Culture and Entertainment

Bicycles in 1891

Bicycles had been around for many years prior to 1891, but were still a very expensive item for the average person to buy. For example, a bicycle cost £6 - £9, when the annual wage of a rising professional was £700 (see the Victorian Web for information on Victorian wages). The "Sharp Shooter" advertised above cost £12 because of the new technology of pneumatic tyres (see below).

"Sharp Shooter" Cycles
Advert for the "Sharp Shooter" cycle
from Welshpool Horticultural Society
Show Programme, 1894

Powysland Museum and Montgomery Canal Centre

Serious Bicycle Accident
Serious Bicycle Accident,
as reported in the Brecon and Radnor Express

Llandrindod Wells Library

Last week, Mr Osmond Larkin met with a serious accident whilst proceeding along the Watton Road on his bicycle. He came into collision with Messrs. Jones Bros. horse and cart, with the result that he was knocked down and the wheel of the vehicle passed over his chest and arm. He also sustained injuries to the head. Mr Larkin was promptly taken to Dr. Owen's surgery, where his injuries were attended to, and now we are happy to state he is out of danger and rapidly recovering. The bicycle was broken, and the horse's legs badly cut.
'Aerial' ordinary cycle
National Cycle Museum, Llandrindod Wells

The two types of bicycle available in 1891 were the Ordinary bicycle and the 'safety' bicycle. The Ordinary is better known by its popular name - the pennyfarthing. The large wheel would have given the rider some protection from the ruts and grooves of rural roads in Powys, although it must still have been very difficult to cycle off the major routes.

Bamboo bicycle
Cycle with bamboo & metal frame, c1895
National Cycle Museum, Llandrindod Wells

The 'safety' bicycle was similar to today's bicycles only they had hard, solid, rubber tyres. The frames were generally metal, although rarely bamboo was used. In this particular bicycle, some parts of the frame are metal simulating bamboo while other parts are bamboo.

Safety bicycle
'Swift' safety bicycle, 1888
National Cycle Museum, Llandrindod Wells

A major revolution took place in 1888 when the pneumatic tyre was patented by Dunlop. Fitted to a safety bicycle, this faster, more comfortable tyre led to the growth of cycling as a means of transport and recreation. The same technology was further developed for automobile tyres.

Two tricycles in Fife
Two tricycles in Fife,
from On your bicycle : an illustrated history of cycling
by James McGurn. London : Murray, 1987

It did take some time before the bicycle was an acceptable means of transport for women, as it was considered appropriate only for circus performers and women of 'ill repute'. Women did use tricycles but these were probably not practical over long distances. By the later 1890s, various means were found to ensure cycling with due modesty.

National Cycle Museum, Llandrindod Wells

The Safety Skirt Holder
Advert for The Safety Skirt Holder, c1894
National Cycle Museum, Llandrindod Wells

Another method was to fit a mesh guard on the rear wheel, to prevent the skirt's being caught in the spokes.

There is more about the history of the bicycle on the website of the National Cycle Museum.

Hay Cycling Club
Hay Cycling Club outside Ashbrooke House, c1890
Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery