Unusual Pedal Bicycles

Updated: 29 Jan 2014

The Pope tricycle cannon added
Paddle-wheel bike moved
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This page deals with unusual bicycles powered mainly by human effort. Bicycles with other forms of propulsion, such as rockets or steam-engines, have their own pages.

There have of course been many "unusual" bicycles, and this gallery shows just a sample.


Left: Compressed-air energy-storage bicycle: 1902.

This machine was to have been driven primarily by pedal, but using a reservoir of compressed-air as an energy-storage system. It has a compressed-air motor linked to the pedal cranks, fed from the reservoir under the top tube. This is pumped up by the ten-cylinder compressor built into the rear wheel. I assume that the wheel part would have to be the compressor as otherwise it would be impossible to utilise the energy available when free-wheeling downhill. The compressed-air motor appears to be the small box above the top tube, but it is not very clear how the links to the cranks are driven.

It is however very clear indeed that the weight of the ten-cylinder wheel would be an impossible burden for a cyclist. The inefficiency involved in compressing air (the heat generated by the compression usually being lost) would also argue against this system being of any use to man or beast.

This sadly hopeless attempt at a worthy end was patented by William Rutherford Taylor, a cycle fitter and agent of Bo'ness, Scotland. It seems very unlikely that this idea even got to the prototype stage.


This exhibit has now been moved to the Paddle-wheel Aeroplane gallery of the Museum.


Left: The Thrustpac Bicycle: 2006.

I put this scary-looking concept in the bicycles gallery rather than the motorcycles gallery as the engine is attached to the rider rather than the bicycle.

For full-on propellor-driven motorcycles,
see the motorcycle gallery.

Thrustpac is a commercial operation in California; see http://www.personalpropulsion.com

They claim it can also be used with scooters and small boats.

From the Metro newspaper (London) 8 Jan 2006


Left: The Suspended Monorail Bicycle: 1892.

This is the front cover photo of "New Movement in Cities" a book on urban transport written by expert Brian Richards. He is riding on what is now identified as the Hotchkiss Bicycle Railway, which runs from Mount Holly to Smithville in New Jersey, USA. It was invented by Arthur E Hotchkiss, and built in 1892. According to one source, the idea was that you hired a bicycle and cycled along the girder track to your destination; there were a number of bicycle depots along the route. Why this would be better than cycling along a paved path I do not know. I also don't know what Mr Richards opinion of this system was, but I doubt very much if it was seriously proposed as a solution to our transport problems.

An interesting point is that the monorail bicycles were bidirectional, so they did not have to be laboriously lifted off the girder and turned around. There were handlebars at each end, for support rather than steering, and the saddle presumably swivelled.

More on the Hotchkiss Bicycle Railway:
Another source states that the Railway was built to allow employees to commute quickly from Mount Holly to a large factory at Smithville. The railway was not a success, the impossibility of overtaking being one reason; another was that a second track was never completed, so if riders travelling in opposite directions met, one had to pull off onto a siding. One might imagine this leading to disagreements about who had the right of way. The railway was in a severe state of disrepair by 1898 when the Mount Holly and Smithville Bicycle Railway Company (as it appears to have been known) declared bankruptcy.

Presumably the system was repaired at some point, and probably opened for recreational use; hence the modern photograph.

Left: The Suspended Monorail Bicycle: 1892.

A contemporary picture, with a serious-looking rider skimming above a landscape apparently by Van Gogh. It is not clear just how far off the ground the bicycle is; there would seem to be no advantage in having a ground clearance of more than a foot or two.

Here the rider has the chain-drive in front of him, not behind like Mr Richards, so confirming the bidirectional nature of the bicycles. Note the supporting steelwork is hook-shaped to allow the wheels to pass.


Left: The Eric Staller Conference Bicycle: 2005.

This inspired creation is pedalled by seven people sitting in a circle. Steering is not however, by committee- an opportunity lost there, I feel. The chap on the extreme right is holding the steering wheel. The front of the vehicle is at the left.

OK, it's not strictly a bicycle- in fact it's a quadcycle, though the two back wheels are so close together you could, if you wanted to be difficult, argue that it was more of a tricycle than anything else. But there isn't an unusual quadcycle page (for which this machine would certainly qualify) just a conventional quadcycle page, so here it is.

For more info see: The Conference Bike.


Left: The BootBike

This fascinating machine looks quite practical. It would certainly eliminate the possibility of punctures.

The picture was sent to me by one of my vast network of correspondents, unfortunately with no accompanying details at all. To begin with, close examination has persuaded me that it is a real machine and not just a Photoshop job.

The rider is on the right side of the road rather than the left, so it comes from continental Europe rather than Great Britain. I suspect its origin is German.

If anyone can offer any more information I would be most grateful.

Left: Bootbike at Bike Kill 08

Call me picky, but the boots on the front wheel seem to be the wrong way round. See the picture above.

