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Safety on Two Wheels

Makers modify the high-wheel design so it is safer to ride.

At the same time as they were making tricycles, cycle manufacturers continued to tinker with the basic ordinary design trying to make it safer and more stable. To accomplish this, they needed to lower the rider’s centre of gravity. In 1878 and 1879, two variations of the ordinary were introduced, the “Facile” and the “Xtraordinary” (810212), which moved the rider back behind the front wheel by putting the pedals on levers. This way the person was closer to the ground but could still reach the pedals of a large-diameter wheel.

Geared Facile, ca 1888

Along with tricycles, these two models dominated the market for safe cycles until the mid-1880s, when a new and improved adaptation of the high-wheel bicycle arrived on the scene. The “Kangaroo,” made by the British makers Hillman, Herbert and Cooper, reduced the size of the front wheel, allowing the rider to sit further back and still reach the pedals. To compensate for the smaller driving wheel, they added a gear-and-chain drive mechanism that made the wheel turn faster than the pedals. Within a year virtually all makers had their own version of the dwarf front-driver (as it was generically known) on the market. This design was also popular in the United States where Pope Manufacturing produced the “Columbia Dwarf Safety” (810213).

Columbia Dwarf Safety, ca 1880

Soon Faciles were being built with gears (810218) to compete with the more popular Kangaroo-type of cycle.

Another, less influential attempt to re-design the ordinary came from the United States around 1885. The “Star” (810215) looked something like an Xtraordinary turned backwards, with the small wheel in front and the large one behind. The rider sat above the rear wheel, which was driven by a lever and pedal system.

Star, ca 1886