2019 is the sesquicentennial anniversary (150 years) of the Velocipede. I still find it hard to believe that it’s possible to ride – and own – a vehicle so old, one of the very first operated by a pedal.
The velocipede was invented and first sold in France in the 1860s. But in 1870, France went to war with Prussia, and velocipede manufacture stopped. Britain took over production. Such was the response to this new craze that everyone with a blacksmith or engineering workshop got in on it and, within a year, the British cycle industry had been created.
By 1870, there was experimentation with the standard velocipede design, and some models from that year were built with slightly smaller rear wheels. These are known as ‘transitionals’ as they are partway between the velocipede and the ‘ordinary’ (penny farthing) that took over. The ordinary had metal wheels and tubing, so it was much lighter, and the front wheel diameter increased by 50% so it was also considerably faster.
It’s surprising how many velocipedes were built, and also how they’re all different. Of course, it was a matter of pride for a workshop to design a machine for riding, and for the blacksmith to create it. This one has some stylish touches, such as the curly rear fork. And the flat duplex backbone is an excellent design, well-suited to a production line.
I took these photos disrectly after the Transional arrived from France …direct from the celler where it was stored for decades. It’s very well-preserved, and in rideable condition. The rear wheel has a dusting of what appears to be whitewash over it. At first I thought it was repainted, but it wiped some off easily.
UPDATE: by coincidence, my friend has a similar machine: whereas mine is a transitional, his is a velocipede, and it has a maker’s plate …though unfortunately it’s quite worn and we can not decipher the name on it. I’ve added some photos of his machine at the bottom of the page.
1870 French Transitional Velocipede
Wheels: 88 cm & 63 cm (34.5” & 24”)
MY FRIEND’S VELOCIPEDE BY THE SAME MAKER
The similarities are the backbone and the way the lower part of the front fork splays out.