most of the excellencies of these machines and the friction is lessened by having only one driving wheel, instead of two. It may be worked by the hands and feet together, or by either separately, and by merely turning the handle in the drivers right hand, the control over the machine is perfect. The Rantoone calls into play so many muscles of the body and the speed attained by it is—considering the great friction necessarily attending it—so considerable, that perhaps we can scarcely look for much further advance in crank-axled velocipedes. The expenditure of power in driving crank-axled velocipedes is of course very great, yet as it is distributed amongst many muscles, a considerable speed—say eight or ten miles an hour— may be sustained on a hard road for a considerable length of time. In working down-hill it is often found that the exceedingly rapid motion of the levers is very exhausting, and the work required to ascend a hill of steep gradient is also very severe. Yet some of these velocipedes have been in use in Wales and amongst the hills in Northern India, and their capacities are very highly spoken of. As in every other kind of velocipede a great deal depends upon the road. Where it is paved, or hard and level, locomotion is comparatively easy, but when covered with loose granite or in streets paved like the streets of some of our Northern towns with round boulders, progress is almost impossible. We have seen two men mounted on a lightly-built four-wheeled velocipede descend a hill so paved, and we have seldom seen mortals deserving of greater commiseration. It was probably in a four-wheeled velocipede that Faraday was accustomed some thirty years ago, to work his way up and down the steep roads near Hampstead and Highgate. This machine appears to have been of his own construction and was worked by levers and a crank axle in the same manner, as the rest of the four wheeled class. Besides the crank-axled velocipede there were one or two other somewhat remarkable looking constructions, which excited a good deal of comment, and were attended with a greater or less degree of success, after the dandy horse had ceased to excite public interest. One, and perhaps the most notable of these, was built on much the same principle as the go-cart of our childhood. It possessed only two wheels, generally some five or six feet in height. In the axle connecting these wheels was a cushioned ring inside which the driver stood, and a small framework on each side supported his arms when propelling the machine. The vehicle was moved by simply running along the ground and resting the body between each stride upon the cushioned ring and framework. The whole apparatus simply amounted to an arrangement for taking very long strides, and it was attended with all the inconveniences in the wearing out of shoe leather, splashing and fatigue of the operator which belonged to the old celeripede. In ascending hills, it was often the work of a galley slave to force this two wheeler up and woe betide the rider, if it should start backwards and take him with it! It is superfluous to say that this machine never received any large share of public support; here and there might be found men willing to undertake the labour of .driving it, but the generality of reasoning mortals much preferred to take their exercise on foot. We may indeed say that with the exception of one or two absurd machines of this character the whole period in velocipede history, ranging from the decline and fall of the celeripede to the rise and establishment of the bicycle is illustrated only by machines constructed with the crank axle. In addition to those requiring the use of the hands and feet, others were invented in which the power was applied by oscillating the body from side to side. One ingenious inventor indeed went so far as to contrive an arrangement whereby the hands should work one set of levers, the feet another and the whole body should rock from side to side in concord. If men were jointed with steel or were even as muscular as the sons of Anak such a machine would be calculated seriously to exhaust the frame; but adapted to ordinary frail mortality it seemed a burlesque  exercise, and was in all an instrument of torture worthy of the Inquisition and eminently well calculated if persevered in, to reduce the strongest human organization to pulp.

The velocipede, its past, its present & its future,J F Bottomley (1869)

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