The velocipede was a French invention, but Great Britain’s engineering base attracted the Michaud company who made the machines and, in 1869, they placed an order for the manufacture of 400 velocipedes with the Coventry Machinists Co for export to France. However, the French company was forced to renege on their order due to France declaring war on Germany.
Word soon got around other British engineering firms. Once the Coventry Machinists Co released the finished velocipedes onto the British market, many were immediately snapped up by other companies eager to copy them and gain a foothold in this wonderful new market.
In the winter of 1870/1871, Paris was under siege, its people starved, followed by an invasion by Germany and a new Government established. America, meanwhile, was recovering from their Civil War, which ended in 1865. So Great Britain therefore had no competition in the new bicycle manufacturing industry. And, after 150 years of the Industrial Revolution created on the back of the cotton industry, the country also had the beginnings of what we might now describe as a new consumer society, or middle class.
So there was a ready market for the velocipede in Great Britain as well as throughout the dominions of its Empire. In a matter of months this new boneshaker had caught the public imagination, hardy individuals were racing them against the clock in long-distance road trials, and schools had been set up to teach the country to ride a bike. Thirty five years later the horse and carriage would be replaced by motorised vehicles directly descended from the velocipede; and anyone who could afford it would be able to ride a bicycle.
(A Very Well-Made Replica)
36″ Front Wheel
30″ Rear Wheel
This velocipede is a full-size replica built to the standard of the original machines of 1869.
The saddle, is similar to, but a slightly different style from the basic c1869 pan saddle; and the brake, where it acts upon the rear wheel, is a good reproduction, but not quite as crude as those of 1869. The pedals are reproductions. However, a lot of originals have similar repro parts. So it’s not easy to tell that this is not an 1869 or 1870 original.
This is because so many were made by blacksmiths and small engineering companies, to varying standards, in 1869 and 1870 – and engineering methods have hardly changed in 150 years. Blacksmiths and wheelwrights, in particular, still use original techniques. Therefore a velocipede can still be built now in the fashion of the very first bicycles.
It is now only the cost involved that prevents these fabulous beasts being crafted in the 21st century. A set of wheels alone, whether a replacement set for an original velocipede, or an identical set for a repro machine, would set you back over £1200. Repro pedals such as those fitted here (also often used for original machines) cost around £300. That’s just two components of the overall machine; by the time you factor in all the other parts, you can see that making a new velocipede ends up costing the same as buying an original.
This machine is ideal for a museum display, but so this machine can also be ridden.
The wooden wheels are metal capped in original style.
The brake operates by turning the handlebar grip. The leather pulls the pivoting brake linkage forward, pressing its lower part onto the rear wheel to slow the velocipede down. It does not fully stop it! And leather is prone to snapping. But, of course, if you stop pedalling the machine stops too.