Built by Ephrem Jean, France
39″ Front Wheel (1 metre)
32″ Rear Wheel
The builder of this rare French velocipede only came to light when the restorer stripped the paint from the frame ready for sand-blasting and zinc spraying. The maker had chiselled his name in the frame, and then filled it with white lead filler paint.
‘Jean’ is a pretty common surname in France; however, there was a well-known cycle and later motorcycle manufacturer in Paris of the same name. There’s no proof of any connection, but it’s possible that Ephrem Jean was a father or uncle of the founder of the cycle business which started in the early 1890s.
The restorer kept the machine as original as possible, so when he replaced the felloes (wooden rims) he retained the hubs and spokes; they appear to be made of rosewood or hickory. There are ‘shaker’ steam engine bearings to both wheels. The pedals are competent replicas of the Michaux pattern. There is a scratch in the paint at the front of the ‘moustache.’ The original handlebars and boxwood handlebar grips are in good condition, as is the rest of the machine. It’s ready to ride.
The first Michaud was similar to a draisine (hobby horse) with pedals and crank attached to the front wheel. The 2nd generation Michaud was built in 1868, and became the archetype for other makers. The Ephrem Jean velocipede, in common with over 150 makers of velocipedes in France, follows the design of the 2nd generation Michaud. You can see that it is a well-crafted machine, with flowing lines and elaborate joints.
Although nothing is known today about this builder of velocipedes, the French builders were invariably already connected in some way with the carriage trade or were ironworkers. Production was generally small, even for the larger companies. Various parts could be purchased from sub-contractors, allowing a manufacturer to concentrate on their own particular skill, which was usually the design and building of the backbone, the essential component to differentiate each machine from competitors.
This elegant Ephrem Jean machine follows the design of the 2nd Michaud patent (illustration above), so this is a high machine whose rider can not touch the ground. Ergonomically, this made it easier to turn the pedals, although it was harder to mount and start it: when learning to ride such a beast, new velocipedists often employed street boys for a few francs to hold the machine. To dismount, the rider would tilt the velocipede in the same way as is done with bicycles today. Riding schools sprang up everywhere to help enthusiasts become more accustomed to this new form of personal transportation.
JOSEPH ROUX: ‘COURSE de VELOCIPEDES’