The Modern Bicycle (1869)

The Modern Bicycle.

Few of the men who have by their inventive genius, conferred great benefits on their generation, have lived to realize any personal advantage from their ideas and even their names are often lost in obscurity. Whether an enlightened posterity will ever consider the Bicycle as one of the great wonders of the 19th century it is impossible to say, but if they do, it seems not unlikely that they will search in vain for the man who first hit upon the expedient which has made the machine so popular. Like many other ideas which effect revolutions in physical science, it is of the simplest possible character, and the only wonder is that it never occurred to any one before. Instead of the operator pressing his feet against the ground at every step, as in the old velocipede, a pair of winches are fixed on to the axle of the front wheel, at a sufficient distance from the seat of the driver to enable him to work them with comfort and we have at once the whole secret of the modern bicycle. France claims the honour of the invention of this simple device through a manufacturer of Lyons, who is said to have first adopted it about the year 1850. If this were so and if the claim of France is to be entertained, some reason ought to be given for the fact, that ten or twelve years elapsed before the idea was adopted to any extent, in the country. America also lays claim to the invention of the winch-axle as lying nascent in a patent taken out in 1862 by one P. W. Mackenzie for what he calls “The Cantering Horse.” The upper part of this machine was shaped like a horse, but instead of propelling itself in the ordinary equine fashion, it appears to have moved on wheels, two before and one behind. Each of the front legs was fixed to the axle of the two foremost wheels and rests were provided for the feet of the rider, who was mounted in the ordinary manner. By pressing his weight upon the horse, the cranks turning the front wheels were depressed to their lowest level and then, by rising again and resting his feet on the rests provided, the animal rose and the wheels turned round. A steering handle connected with the hind wheel passed through the neck or head of the horse and thus the rider, by a similar motion to that required in ordinary horsemanship, was impelled forward. No evidence is given as to whether or not this peculiar construction was ever seen at work on American roads and if so, what the effect of the equine apparition was upon the genuine beast; but the patent seems now to have been revived and the patentee, or his assignee, has claimed a royalty from all American manufacturers of the bicycle and also an indemnity for those already sold. Neither the production of the Lyonese manufacturer nor of the American, appears however to have claimed any public attention prior to the furore for the modern bicycle, which set in, in the French capital a few years ago. It appears that in 1863 the denizens of Paris were much astonished at the performances of a French gentleman who appeared in the Place de la Concord and on the Quai d’Orsay mounted on a vehicle constructed with the winch axle. He seemed to disport himself with perfect ease and was attended by a kind of satellite on wheeled skates. Large crowds assembled to watch the gyrations of these gentlemen and every particular of the bicycle was eagerly inquired into. From that time the demand for the machine rapidly increased and notwithstanding the establishment of manufactories in every considerable town in the empire, it was found impossible to keep pace with it. The vehicle soon crossed the Atlantic and the streets of New York became as thronged as those of Paris with the new contrivance. It will be noticed that the new machine resembles the celeripede, so far as the position of the wheels is concerned, although it differs from it in almost every other particular. The heavy wheels of the former are here superseded by light American hickory or steel, and the wooden bar is replaced by a strong steel spring, upon which the rider is seated. The break is applied to the hind wheel by simply turning the handle in the operator’s hand and thus by a simple mechanical contrivance pressing a leather pad firmly against it. The style of construction adopted in the modern bicycle necessitates the employment of the very best materials, otherwise it is soon jerked to pieces and becomes useless; we should, therefore, advise such of our readers as are desirous of purchasing a bicycle, to make sure, so far as they may, of the soundness of its construction. A vehicle so lightly built and designed to carry twelve or fourteen stones over thirty or forty miles at a stretch, often of rough road, must be thoroughly well put together. We will enumerate a few of the better known velocipedes with the peculiarities attaching to each, and afterwards devote a chapter or two to the theory and management of the vehicle.  The spring on which the rider is seated ought to be made of the very best tempered steel, and the rest of the framework of wrought iron or brass. In some velocipedes the spring is quite straight, whilst in others, a slight curve is given to it, which besides imparting a graceful appearance to the whole is perhaps conducive to general strength. In many of the American velocipedes the handles are projected much farther back than in the English and French type, and thereby the seat of the driver is made somewhat more easy. It is asserted moreover that the American velocipede is both more durable and cheaper than the French type. It has another peculiarity in the framework being made of hydraulic tubing The bearings are all of composition or gun metal and as each part is made to a certain gauge, it can easily be replaced when worn out. The axle is also of a peculiar construction, constituting in itself an oil box, by being made tubular and closed at each end by a screw, on the removal of which it may be filled with grease or oil. This sort of axle is a decided improvement upon the ordinary kind which requires oiling from the outside, as impurities of various kinds are thus easily excluded.

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


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