Monday, November 09, 2009

Bikes: a quartet from the past

Me, I've always wondered just how one mounted one of these machines, called in its day a penny-farthing or ordinary bicycle, according to a brief history of the bike at Wikipedia. It evolved from a French improvement on the earlier version velocipede at about the time that Prescott was becoming a town, which is why one resides in the transportation building over at the Sharlot Hall Museum. Not surprising, there were other problems -- balancing oneself up that high, bad weight distribution, plus the fact that the rider had to steer with the front wheel, which also held the pedals. Multi-tasking, old-style, as it were.

A chain-drive working the rear wheel was a major improvement introduced with the dwarf safety bike. I presume that dwarf refers to the modern-sized front wheel which replaced the big wheel. The model at the museum, a sign explains, is a safety racer, circa 1898, manufactured by the Pierce Cycle Co. of Angola, NY. Tubular tires were held to the wooden rims of the wheels by glue and air pressure. No brakes, either. To stop, the rider rocked the bike onto the front wheel while locking his legs against the pedals. Another sign notes that in 1896, a local man raced 100 miles on the old Black Canyon road in eight hours. (Silly me, I didn't take notes so I don't know if he was pedalling uphill or downhill. Makes a difference -- 4000 ft. elevation change...))

This is the ladies safety bicycle, made by the Niagara Bicycle Co., shortly after the turn of the century. It features a dropped frame and guards to keep long skirts out of the chain and wheels. To stop, the "spoon" brake was pushed down onto the front tire. And, forever after, at least into my own girlhood days, bicycles for girls were always distinguished by the dropped frame (and were never ever as comfortable as boys' bikes. Grrr. I think that was the point at which I became a closet feminist.)

An early tandem bicycle (built for two) surely resulted in frustrating physical quarrels -- either rider could steer, so the sign says. The one time I shared a tandem bike with a guy was a great disappointment: pumping the machine felt like one was working to move both bodies, not just oneself!


Jarart said...

I love to go in there and see all the old ways of travel. Take a look at the bike that Brian posted today.

Granny J said...

jarart -- thank you, thank you. What a lovely site, reminding me that NYC is a lot more than rudeness, high style, and equally high expenses. He also has a pix of a penny farthing, which I added as a link in the original post.

Anonymous said...

And now, mountain bikers are the masters of the wilderness trails.

What an evolution!

~Anon in AV.

Kathleen said...

How fun - I not only wonder how one gets on that first one, but how one stays on! Definitely beyond my coordination =p

Granny J said...

anon av -- in my earlier life, those thin-tyred 10-speed bikes were the bees' knees. Here, their place has been taken by the mountain bike, of course.

kathleen -- that ny daily photo site had a link to a video that purported to show just that operation. Unfortunately, the link was broken. I suppose I could do the logical thing and consult with The Google.

Avus said...

Thanks for these, Granny. As you know, very much my scene.
The worst event on the penny farthing was the dreaded "nose-dive". The one brake acted like a spoon directly onto the front tyre. If this then locked, the wheel stopped but the bike and rider were revolved forward over the front wheel, his face mashing the ground from a great height and with some velocity. (The later small-wheeled chain driven bikes weren't called "safetys" for nothing!)

Granny J said...

avus -- I had hoped you would find this post, knowing your dedication to all things cycling. The dreaded nose dive sounds like a real bummer! I hoped you followed up on the links...

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