Nelsonians’ fascination with cycling dates back to the days of the ‘bone shaker’
Naming new inventions can be a tricky task, but in the late 1800s, when deciding what to call one of the earliest forms of modern bicycles, inventors came up with a literal solution: the Latin words vēlōcitās, which means speed, and pedālis. , meaning pedal, were combined into the word “velocipede”, which literally translates to “fast feet”, “foot speed”, or “foot power”.
Only a limited number of velocipedes, also known as ‘bone shakers’, remain in museums and private collections around the world – and Nelson is home to two, which are part of the historic collections of the Nelson Provincial Museum and Founders Heritage Park. .
“Modern velocipedes’ frames varied, some had a horizontal frame that straddled both wheels or, as in the museum’s example, the frame extended from the handlebars to the rear wheel in a V-shape,” Nelson said. Provincial Museum Collections. Chief Shae Trewin.
“The seat of the museum’s velocipede rests on the frame like a contemporary bicycle, unfortunately the handlebars are missing. With a solid iron rim or solid rubber tires and no suspension, it’s no surprise that velocipedes have been nicknamed “the bone shakers”.
* Fascinating journey of the model ship from the Napoleonic Wars to early Nelson
* Return of a 180-year-old estate pamphlet part of Nelson’s colorful settler history
*Precious Taonga at Nelson Museum connects to early pā
* Images tell the story of multi-million dollar municipal art collections
Just over 150 years ago, in August 1869, the Nelson’s Evening Mail published a story proposing that locally made velocipedes were contributing to “velocipede mania”, also noting that many falls had been observed.
In one case, writes the journalist, “The unfortunate was thrown from his seat as if he had been thrown from a rearing horse instead of from an inanimate machine.”
Trewin said “clearly the skills of the local riders began to improve” because a month later, in September 1869, the newspaper reported men on velocipedes rolling from Richmond to Nelson in 55 minutes.
Then, on New Year’s Day 1870, a velocipede race was held as part of Caledonian sports; a dispute over second place was contested by a follow-up race from the Trafalgar Hotel (corner of Bridge and Trafalgar Street) to the quay and back, with winner Henry Wimsett completing the course in 11 minutes and 5 seconds.
Wimsett and his brother Thomas were local blacksmiths who reportedly made their own racing velocipedes.
Although we don’t know who built the two velocipedes that still exist in Nelson, we do know that they were made in Richmond and Nelson in the late 1860s.
Frederick William Holdaway (b.14/4/1857, d.24/4/1895) had the velocipede in the museum’s collection while Henry Baltrop, who with his wife Mary Ann gave birth to nine sons and three daughters, owned the velocipede now on display at Founders.
Holdaway’s daughter, Gladys Alberta Papps (née Holdaway, born 7/15/1888, died 8/26/1969) donated the velocipede that belonged to her father to the Nelson Provincial Museum in 1968. Winn Bros donated of the Baltrop Velocipede at Founders Heritage Park in 1986.
It is possible that Holdaway and some of Baltrop’s nine sons rode the velocipedes. Although large and heavy (weighing around 25 kg), teenagers in the late 1800s embraced this new mode of transportation that did not involve a horse.
The evolution of the bicycle
Early versions of a self-propelled vehicle, called a “Dandy Horse” or “Hobby Horse”, were made around 1810. A Dandy Horse was used by straddling the frame and walking while seated as a contemporary “balance bike” for children. As a quiet contraption for the wealthier classes, they were often mocked and ridiculed for looking so odd.
Dandy horses evolved into velocipedes with the introduction of cranks and levers to propel the vehicle using the feet or arms.
Various three- and four-wheeled models have emerged for children, women, and people with reduced mobility. Many were also designed to accommodate two or more passengers.
The “modern velocipede” then appeared in the late 1860s in France and, shortly thereafter, here in Nelson. Their two-wheeled design resembled the original dandy but with the addition of integrated pedals on the front wheel axle.
The big difference between the velocipede and today’s bicycle was that you pedaled directly on the front wheel. But they weren’t necessarily moving in a straight line; there are reports that pressing each pedal caused the velocipede to veer in the direction of each pedal.
However, velocipedes were quickly seen as a threat to the safety of people and horses with incidents of horses fearing the noise (and vibration) of a velocipede on the road.
In 1883, alderman Nelson Little decided that velocipedes would be “required to carry a whistle or bell to signal their approach, in addition to lights”. Needless to say, similar laws came into force in 1900 when the first cars started appearing on New Zealand roads, but this time to ensure the safety of cyclists.
Velocipedes, like Penny Farthings, quickly disappeared after the introduction of contemporary bicycles equipped with chain gears, first known as “safety bicycles”. Complaints of “cadous on wheels” continued, but this time it was because their “quiet” rubber tires scared unconscious pedestrians and horses.
Then, from the early 1900s, New Zealand embraced the motor vehicle, and the humble bicycle was relegated to the garden shed, until the more recent resurgence of the bicycle.
The bicycle has always been a lightning rod for culture wars, according to bicycle enthusiast Jody Rosen, who wrote Two Wheels: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle.
Today, some cultures around the world regard the bicycle as an essential form of transport while in others – including here in Aotearoa – car culture still reigns supreme.
Despite the efforts of cycling organizations, the rise of mountain biking, and the rapid rollout of new cycle paths around the motu, drivers and cyclists still seem to be at odds over who naturally “owns” the road – and cycling in this country, from less for now, seems to be mainly considered a sport rather than a means of transportation.
However, as modern bikes continue to evolve, there are signs that this is changing. While overall bike design hasn’t changed significantly in 150 years, new battery-powered technology gives riders the freedom (and confidence) to travel farther, over more varied terrain, and in greater comfort. than ever.
Note: The Nelson Provincial Museum velocipede is currently in storage but can be viewed through the online collections or by appointment. Locals and visitors can view the second velocipede on display at Founders Heritage Park.
Article prepared by Nelson Provincial Museum curator Shae Trewin, with additional reporting and editing by Kerry Sunderland.