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Page 207. 1869 Velocipede Boneshaker (Replica)

1869 Velocipede Boneshaker (Replica)



There was a fashion throughout the earlier years of the twentieth century to manufacture replicas of the world’s first bicycle, the velocipede. This is not surprising, as labour was comparatively cheap, and more folks fancied riding one than there were originals available. Obviously, these days, it would cost far more to make one than to buy one already made.

I’m not sure how long ago this particular boneshaker was built. As with most blacksmith-and-carpenter creations, the manufacturing process is identical to the original process. (Even most of the ‘original’ velocipedes have generally had parts replaced over the past century and a half). I assume it must be at least fifty years old.

Before this velocipede is ridden, the spokes must be re-set. I bought it from a friend and he reports that the last time he rode it some of the spokes worked loose. It’s an easy job for a carpenter.

How often do you see one of these remarkable contrivances outside a museum? It’s an ideal machine for displays and exhibitions, and the occasional ride. Although velocipedes are obviously rideable, and fine for short distances, they require athletic ability for long distances and you generally need to get off and push them uphill.

It’s also a wonderful advertising museum to install in a shop window, or in the entrance to a prestigious suite of offices. Of course, if the size of your entrance hall allows it …can you think of a more amazing collector’s item to park next to the shoes, under the coat rack?
















This type of velocipede is one of the first bicycles, pre-dating the Penny Farthing.

In France, Ernest Michaux is considered the ‘father of the bicycle.’ He and brother Pierre added cranks and pedals to improve the earlier Draisienne bicycle. Though Pierre Michaux created much interest in France and America with this new-fangled ‘velocipede’ the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 hit French bicycle production at a vital time, with bicycle factories turned over to manufacture of armaments.

British manufacturers soon took over and British machines outnumbered those from other countries. The International Velocipede and Loco-machine Exhibition at Crystal Palace in September 1869 saw over 200 machines, from Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and America.

By 1885, James Starley had turned the velocipede into the ‘safety bicycle’ which is essentially the design of bicycle that endures to this day.


Being a bicycle that was eminently usable, the velocipede soon captured the public imagination. The weekly satirical magazine The Ferret lost no time in adding to comments of the day. Its cover of March 22nd, 1870, illustrates women riding velocipedes with extremely risque attire.


The picture below, from The Illustrated London News of 1883, is well-known.


At first the press did not fully appreciate the achievements of this new machine and what it meant for the future. However, soon everyone started to recognize the importance of this new mode of transport – a velocipede may have been expensive, but it did not need food and stabling like a horse. And it could be used for independent long-distance travel. It required athletic abilities for long journeys, was dangerous down hills, and it scared the living daylight out of other road users and pedestrians …but a velocipede is actually surprisingly reliable. The new bicycle trade flourished and velocipedes were raced extensively. In France, even women raced velocipedes. Below you can see the first ladies’ velocipede race (Le Monde Illustre, 1st November, 1868).



The American Harper’s Weekly (19th December 1868) covered the story too; but in their illustration, below, the women’s bare legs have been covered!














The ‘diableries’ are a contemporary series of stereoview cards using plasticine to create devilish scenes. You can imagine Victorians in their parlours in the 1860s viewing such images on their stereoscopes in the same way we’d watch ‘Wallace & Grommit’ on TV today.

Two of the series feature velocipedes. The first is ‘Course de Vélocipèdes’



 The other is ‘Les Pompiers de l’Enfer’ (The Firemen from Hell)