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A Quick History

1750 - Experimentations with three- and four-wheeled cycles began.

The Tandem Tricycle, a 3 wheeled cycle for 2 people.  there are two wheels at the back and one at the front.
The Tandem Tricycle

1817 - The Hobby Horse was invented, the first two-wheeled design. Its popularity was short lived as it had no pedals! The idea of a two-wheeled cycle was abandoned and experimentations continued with three-and four-wheeled designs.


Early wooden cycle with no pedals
Early Wooden Cycle (Hobby Horse)

1861 - The Velocipede appears. Two French brothers, Ernest and Pierre Micheaux, came up with the idea of adding pedals and a crank to the front wheel of the Hobby Horse. Cycles with two wheels had officially made a comeback.


The Boneshaker, early cycle with pedals attached to front wheel
The Boneshaker Bicycle

1870 - The Ordinary, also known as the 'Penny Farthing'. Immediately recognisable by its huge front wheel with long thin spokes. The front wheel became larger and larger as Victorian designers realised that bigger wheels allowed the rider to travel further for each pedal rotation. This machine was the first to be called a bicycle.


A two-wheeled bicycle with a large wheel at the front and a small wheel at the back.  The saddle is on top of the big wheel.
A Penny Farthing

What Were They Used For?

The early bicycles such as the hobby horse were used by the wealthy simply as a pleasurable pastime. It wasn't until late Victorian times that the design improved enough so that people could use them to travel comfortably and for them to be considered seriously as a form of transport. The Ordinary was used as a racing cycle. It could reach high speeds as there was no chain, which meant that all the riders' effort went straight into moving that large front wheel.

What Were They Made From?

The Hobby Horse and early Velocipede were both made from heavy wood. The Velocipede in particular was extremely uncomfortable, as the wooden wheels and metal rims caused the handle bars to vibrate!

In 1870 The Ordinary became the first all metal cycle to arrive on the scene. Its wheels now had solid rubber tyres.

How Were They Powered?

The cycle uses human power. The hobby horse was powered by simply pushing your feet along the ground but eventually pedals and crank were added to the front wheel meaning that human power could be used more efficiently.


Did You Know?

  • Early Velocipedes were so uncomfortable they earned themselves the nickname of boneshakers!
  • The Ordinary got its nickname of  The Penny Farthing from two old coins, the Penny and the Farthing (one large and one small, like the Ordinary's wheels).