Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=1956-170

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…