Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Bike With Wooden Wheels?

Lucas Bicycle, 1898.

The bicycle has been around for nearly two centuries, and has been a popular form of transportation and entertainment for those seeking something different and fun. The ‘hobby horse’, the first form of bicycle, was invented in 1817 in Germany by Baron von Drais. This bicycle, however, was slightly different from the bicycles we know today. It had no pedals! The ‘hobby horse’ was a two-wheeled vehicle, but did not have the ability to be self-propelled. It wasn’t until 1866 that Pierre Lallement received the patent for a pedal driven bicycle. Another major step towards the modern bicycle was the pneumatic bicycle tire manufactured by Dunlop in 1888. Before that, bicycles had wooden wheels. No wonder one of the early bicycles was called ‘the boneshaker’!

Here at the Historical Center, we hold a ladies bicycle from 1898 in our collection. The bicycle was called the Lucas, and was manufactured by the Ott & Hemley Company, which operated out of Toledo, and who, to the best of our knowledge, only manufactured bicycles for one year. The Lucas features wooden rims, wooden fenders, curved, wooden handlebars with cork handlebar grips, and a ladies frame. The frame was specially designed with a downward sloping curve in the frame in order to accommodate the ladies’ skirt.

The Lucas is a ‘fixed gear’ bicycle, meaning that there is no freewheel that allows the bicycle to coast. There are no brakes on the bicycle because bicycles without freewheels have a built in brake system. All one needs to do is bicycle backwards to force the wheel to stop turning. Freewheels did not become widely commercialized until 1898. The wooden rims on the Lucas are also significant. Wooden rims were very popular until the invention of the caliper bicycle brake in 1876. The caliper bicycle brake mounted on the rim of the bicycle, like most modern bicycles. The friction of the caliper brake against the wooden rim was not safe, and so bicycles equipped with brakes had to use a metal rim. However, fixed gear bicycles without brakes still used wooden rims, as seen on the Lucas, and on track (racing) bicycles until the 1940’s.

From 1817 to present day, bicycles have been loved and used by those seeking entertainment, exercise, or transportation by people of all ages. The bicycle has experienced very few major changes. The form and structure are recognizably the same, and it has not been swept up by the motorized or computerized trends of the later 20th century. From the Lucas to today’s carbon fiber racing bicycles, bicycles have stayed true to form.

Resources used:

Sheldon Brown’s Bicycle Glossary, “caliper brake”. 1996, 2007. Sheldon Brown. 2 Oct 2007.

“Wooden Rims”. 1996, 2007. Sheldon Brown. 2 Oct 2007.

“Myths and Milestones in Bicycle Evolution”. 2007. Jim Langley. 2 Oct 2007.

3,140 Bicycle Brands. 2001-2007. The Wheelmen. 2 Oct 2007.

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