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The Velocipede

Pierre Michaux puts pedals to work.

The idea of attaching pedals to the front wheel of a hobbyhorse may seem pretty obvious today, but prior to 1860 most people believed that a rider could not balance for long with both feet off the ground. Several builders disproved this belief by adding pedals to the front wheels of velocipedes and by propelling, steering and balancing them successfully. One of these, Pierre Michaux, turned his version (810204) into a huge commercial success in France. Pierre Lallement, an expatriate Frenchman working in the United States, also patented a velocipede design that gave rise to a bicycle industry in North America.

Michaux Velocipede, 1869

This development marked the beginning of a new and even more widespread cycle craze.

Throughout Europe, the United States and even in the newly born nation of Canada, velocipedes, or boneshakers as the British soon dubbed them, grew in popularity.


A few boneshakers were probably imported into Canada in the late 1860s from the United States and Britain and locals were quick to set up riding rinks and schools. A specially adapted ice velocipede (810237) was even pictured in Canadian Illustrated News in 1870.

But the velocipede craze, like the Draisienne fad before it, did not last. These bicycles were not easy to ride. They were heavy, difficult to mount and steer and their speed was limited because one revolution of the pedals produced only one revolution of the front driving wheel. Unfortunately, the wheels could not be made much larger without becoming too hard to move. Yet the design provided the basis for further developments that sustained ongoing experimentation and modifications of bicycle designs into the future.