In 2017, it's been 200 years since the very first bicycle, invented by Karl Drais, was patented in Germany. Time to take a look at some historic cycle designs that are as curious as genius (or utterly stupid).
1. Karl Drais's Dandy Horse
The first bicycle-like vehicle was the Laufmaschine ("running machine"), later called velocipede or draisine, invented by Karl Drais in 1817 in Germany. It was nicknamed “dandy horse”.
The Laufmaschine was the first vehicle that allowed fast, horseless transportation. But rutted roads were difficult to balance on, and dandy horse riders were forced to take the sidewalks. But because they moved far too quickly (~15 km/h), pedestrians were endangered, complained, and the dandy horse lost its popularity.
2. Frederick Myers's UnicyclE
In the 19th century, various ways of horseless transport were tested. It was said that riding a unicycle was less tiring then a bicycle. The first patented unicycle was issued in 1869 by Frederick Myers. In contrast to the dandy horse, the unicycle is driven with pedals with which the cycle can be moved. The rider sits on a saddle on top of the wheel.
3. The Ice Velocipede
Actually this is a genious idea and I can’t say why it wasn’t successful. The ice velocipede (as appearing in the book Velocipedes, Bicycles, & Tricycles, by Velox, 1869) was intended to be used on ice or frozen snow. The wheel is armed with sharp points to prevent the wheel from slipping. Instead of back wheels, the machine has two large skates.
4. Hemming's Flying Yankee VelocipedE
In contrast to the unicycle, riders of a monowheel sit within in the wheel instead of on top of it. Nowadays, monowheels are mainly used for entertainment purposes, but Hemming's Unicycle, also called the Flying Yankee Velocipede, was a serious monowheel patented in 1869 by Richard C. Hemming. The rider drives the vehicle by moving a combination of smaller wheels that press against its inner rim by hand.
5. Croft's motorized tricyclE
M.E. Croft designed a motorized tricycle that can be steered with the feet. The sticks the driver holds are probably for balance purposes, sind the machine seems to be riding real fast – looking at the fluttering beard of the depicted person. The machine was patented in 1877.
6. Oldreive's giant tricycle
Oldreive’s tricycle or New Iron Horse was a (hideous) example of a tricycle. Tricycle were thought to provide better balance than bi- or unicycles, but never had their breakthrough. Looking at the picture, I’m sure you can imagine why.
7. Lose's foot-driven monowheel
Besides Hemming's one, more variations of monowheels were patented in the second half of the 19th century. One of those was that of J.O. Lose, patented in 1885, which was a foot-driven one.
8. Hachenberger's suicide machinE
It’s not exactly clear why American inventor S.T. Hachenberger thought a way of transportation that combined the risk of a fatal fall and electrocution was a good idea, but a prototype of his telephone wire aerial cycle was actually built in 1885. The idea was soon abandoned after a test ride.
9. Latta's folding bikE
American inventor, Emmit G. Latta, patented the first folding bike in 1887. He stated that “The object of this invention is to provide a machine that is safe, strong, and serviceable, and more easily steered than the machines now in use, and also to construct the machine in such a manner that the same can be folded when not required for use, so as to require little storage-room and facilitate its transportation.” It is remarkable that Latta already thought about a storage and transportation improvement before the big “bike boom” started in the 1890s.
10. Hotchkiss's bicycle railroaD
As the use of bicycles grew popular in the end of the 19th century, roads were still rather muddy and difficult to ride on. Arthur Hotchkiss therefore suggested creating a monorail for bikes in 1892. He contracted with H.B. Smith Machine Company to manufacture a railroad from Smithville to Mount Holly, New Jersey. This track ran 1.8 mile, crossing a Rancocas Creek 10 times, and was supposed for commuting workers from Mount Holly to the factory in Smithville. The average trip took 6 to 7 minutes. The railroad only had one track so that riders had to pull off onto a siding when they met oncoming cyclists. The company went bankrupt in 1897 after the railroad use had decreased.
11. The all terrain vehicle
This road-and-river cycle was introduced in America some time between the 1870s-1890s. Being a boat and a cycle at the same time, it allowed its driver to cross rivers instead of travelling around them.
12. Karl Lange's double bicycle for looping the looP
This double bicycle prevents one from injuries by flipping end-over-end as it has wheels on all sides. Inventor Karl Lange apparently didn’t worry about back pain, however. It is unknown if the machine was actually built.