The French army began experimenting with cycling infantrymen in the late 1870s; by the 1890s it had formulated official regulations on military cycling that covered the organization and responsibilities of corps of infantry cyclists, who were principally to be used as liaison officers transmitting orders and other communications. To maximize the bicycle’s wartime utility, in 1890 Captain Gerard, the leading French advocate of military cycling and the commander of the cycling company based in Saint-Quentin, designed a folding bicycle that soldiers carried on their backs over unfavourable terrain. After rigorous testing, a military commission d’experience concluded that the folding bicycle was ‘good for wartime use.’
The increasing importance and potential contributions of military cycling were officially recognized in 1901, when cycling infantrymen paraded down the Champs-Elysees during the July 14th celebrations and Gerard himself was received by the president of the Republic. Four years later Gerard, now a major, was in command of a battalion of four companies of cyclists. In October 1913, as war loomed ever closer, the French army created ten groups of chasseurs cyclistes, each of which had four hundred men.
‘The Tour de France: A Cultural History’ by Christopher S. Thompson
In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the British, American, French and German armies assessed the use of bicycles in warfare.
The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 had led indirectly to the sale of velocipedes taking off in England: The Coventry Machinist Company had been commissioned to build a batch of velocipedes for sale in France, but the war in France meant they were sold in England instead. Such was their popularity that the British cycle industry was created to cater for the demand. That war was obviously too early to test the use of bicycles. Though armies investigated their use, it was not until the 2nd Boer War that they saw regular use under war conditions. There was strong resistance in the British Army to the use of bicycles, as Cavalry officers were worried about their divisions becoming obsolete. But the French army were receptive to the idea of the military use of bicycles, and thousands of Captain Gerard folding bicycles were made for army use.
From the New York Times, 27th September 1896
1899 BICYCLETTE PLIANTE PEUGEOT ‘SYSTEM GERARD’
(Peugeot Captain Gerard Folding Bicycle)
Frame No 57588
26″ Wheels fitted (originals 24″)
Although they were initially made for the military, Peugeot also marketed the Captain Gerard Folding Bicycle to the civilian market from the start of production; in the 1901 catalogue further down the page you can see illustrations of men, women, children and even priests riding them. (They were particularly suitable for priests who, with their long cassocks, had a similar problem to women when riding bicycles).
One disadvantage of riding an original Captain Gerard folding bicycle is that the original 24″ wheels have an obsolete tyre size; so to make them ridable the wheels must be replaced with 26″ wheels. That is what has been done on this example (the original wheels have been retained). It has normal pneumatic tyres and a fixed wheel sprocket and it rides well.
You can see the remains of paint on the bike; this particular machine was one of three identical Captain Gerard bicycles displayed together on the route of the Tour de France in 2012, each bearing the colours of the tricoleur. This one was painted white. Although the general population of Great Britain has little appreciation of our country’s industrial heritage, the Peugeot Captain Gerard is considered an icon of historical importance in France.
1901 LA BICYCLETTE PLIANTE et PORTATIVE SYSTEM du CAPITAINE GERARD
THE GERARD-MOREL PATENT
Quite a few historical texts claim that the French military invented the first folding bike. In particular, a French military officer named Captain Gérard is given credit. This simply was not true but there is an fascinating story behind this misnomer. A complete telling of the story is in a book entitled “Charles Morel – constructeur dauphinois sous la troisième république”. Since it is in French, here’s the short version: Charles Morel, a wealthy French industrialist, became enamored with the relatively new bicycle craze and devised of a folding bicycle and built a prototype in 1892. Independently, in 1893, a French army lieutenant named Henry Gérard imagined the use of a folding bike by the army and filed a patent for one through his father-in-law Henri Noêl on June 27, 1893. The problem was that this bike was deeply flawed and basically didn’t work. While looking for help to fix the design flaws he was introduced to Charles Morel. Mr. Morel showed his prototype bike to Gérard and suggested that he meet with one of his mechanics named Dulac and get his help in perfecting a working folding bike design. Dulac was successful in this endeavor so on Oct. 5, 1894 Charles Morel and Lieutenant Gérard entered into an agreement to manufacture and commercialize a folding bike. Morel would finance and oversee the manufacturing and Gérard would promote it. Production of the bike began in April of 1895 and it was an immediate success with orders quickly exceeding production capacity. In October of 1895 a retail store was opened in Paris to sell the bike to the public. Gérard was tasked to market to the French military which were subsequently supplied with 25 test bikes. The Romanian and Russian armies placed orders as well. Lieutenant Gérard was successful in selling the idea of using folding bikes to the army and was ultimately put in charge of a regiment of folding bike equipped soldiers and was eventually promoted to the rank of Captain, largely because this folding bike. Charles Morel let Gérard become the public face of their folding bike joint venture, leading everyone to believe that Captain Gérard was the father of the idea when in fact Mr. Morel had the idea first and completely financed the venture. After a while Captain Gérard started to believe this hype himself and sued Mr. Morel for what he though was his fair share of the profits. This caused a falling out between the two men culminating in the dissolution of the partnership. The patents for the folding bike were eventually sold to a consortium of Peugeot, Michelin, and the French army and they took over production of the bike in 1899. This folding bike first appeared in the Peugeot sales catalog in 1899, which has led some historians to erroneously believe that it was invented by Peugeot.
So what became widely known as the “Captain Gérard folding bike” was not actually the first folding bike, since Emmit Latta’s bike preceded it by a number of years, nor was it actually invented by Captain Gérard. However, it probably was the first folding bike manufactured in relatively large volume. I was able to find a patent application made in England for the “Captain Gerard folding bike” dated January 18, 1896 (two years later than the French patent mentioned). Henry Gérard is listed as the co-inventor on the patent along with Charles Morel.
[This info thanks to – http://www.foldingcyclist.com/folding-bike-history.html]