The 6 April 1869 patent for this monocycle is one of the first records for such a machine; several similar patents were registered by other inventors around the same time, maybe slightly earlier. The heavy wooden wheel was not ideal for acrobats to perform tricks, and its concept as a riding machine, as an alternative to a two-wheel velocipede, was not successful. Nevertheless, many patents were lodged to try to ‘double guess’ the way new inventions might develop; because a two-wheeled machine was successful, one and three-wheeled versions would be patented to make money out of potential subsequent developments. However, a monocycle was not made commercially, and those that were created by trick riders as one-off machines did not need to pay patent duty.
The monocycle is the ancestor of the unicycle; and early monocycles were often called unicycles. After the ordinary (penny farthing) became popular, new styles of monocycles were invented and patented, but these involved the rider suspended in the middle of a giant wheel, the whole rotating around him.
1891 Performers/Trick Riders Monocycle (aka Unicycle)
with Adjustable Handlebars
40″ Wheel, with 2″ Pneumatic Rim
An interesting innovation on this monocycle, and no doubt useful for its trick rider, is the adjustable handlebar, which could fold forward, presumably allowing a greater range of tricks.
There is no saddle: the rider stands on the pedals.
The wheel rim is a Westwood with a hole for the inner tube valve. Pneumatic tyres were made for these bicycles between 1891 and 1892. The du Cros family owned the patents for both Dunlop tyres and Westwood rims. Pneumatic tyres were very expensive in the first few years of production, at least a quarter of the cost of a bicycle; so most purchasers opted for solid or cushion tyres. Pneumatics were lightweight, so ideal for racing, but not many pneumatic ordinaries were made for the general market, and there are now few survivors.
ABOVE: UNIQUE ADJUSTABLE HANDLEBAR
these illustrations with thanks to – ‘Unicycling: from beginner to expert’ by Sebastian Hoher
If you look carefully at the above photo, you can see that the machine being ridden is actually a monocycle, and the small wheel behind it is in the background, being a rear wheel of a bath chair.
A PAIR OF TRICK RIDERS’ MACHINES:
45″ DETACHABLE ORDINARY & 40″ MONOCYCLE (UNICYCLE)
JOHN BOYD DUNLOP
John Boyd Dunlop was born in Dreghorn, Scotland. After studying at the University of Edinburgh, he became a veterinary surgeon and practiced for ten years at home before moving to Downpatrick, N. Ireland, in 1867 to establish the Downe Veterinary Clinic with his brother James. He later moved to Belfast.
His invention of the bicycle inner tube apparently occurred by chance. In 1888 his small son was prescribed cycling as cure for a heavy cold. W. Edlin & Co gave him a Quadranttricycle without wheels for his son. Dunlop experimented with the boy’s tricycle by fitting wheels with inflated tubes made of canvas and bonded together with liquid rubber. He patented this idea in 1888, using the word ‘pneumatic’ for the first time, and W. Edlin and Co manufactured frames to fit the new tyre.
The captain of the Belfast Cruisers Cycling Club, Willie Hume, was one of the first to buy a bicycle fitted with pneumatic tyres. On 18th May 1889, Hume won all four events at the Queens College Sports in Belfast, and subsequently all but one of the cycling events at a Liverpool meeting. The tyre attracted much publicity. Bicycle manufacturers were working assiduously to reduce the weight of the recently-invented ‘safety bicycle’ and the pneumatic tyre became a crucial element of its development.
Dunlop’s patent was later declared invalid on the basis of Robert William Thomson’s prior patent. But Thompson’s patent duly expired. In 1890, Charles K. Welch patented his detachable tyre, the rights to which Dunlop promptly bought.
In 1895, Dunlop resigned from the company that bears his name to this day. The company also retained the use of his face as a trademark, which in certain African markets was taken for that of Christ.
John Boyd Dunlop died in Dublin in 1921.
Unicycle history –
Photo location: with thanks to the Theatre Royal, Brighton