Bicycle History: The Velo-Douche, Lawn Mower Bicycle & Bicycle Sailboat

Hardly a day passes but somebody invents a new kind of bicyclePhiladelphia Inquirer, December 2, 1894

This was so very true, and here are three of my favorite new kinds of bicycle inventions: the Velo-Douche, Lawn Mower Bicycle and the Bicycle Sailboat.

The Velo-Douche

There’s nothing like a nice, refreshing shower after a long ride. Right? So, let’s combine the ride and the shower and save some time. This must have been the thinking of not one, not two, but three inventors, one each in the United States, Great Britain and France.

Let’s rinse off in chronological order.  

The first story was printed in Miners Journal, Pottsville, Pennsylvania, May 25, 1897.

At the recent cycle show in Paris, a prominent English manufacturer presented a novelty called a “Velo-Douche,” which is an eminently practical device for combining exercise and the morning ablutions.

Next up, in the August 6, 1897 edition of the Frankfort Review, Kansas, was a story about Adolph Brinkmeyer, a Minnesota inventor, who came up with pretty much the exact same thing. 

It consists of an ordinary bicycle, with the wheels removed. Attached to the rear sprocket is a little pump, which connects with an up-running pipe terminating in a spray arrangement like that on a sprinkling-can. By placing the machine in the bath tub partially filled with water and pedalling a la wheelman all the delights of a cool spin in the park can be combined with the exhilarating joys of a shower-bath.

The third story was printed in the Algona Courier, Iowa, January 28, 1898. A French bicycle manufacturer came up with a velo douche similar to the first two, with an added feature …

The tub can be divided into two compartments, one containing hot water, and the other cold water, and the cold and hot douche mat then be used at will.

New remember, it’s the 1890s, and plumbing – and indoor bathrooms – weren’t quite as common as they were soon to become. Baths were the norm, and showers were for the hoi polloi.

The Bicycle Lawn Mower

Thomas Caldwell of Newburg, New York was a lawn mogul mogul, the holder of more lawn mower patents than any man alive, and head of the Caldwell Lawn Mower Company. One day, his son, Harry, probably tasked with mowing the lawn, said something along the lines of: “Father I propose that you make an attachment of a lawn mower upon my wheel to ease the burden.”

That’s how I think they talked back then.

“Aha,” said Papa … and the rest is history. The Caldwell bicycle lawn mower didn’t catch on, for some unknown reason. But if you do a Google or Pintrest search, they seem to have become quite popular in recent years due to their environmental friendliness. 

The machine is made with an ordinary bicycle hind wheel and a 20 inch mower in the place of the front wheel. The mower wheels have rubber tires, and they run just as smoothly as a bicycle itself … and a lawn can be gone over in one third of the time it takes to do it with an ordinary hand mowerBucks County Gazette, Pennsylvania, September 5, 1895.

Sailing Away

Sailors have harnessed the wind for centuries to speed their boats great distances in relatively short periods of time. So, why not attach a sail on a bicycle?

This was the idea of Charles D. White, 23, of San Bernardino, California, in 1893. He was an electrician and rode his bike to and from work, often carrying the materials he used while on the job, according to the November 25, 1893 issue of The San Francisco Examiner. Like many of us cyclists, Charles did some of his best thinking while riding. And so …

Several times while riding before the wind he noticed that he did not have to use his pedals, the breeze furnishing the motive power. His active brain at once set to work to devise some method whereby he could make the wind do the work while simply steered the machine. He was not long in search of his idea.

And, what an idea it was: a sail on a bike.

It wasn’t easy, but White and a friend, E. Dougherty, figured out a way to attach a 10-foot high mast and an 8-foot boom, weighing about seven pounds, to his bicycle. 

It worked. And sort of caught on, as others tried to fashion their own version of White sailing bicycle. Here’s some advice for from the inventor, for anyone who wants to give it a blow …

After making or buying the sail and placing it in position, keep the [sail] unfurled until outside of the city, on a quiet and lonely road. Be careful when approaching a horse, as the animal will take fright when a fourth of a mile away if the sail is in position. On arriving at a secluded spot hoist the sail and allow it to swing loosely in the wind. Mount the machine the same as usual, and pedal while the wind is filling the sail, gradually, and the regular rate of speed is being acquired. Then the sail will come under perfect control.

Sailing before the wing you will go twice as fast as in ordinary bicycle riding, while the greatest velocity is gained while riding at right angle from the wind. With good handling a speed of from twenty to thirty miles per hour can be obtained. Beating against the wind is very hard, as it is almost impossible to tack in the narrow roads.

The getting back home, against the wind seems to be the issue that doomed White’s sailing bicycle to relative obscurity. I searched and searched for more information, but White and his invention disappeared from the papers after about a year. The only other reference I would find was a book, the “Handbook of Sailing,” written by a Charles D. White in 1947. Our Charles would have been 77 … so it’s possible.

Here’s a previous Bike History story. Stay tuned, more great stories to come. Sign up to get email alerts so you don’t miss a single crazy invention! Or story.

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