Urban Cycling

History of Bicycles: 5 Strange Bike Designs from the Past

Strange bicycles from the past

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Cycling has come a long way since its humble beginnings, with a fascinating evolution of designs that reflect both innovation and experimentation.

From the earliest two-wheelers to modern marvels, the world of bicycles has seen some truly peculiar creations.

Join us on a journey through time as we explore some of the strangest bicycle designs in history.

Draisine or Laufmaschine, around 1820
Draisine or Laufmaschine from around 1820. IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

1. Draisine – The Running Machine (1817)

Let’s start at the very beginning with the Draisine, also known as the “running machine.” Invented by Karl Drais in 1817, this early form of a bicycle had no pedals. Instead, riders would use their feet to push themselves along the ground. While it may seem primitive, the Draisine played a crucial role in the development of the bicycle, serving as a precursor to more advanced designs.


boneshaker

2. Velocipede – The Boneshaker (1863)

The Velocipede, popularly known as the “boneshaker,” emerged in the mid-19th century and featured a distinctive large front wheel connected to a smaller rear wheel. With a rigid iron frame and wooden wheels, this design provided a bumpy and uncomfortable ride. Despite its uncomfortable nature, the Velocipede marked a significant leap in bicycle technology.


Smartly dressed couple seated on an 1886-model quadracycle for two.
Smartly dressed couple seated on an 1886-model quadracycle for two. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

3. Quadracycle for Two – Double Trouble (1890s)

The late 19th century witnessed the creation of some truly eccentric designs, including the Quadracycle for Two. As the name suggests, this bicycle featured side-by-side seating for two riders, each with their own set of pedals. While the intention might have been to encourage tandem cycling, the practicality and maneuverability of this design were questionable.


Starley's "Royal Salvo" tricycle, as owned by Queen Victoria
Starley’s “Royal Salvo” tricycle, as owned by Queen Victoria. Image Credit: Objectwiki.sciencemuseum.org.uk/

4. Starley’s Royal Salvo Tricycle – A Regal Ride (1880s)

Amidst the diverse landscape of peculiar bicycle designs, one stands out not only for its innovation but also for its regal association. Enter the “Royal Salvo” tricycle, a creation by John Starley, the visionary inventor of the iconic Diamond-Frame bicycle. This luxurious tricycle, adorned with opulence, found its way into the possession of none other than Queen Victoria herself during the late 19th century. The “Royal Salvo” featured an intricate design, embellished with royal insignia and elegant details, offering a symbol of sophistication and prestige. As the monarch embraced this peculiar tricycle, it became a testament to the allure of cycling even within royal circles. The “Royal Salvo” exemplifies the intersection of elegance and innovation, showcasing how even the highest echelons of society found joy in the peculiarities of cycling’s rich history.


Bicycle in Plymouth, England at the start of the 20th century
Bicycle in Plymouth, England at the start of the 20th century. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

5. Starley Diamond-Frame – The Common Yet Uncommon (1885)

Although not inherently strange in appearance, the Starley Diamond-Frame represented a pivotal moment in bicycle design. Invented by John Starley in 1885, this design featured a diamond-shaped frame that has become the standard for modern bicycles. The unconventional aspect was the use of a chain drive, replacing the direct-drive systems of earlier models. The adoption of the diamond frame marked the beginning of a more efficient and comfortable era in cycling.


A penny-farthing, a more recognizably modern-style bike, and a strange compact version with tiny wheels. Image credit: Library of Congress.
A penny-farthing, a more recognizably modern-style bike, and a strange compact version with tiny wheels. Image credit: Library of Congress.

The Evolution of the Bicycle Through History

From the early Draisine to the innovative Starley Diamond-Frame, the world of bicycles has been a canvas for inventors and visionaries to explore the boundaries of design.

While some creations may seem peculiar or impractical in retrospect, each played a crucial role in shaping the bicycles we know today.

As we pedal into the future, it’s worth remembering and appreciating the oddities of the past that paved the way for the sleek and efficient bicycles we ride today.

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