Bicycling Beginnings- 1868-1870

You’re living in France between 1868 and 1870. I know you aren’t actually, but pretend with me for a moment. In this imagined scenario, you’re likely riding on a “bone-shaker,” as the English would later call it–one of the more uncomfortable forms of bikes invented.

With a rigid frame and iron-banded wheels, your morning commute on this unforgiving transport vehicle rattles the wooden teeth out of your mouth, or at least feels like it is. But no matter, because in this two year time period, this is the craze; and comfortable or uncomfortable, you’re going to be stylish.

An example of a serpentine style frame and front wheel pedals.

An example of a serpentine style frame and front wheel pedals.

Despite how shockingly cumbersome this bike-like machine is, it’s actually an easier ride than the initial designs, which used wood instead of metal—a much heavier choice and more difficult to maneuver. The choice for metal components was discovered by a pair of wealthy brothers who formed a bike manufacturing company called Michaux et Cie. Although both had the last name of Oliver, they were uncertain of their companies future, so chose to keep their presence in the venture quiet.

You may have gotten your bike from the Oliver brothers’ company, or perhaps you got it from one of the many other blacksmiths who jumped on the craze for profitability reasons. In order for a simpler design, blacksmiths outside the company didn’t use the serpentine frame of Michaux et Cie, and instead decided on a diagonal frame design. This proved to be stronger, and was soon adopted by the mother company itself.

A bike in the time period designed specifically for ladies.

A bike in the time period designed specifically for ladies.

Although you enjoy the new sensation of riding about with your own body power as the only engine to speak of, the pedals mounted on the front wheel make it difficult to steer. Also troubling is the quality of the roads you’re riding on with this rickety machine. There are certainly some pleasant streets, just look to the recently paved macadam boulevards in Paris. But if you don’t live in Paris, you’re likely riding on cattle roads–rife with potholes and poop. Sometimes being with the times means being tremendously uncomfortable.

But don’t worry, because this brief craze will end soon. Your country of France is about to go to war with Germany in the Franco-Prussian war, and wartime leaves little energy for new and exciting means for transportation.

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