The need to increase the number of people you could put on a bicycle was extremely important in the 1890s. Vital, it seemed. One, and then two, wasn’t nearly enough. How about five, 10, or 15? No, let’s make that 20.
I’ll start with two unusual tandems, and work my way up to the bicycle built for 20 …
No ordinary tandem
Although the craze for tandems may hardly be said to have existed until last year, it took hold amazingly. The result is that every manufacturer in the United States now makes tandems. The Chicago Chronicle, November 8, 1896.
There were two Brooklyn brothers caught up in the craze and “desirous of getting a tandem.” Alas, they were also a little short of coin. However, they did have two old, obsolete ordinaries lying around, gathering dust. And so, these two creative types …
… came to the conclusion that in some way or other it ought to be possible to hitch the old “ordinaries” together. This they have succeeded in doing, and though the result of their efforts is rather a curious looking affair they are able to make excellent time on the machine. The Chicago Chronicle, November 8, 1896
I can see clearly now
November 8, 1896 was a big day for tandems in the Chicago Chronicle, as the “WHEELS AND THEIR RIDERS” section of the newspaper also had a story about a new-fangled tandem that solved a dilemma: The view. Or lack of view for the person in the back.
At the last bicycle show at Madison Square garden a few samples were shown of tandems built with a drop frame in front, where the fair cyclist sits. The idea became popular … This enables the male rider, who does the steering, and by the same tactics most of the pedaling, to look over the fair head of his companion and get an unobstructed view of the road.
Ah, the “fair cyclist.” This refers to the wheelwomen of the day. Here’s the link to my previous story on the great bloomer controversy and how it helped women win the right to vote in 1920.
Les trois velo
If two is better than one, then three is …
A French firm is the first in the field with a chainless triplet, which by all accounts has proven a success. The gearing is the same as in the chainless single, with bevels at each axle connected by shaft rods. The Chicago Chronicle, November 15, 1896.
Bicycles without a chain were a thing, for a while, in the 1890s. They never really caught on in a big way, and vanished when when gears became the new, big thing. Here’s a drawing that gives you a better idea of how the chainless works. It’s kind of beautiful in its simplicity …
Let’s skip past four and move on to a bicycle built for five …
Off to the races
In many bike races, riders rode behind a “pacer.” The bigger the pacing bike, the better the cyclist behind it was able to draft. Slowly, pacers went from singles to tandems, to … this quintet of five.
Enough with incremental increases …
The double quint
A bicycle that will carry 10 riders is the latest marvel in the line of the wheel … This new wonder in the bicycle world will be known as the “double quint.” There are one or two machines with nine seats, but they have not been seriously considered as successful … owing to their bulk and the difficulty in handling them. The new wonder is claimed to have overcome the difficulty of using a big machine in anything but a straightaway track. Buffalo Evening News, March 11, 1896.
I see your 10 and raise you five …
The latest thing of wheels, a quindecuplet, or cycle for fifteen riders, is to be built for a club of fifteen enthusiasts. Yesterday the captain of the club, C. H. Jones, walked into a Park Row bicycle store and asked if a machine could be made that would carry fifteen riders.
“Certainly,” said the manager, “if you want to pay the price. It will come close to $500.”
He was told to go ahead and make plans and specifications for the giant cycle, and in a month the machine may be finished. In England a vehicle to carry twelve riders has already been built, and in this country an enterprising firm turns them out for six riders … The [quindecuplet] is to have one seat in front, for the steersman, and then seven pairs of seats behind, side by side. The gear will be 168, which is enormous, and every revolution of the pedals will drive the machine ahead forty six feet eight inches. The World, New York, July 8, 1896
As you may have noticed, in the drawing above, which accompanied the quindecuplet story, there are only 13 riders on the bike. Perhaps the artist was bad at math.
How about 20?
An Ohio firm is building for a Brooklyn bicycle club the biggest thing on wheels of its kind. This is a quadricycle, intended to carry the entire club – twenty members … The machine is about eighteen feet long and four feet wide, and is to weight about 600 pounds. The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 21, 1896
The quadricycle is as high as we go. And no, I don’t understand the mustache and uniform on the guy in the front of the bike. Is he the Kaiser?
Wait, there’s one more: How many people can you get on an ice bicycle …
Sextet on ice
There have been ice bicycles before, but a machine to travel on ice that will accommodate eight riders at one time, and which wheel propulsion and the gliding movement of steel runners in the manner provided by the invention of this Lenz [Harry Lenz from New York] machine, is the crowning novelty of them all. Ness County News, Kansas, February 25, 1899
Here’s the link to my five Biking France eBooks on etsy (Provence, the Loire, Normandy, the Dordogne and Bordeaux).