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' -

Daisy Daisy,
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 long time use of the wheel, it took so long for the bicycle to actually 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 really dates back to 1817, when the German Baron, Karl von Drais, created 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 initially to be ridiculed. 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 gentlemen's boots, and those riders persisting in using the sideways were frequently stopped and fined two pounds - which was quite an enormous sum at the time.

Michaux' Velocipede

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 trauma of the shaking - and also the risk of the wheels lodging in potholes beneath them. 

From the 1870s to the 1890s such methods of transport proved increasingly 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 became very popular indeed, 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 wheel around today - though rarely on bicycles made for two.

ADDENDUM: The VV would like to add this small but charming post which shows Victorian ladies on bicycles - as stately as any galleons.


  1. Hello, just found you through Stumble Upon. You have a lovely blog here.

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  3. What a delightful blog, I am so glad that I found you. Sea Witch

  4. Hello Smitten and Sea Witch - sorry it's taken me a little while to moderate the posts - but I'm so glad you've found me. Thank you!


  5. Great post.

    I love the Traralgon photo, not that far from Melbourne. It is good to see women using the bike for their own exercise and their own social life. Their dresses look a bit full to be really comfortable on board, but at least the bike offered them some serious independence.

  6. Thank you, Hels - I'm hoping to do a mini post on Rational Dress and 'Bloomerism' soon - and yes, the bicycle really did empower women and give them more independence.


  7. I'd always wondered why the Penny Farthing had caught on. The height of those things seemed so patently preposterous - but now I have read this ingenious potted history I know why people considered them a good idea. Will remember this every time I cycle to work from now on!

  8. I have a Photoe of Henry Dacre,it was taken in Scarborough in a studio he was a friend of my Great Grandfather

  9. How wonderful!if you ever wanted to email me a photo of the image I would love to post it here.


    1. When I was young my grandad sang it to me!!

  10. What amazingly wonderful photos! I loved reading this, it was a treat (just what I needed this morning as I try to work on a freelance job)

  11. Thank you, Lidian - sometimes I look through older posts that I'd forgotten all about - this one was fun to write.


  12. Beautiful Blog...found you via this post!

  13. Thank you Rickynow - so glad you found the VV.

  14. Hi Essie, this is a wonderful blog! So much great information. Thank you!


  15. It's lovely to hear that. Thank you, Red Writer.

  16. There is no reference in this otherwise very informative account to the Scottish born Belfast based inventor, John Boyd Dunlop, who invented air filled tyres - an innovation which has not yet been overtaken: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Boyd_Dunlop