by Nancy DeWitt
Last week was "Bike to Work Week" in Fairbanks. Since I failed to live up to it, I thought I'd write about our budding bicycle exhibit instead. If you're wondering why a car museum has bicycles on display, bear with me.
Bicycle fever began brewing well before the first commercial automobiles were produced. Although the 'hobby horse' two-wheeler was invented around 1817, the velocipede (at left) was the first two-wheeler to be a called a bicycle and the first to powered by pedals. These were also known as 'boneshakers' for their rough ride (no doubt due to the wood and iron frame & wheels). Velocipedes first appeared in the 1860s and remained popular until around 1870. After much searching we've acquired a boneshaker for the museum and expect it to arrive soon.
Next came the highwheelers that many incorrectly assume were the first bicycles. The dramatically larger front wheel on 'an Ordinary' or 'Penny Farthing' allowed the rider to go farther with each revolution of the pedals, but highwheelers required much more skill and practice to ride. Around 1885 the 'Safety' bicycle appeared. These chain-driven bikes had medium-sized wheels of equal diameter and were the prototype for today's bicycles. You can see a highwheeler and several safety bicycles in our exhibit.
The bicycle craze was also responsible for the start of steel tubing manufacturing in the U.S. and the development of the modern brake drum and shoe, chain drives, variable-speed gears, freewheeling and pneumatic tires -- all of which would be put to use in automobiles. Even assembly-line mass production was employed by the bicycle industry, well before Ransom Olds and Henry Ford discovered its value. Despite these advances, riders eventually realized the limitations of bicycles and longed for engine-powered transport that offered the same freedom. Hello automobile!
http://fountainheadauto.blogspot.com/2009/10/new-arrivals.html or better yet, come see this exhibit in person!
1979. American Bicyclist and Motorcyclist: 100 (12)
1982. The Automobile's Bicycle Heritage. Automotive History Review: Vol. 15.