Velocipede or ‘Boneshaker’

Brighton has enjoyed the reputation of being a ‘Cyclists Mecca’, mainly due to the popularity of the route to and from London with successive generations of cyclists.

A man poses on a boneshaker bicycle
A man poses on a boneshaker bicycle

This trend was begun by John Mayall, who in 1869, cycled from London to Brighton in the then record time of 15 hours on a Velocipede or ‘boneshaker’. He was a brave man, as this type of bicycle was called a boneshaker for a reason.

First made in France during the 1860s by the Michaex Company, boneshakers were so named because they had solid tyres and were extremely uncomfortable to ride. The most notable feature was that the peddles were fitted to the front wheel. The bicycles had an average weight of 60 pounds and could go around 8 miles per hour.

This particular boneshaker from our collection is on display in the Exploring Brighton Gallery. The Rev. Samuel Webb Thomas of Lewes invented and rode this unique bicycle in the late 1870s or early 1880s.

Reverend Thomas's boneshaker
Reverend Thomas’s boneshaker

The main difference is in the peddles. He invented and added swing peddles to ease the ride up hill on the very stony road. He also invented a ladies’ sole saddle.

However, despite any additions, this boneshaker was still bound to leave you sore after taking a journey.

Tim Bowers, Volunteer Local History & Archaeology

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