The Boneshaker Bicycle

detail of boneshaker bicycle

It was two French brothers, Ernest and Pierre Micheaux in 1861 who first thought of fixing cranks and pedals to the front of an old hobby horse bicycle. This made it faster and less strenuous to ride.

The earliest Velocipedes as they were called had horizontal frames, like the hobby horse, but later machines used downwards curving frames joined to the rear axle. On both types the seat was mounted on a separate wooden or metal spring. This made the seat more comfortable but the wooden wheels and iron rims still caused the handlebars to shake, hence the name 'boneshaker'.


Boneshaker's had an average weight of just 60 pounds and was capable of eight miles per hour but riding them was not easy. Mounting was a problem, early manuals advised running alongside and vaulting into the saddle. The size of the front wheel made the pedal action unpleasantly fast; to keep them on a straight course the rider had to resist the sideways movement of the front wheel as he pressed down on the pedals. They were around $100 to buy so unaffordable for the working classes.


Some improvements were made during the years 1868-1870, fitting a step to the frame made mounting and dismounting easier, it also made the machine faster by allowing riders to use models with larger front wheels. Machines like the Phantom brought advances in lighter frame design, the use of rubber on the wheel rims and wheel suspension with wire spokes. This invention was the key to the next stage of cycle development.