In 1892, by which time the bicycle was an everyday sight in Victorian life, Henry Dacre composed a song that became immensely popular, both in the London music halls and in America. The lyrics featured a tandem - a bicycle made for two - and the Daisy he described was said to be based on the Countess of Warwick, Frances Evelyn 'Daisy' Greville. Daisy was a champion of women's rights, and also a mistress of the Prince of Wales, and her name is still well-known today from the chorus of Dacre's 'Daisy Bell' -
Give me your answer do!
I'm half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage,
But you'll look sweet on the seat
Of a bicycle built for two !
It is always surprising to the VV that, despite the invention of the wheel, it took so long for the bicycle to be invented. And, like so many other events that we tend to take for granted these days, the main development of the machine occurred in the Victorian era.
However, it is fair to say that its innovation dates back to 1817 when the German Baron, Karl von Drais, was to invent his 'Laufmaschine' - what was basically little more than a wooden, foot-propelled running machine.
A year later, the English version (above) was patented by Denis Johnson, and proved to be quite a craze at the time, though Keats called it 'the nothing of the day'. The fate of the 'pedestrian curricle' was to be one of ridicule. It was nick-named the hobby or dandy horse - due to the style of foppish young men who often used to ride it. And Keats was right when he surmised that its popularity would be short-lived. The constant pushing along the ground quickly wore out the soles of the gentlemen's shoes, and those riders persisting in using the sideways were frequently stopped and fined two pounds - which was quite an enormous sum at the time.
But, the Drais model led the way to future innovations. The first pedal-operated machine is believed to have been constructed in 1839 by the Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick MacMillan. Later, in 1861,the French carriage maker, Pierre Michaux, invented his famous 'Velocipede' which had pedals directly attached to the front wheel. This machine was nick-named the 'Boneshaker' due to the terrible vibrations caused by riding along upon rough roads with nothing beneath you but wooden wheels bound in hoops of iron.
That design was to metamorphise into what was called the 'High Wheeler', the 'Ordinary' or the 'Penny Farthing', where one wheel was a great deal larger than the other as a way of attempting to reduce the terrible trauma of shaking - and also the risk of wheels lodging in potholes. From the 1870s to the 1890s such methods of transport proved to be immensely popular - though it must have taken some nerve and skill to remain in place upon such a machine. Nevertheless, this form of travel could often move faster than a horse and afforded a measure of freedom that enabled many city folk to venture out into the countryside. The hobby of cycling was a popular pursuit, with clubs being formed for the sport - including church groups who used such a means as a method of spreading the word of Christ.
The real success came after 1890 when the 'Safety Bicycle' was produced, with brakes and gears and identical wheels which were cushioned on pneumatic tyres. This design has remained more or less constant and is very much the standard shape upon which we all wheel around today - though rarely on bicycles made for two.
ADDENDUM: The VV would like to add this small but charmingly illustrative film from the BFI which shows Victorian ladies on bicycles - as stately as any galleons.