Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=1953-251

The Tweed Run

As I’ve mentioned before, back in the Victorian age, the ‘ordinary’ bicycle, or penny-farthing, was the state of the art in cycle technology – and the height of fashion for brave men and women:

Lady and gentleman riding 'ordinary' cycles, 1874 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

As with most fashions, this one seems to have come around again. Earlier this month, 400 cyclists dressed in Edwardian and Victorian garb converged on London to take part in the twelve-mile 2010 Tweed Run.

I couldn’t make it myself, but judging by the many pictures on the web, these YouTube videos, and this Guardian write-up, it looks like a super time was had!

Whilst some chose to go retro in outfit alone, others took part on vintage machines too, including quite a few ordinaries.

The Science Museum has a splendid collection of about 150 bicycles, from the earliest days to the present. As we wait for next year’s Tweed Run, I thought you might like to see a few more of our historic machines…

Bayliss-Thomas ordinary bicycle, 1879 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Windsor 'ordinary' bicycle, 1878 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Singer 'Xtraordinary' bicycle, c.1884 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

These cycles, along with most of the rest of the collection, are in our store in Wiltshire. You can write to my Wroughton colleagues for an appointment if you want to study any of them, or if you want to see early cycles in historic context, come to the Science Museum and see the highlights.

Now, where did I put my plus-fours

Shaking bones and perilous penny-farthings

It’s 125 years since bicycles took the form that we know today. Then, cycling meant mobility in a world before mass motoring. Now, eyes are turning to cycling as part of a solution to urban congestion.

Transport for London is planning a turn-up-and-ride cycle hire scheme for the capital, going live this summer. One problem might be theft of the bikes. TfL’s response? “The bicycles will stand out as Cycle Hire bicycles. That way we hope people will think twice about stealing or damaging them.” You can see what they mean on the BBC website here.

Cyclists have long striven for lightweight and comfortable machines. New frame designs, gear arrangements, pneumatic tyres and suspension all helped in the development of the form we know today.

The ‘boneshaker’ was the first bike design with pedal drive to become popular. It was developed in France in the 1860s and widely taken up around the world:

Boneshaker bicycle, c.1869 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

'Boneshaker' bicycle, c.1869 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

The ‘ordinary’ or ‘penny farthing’ was used from 1870 to 1890. The idea of the big front wheel was to increase speed - but it also made it dangerous and hard to ride:

Ordinary bicycle, c.1878 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

'Ordinary' bicycle, c.1878 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Then the ‘safety’ bicycle was introduced in 1885. The diamond frame with chain drive to the back wheel was much easier and safer to ride, and turned the bike into a universal mode of transport:

Safety bicycle, 1885 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

'Safety' bicycle, 1885 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

We’ve examples of all three types in our Making the Modern World gallery, if you fancy a trip out this weekend…