One of the great innovations of the Victorian era was the velocipede, the human-powered vehicle. With the advent of the motor vehicle, roads had to be maintained to a higher standard. Less horses meant less horse apples on the roads. This made conditions perfect for the introduction of the bicycle and all its cousins, the velocipede.
Riding a bicycle in skirts in awkward and even dangerous, since trailing hems might catch in the spokes or chains. As the popularity of velocipedes grew, their were several strategies to get around this. Machines were made to accommodate people wearing skirts, though none were truly successful. Some machines were designed for to occupants – suggesting that the couple riding should be one man in trousers who would do all the work. And … bicycle outfits were designed that didn’t have skirts.
Then, apart from the scandal of women in trousers, people feared that riding a bicycle or velocipede would give them ‘Bicycle face’. I kid you not. Just as people were going to suffocate if a steam engine went faster that 35 miles an hour, riding a bicycle had its own risks … the one one acquiring a rictus from the daily use of a bicycle.
I must suffer terribly from ‘car face’.
Joking aside, the bicycle offered a new freedom that even the working class could aspire to. It was certainly a boon to city women, because bicycles were light and manageable and affordable transportation. It gave them a taste for independence.
The earliest usable velocipede was created by Karl Dras, which he first rode in public on June 12, 1817. He obtained a patent in January 1818. It was made entirely of wood and was limited well-maintained pathways. Then the Michaux brothers created a company to mass produce their version of the velocipede. It ran from 1857 to 1871, and this vehicle was sometimes known as the boneshaker. The boneshaker was made entirely of wood at first, then later it was made with metal tires. Metal tires on cobblestone roads … no need to guess where that name originated from! As technology was applied to the development of velocipedes, more comfortable machines were developed, until the machine was an all metal frame with rubber tires like the bicycles of today.
While young men were risking their necks on the high wheels like Penny Farthings, sensible women preferred riding the tricycle. Tricycles of the late Victorian era often had well designed brakes and steering systems.
In this modern era, we usually only see bicycles. I think it is a great shame. The variation on the different type of velocipedes would have made for a quirky sight on the roads. As a Steampunk writer, I can match the velocipede to the character, knowing that a reckless boy would prefer a Penny Farthing over a tricycle or quad-cycle. It is another way to add to a characterization by showing, not telling.