Left: Bootbike at Bike Kill 08

Another view of the bootbike. Bike Kill is an annual Tall and Mutant Bike event organized and hosted by members of the Black Label Bike Club. The event is held in Brooklyn at the end of October.

It provides an enormous number of examples of eccentric bicycles.


I have not overlooked the fact that strictly speaking, the vehicles in this section are tricycles and quadracycles rather than bicycles; for the moment at least I am keeping all the militiary stuff together here.

Left: The first machine-gun bike: 1891

This is the first known bicycle mounting of a machine gun. The 26th Middlesex Cycle Regiment displayed the firing of a machine gun from this cycle carriage at the English Easter Manoeuvres of 1891. There were snags; the vehicle wighed 96 pounds, had solid rubber tyres, and two men could not pedal it uphill. It was hard to reach a few miles per hour even on the flat, and two more bicycles had to be hooked up at the front to help tow it.

Histories usually refer to the weapon as a Maxim gun, but the photograph is actually of a 6-barrel Bulldog-model Gatling gun, an 1883 design fed from an Accles drum magazine holding 104 rounds. These magazines proved too fragile for field use, and were withdrawn. Many thanks to Andreas Marx and Charles Wine for identifying the gun.

Two normal bicycles are joined by cross-members. The handle-bars are joined by a rod to keep the front wheels in alignment, and note the two rifles carried in holsters on the top tubes.

Left: The Pope tricycle cannon: 1895

This unlikely-looking machine was built by the Pope Manufacturing Company in the USA; one of the major bicycle makers. A light mountain cannon is mounted facing rearwards on a tricycle frame pedalled by two men sitting side by side, each with a set of handlebars linked to the front wheel. All that is known of its history is that it was once ridden in a Brooklyn parade. The tricycle frame was later used to mount a forward-firing machine gun.

Given that there appear to be no arrangements to absorb the recoil of the cannon, and no provision for carrying ammunition, this appears to be a publicity stunt rather than a serious attempt to develop pedal-powered artillery.

And just in case you thought nobody would ever do anything so daft again, consider the Italian Vespa scooter modified to carry a M20 75 mm recoilless rifle. While the lack of recoil made it theoretically possible to fire the gun from the scooter, in practice it was to be removed and mounted on a tripod. This creation was used in the 1950s by the French Airborne Forces, being dropped in pairs by parachute.

Left: The Vickers machine-gun tricycle: 1901

This two-man machine-gun tricycle was built by the armaments firm of Vickers Sons & Maxim in 1901. It carried two machine guns and 1000 rounds of ammunition, the latter in the small boxes suspended from the large side tubes, which hinged downward to brace the carriage against the recoil. It weighed 374 pounds, including guns and ammunition, but not including riders, and could not be pedalled up a slope. On the other hand, both machine guns could be put into action in two minutes, though it is not obvious why it would take that long.

The second gun is just visible below the breech of the nearer gun.

Vickers produced this press release:

"The bicycle artillery corps is a body of recent creation which seems to be destined for a great future. In fact, it is now in a fair way of doing reconnoissance duty in place of the cavalry. How much superior, indeed, is a bicyclist to a horseman. He is always ready to start immediately, while the latter has to wait to harness and saddle his steed. Then, again, the bicycle is faster than the horse, and requires less care; and the fact that no food is needed constitutes an appreciable advantage in a campaign in which so many difficulties are met with in the way of procuring forage. It is true that the bicycle can be used only upon roads, but in France and Germany the byroads, large and small, are so accessible that the use of it is capable of being made general."

"Such considerations have led the large English house of Vickers, Sons & Maxim to devise a machine gun tricycle, which we represent in the accompanying engravings. Two light Maxim guns are mounted upon the tricycle, the weight of which is 120 pounds, while that of the two guns is 54, that of the tripods 106, that of the spare pieces 8, and that of the 1,000 cartridges, with their case, 86. This constitutes a total weight of 374 pounds, to which is to be added that of the two men who ride the vehicle. It seems that such a tricycle is capable of running at a high rate of speed upon a level. Upon up-grades, however, it is necessary to dismount and push the machine."

Left: The Vickers machine-gun tricycle: 1901

The two-man machine-gun tricycle in action, with both guns firing simultaneously. The side-tubes have been lowered and dug into the ground- for some reason they are described as "tripods" in the press release above. The two of them weighed 106 pounds, which was nearly a third of the weight of the vehicle, and one wonders why they could not have been made lighter.

Left: The Vickers machine-gun tricycle: 1901

This is the original photograph from which the illustration above was made.

Left: The Vickers machine-gun tricycle: 1901

The two-man machine-gun tricycle ready for action. Applying the steadying tubes raises the rear wheels off the ground.

Left: The Light Maxim Gun

As carried by the tricycle. Note the pistol-grip at the rear for firing. Calibre .303

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