History of Bicycles with Charlene Raddon

Everyone grew up riding bicycles, right? Wrong. At least not successfully. I was a terrible rider, so nervous I kept falling into parked cars. At least, that was better than falling into the street and being run over by a car.

In my latest book, Gage (Ridge), Cupids & Cowboys Book 7, my heroine rides a bicycle in 1900 Montana. As it turned out, she didn’t do so well either. My hero, Marshal Ridge Givens (one of the triplets born in Barclay, Bachelors & Babies Book 1) went to the train station to pick her up. Instead of stepping down from a rail car as would be expected, she drove an automobile off a flatcar with a bicycle strapped to the back and wearing bloomers. No one in Cutthroat, Montana, had seen a motor car until then. She became the talk of the town.

Honora Keane came to Montana to fetch her orphaned niece, but being a dime novelist, she also hoped to get some first-hand experience in the ways of the quickly disappearing west. Of particular interest was the elder Gage Givens, Ridge’s uncle, though she soon decided Ridge would make a good hero too.

When the bank was robbed, and Ridge and Uncle Gage went after the gang, Honora begged to go along. Ridge said no. Well, being a modern woman and a suffragist, Honora ignored his decree. Not having a horse or knowing how to ride one, she did the perfectly logical thing—she rode her bicycle to follow the men into the mountains. Her experiences on that trip proved pretty hilarious.

Naturally, all this required research. I learned that several men claimed to have invented bicycles (called running machines or Draisines) as early as 1500, but Baron Karl von Drais, a German civil servant, created the first verifiable model in 1817. Being constructed almost entirely of wood, the draisine had no foot pedals, which required the rider to push it along with his feet (hence running machine).

New names came into use with later models, such as “pedestrian curricle” and “velocipede.” However, the public preferred “hobby-horse,” after the children’s toy or, worse still, “dandyhorse,” after the foppish men who often rode them. In the summer of 1819, the hobby horse became the craze in London. John Keats referred to it as “the nothing” of the day. A French metalworker, around 1863, added rotary cranks and pedals to the front-wheel hub to create the first pedal-operated “bicycle.”

From 1820 to 1850, tricycles and quadricycles appeared on the streets in a variety of designs, using pedals, treadles, and hand-cranks. Most suffered from high weight and high rolling resistance until Willard Sawyer of Dover built a range of treadle-operated 4-wheel vehicles and exported them worldwide in the 1850s.

The first mechanically propelled two-wheel vehicle is believed to have been built by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a Scottish blacksmith, in 1839. A nephew later claimed that his uncle developed a rear-wheel-drive design using mid-mounted treadles connected by rods to a rear crank, similar to the transmission of a steam locomotive. The first bicycle with pedals was invented in 1853.


Developed around 1863, a French design sparked a brief fashionable craze during 1868–70. It used rotary cranks and pedals mounted to the front wheel hub. Pedaling made it easier for riders to propel the machine at speed, but this design’s rotational speed limitation made it unstable and uncomfortable, leading to the large front wheel of the “penny-farthing.” It wasn’t easy to pedal the wheel used for steering. The use of metal frames reduced the weight and provided sleeker, more elegant designs and mass-production. Different braking mechanisms were used depending on the manufacturer. In England, the velocipede earned the name of “bone-shaker” because of its rigid frame and iron-banded wheels that resulted in a “bone-shaking experience.” Later improvements included solid rubber tires and ball bearings.

The bicycle’s popularity grew on both sides of the Atlantic, and by 1868–69, the craze was going strong in rural areas. Velocipede rinks became popular, and riding schools opened in many cities. Essentially, the velocipede proved a stepping stone, creating a market for bicycles that led to the development of more advanced and efficient machines. By 1870, the bicycle remained in favor only in the UK.

The high-bicycle was the logical extension of the boneshaker, the front wheel enlarging to enable higher speeds (limited by the inside leg measurement of the rider), the rear wheel shrinking, and the frame being made lighter. Frenchman Eugène Meyer is now regarded as the father of the high bicycle. Meyer invented the wire-spoke tension wheel in 1869 and produced a classic high bicycle design until the 1880s.

A later invention called the “ordinary bicycle” replaced this type of bicycle, eventually being nicknamed “penny-farthing” in England (a penny representing the front wheel, and a coin smaller in size and value, the farthing, meaning the rear). They were fast but unsafe. The rider sat high up in the air and traveled at great speed. If he hit a bad bit of road, he could be thrown over the front wheel and seriously injured (two broken wrists were common, in attempts to break a fall) or even killed. “Taking a header” (also known as “coming a cropper”) was not at all uncommon.

The rider’s legs could be caught under the handlebars, making it impossible to fall free of the machine. The danger limited cycling to adventurous young men. Older men preferred the more stable tricycles or quadracycles. Women’s fashion of the day made the “ordinary” bicycle inaccessible.

My neighbor owns a high bicycle, and it’s interesting to watch him climb onto it and ride off down the street. I wonder how many of you ride bikes today? They don’t seem to be as popular as when I was a kid (back in the stone age).

And to read more about Ridge and Honora, order their book today!

For a chance to win an e-book copy of Vella

or an e-book copy of Gage,

post your answer to these questions :

Did you ride a bike as a child? Do you still ride one?
Did you have any wild adventures while riding your bicycle?


Bestselling author Charlene Raddon began writing in 1980 after waking up from a dream she knew had to appear in a book. She dragged out a portable typewriter and began writing. That book took nine years to write, as she learned her craft at the same time. A time travel, it has not yet been published. Next, she wrote Tender Touch (Brianna), entered it into the Colorado Gold contest, historical division, and won. That victory prompted her to enter the RWA Golden Heart Contest and Tender Touch became a finalist. She acquired an agent and a year and a half later, signed a three-book contract with Zebra Books, an imprint of Kensington Books.

In 1999, when the historical market plummeted and western romance became almost impossible to sell, she took a hiatus from writing, but her imagination wouldn’t leave her alone. Eventually, she got back into the game. In 2011, she won back her rights to her books and had them released as eBooks by Tirgearr Publishing. In 2012 Tirgearr released two of her books in print, Taming Jenna and Tender Touch.

In 2011, Charlene’s artistic nature prompted her to try a different path and she began designing book covers. Today, she has a long list of clients and her own cover site, silversagebookcovers.com where she specializes in historical romance covers, primarily western.

Her writing and graphic arts business keeps her mightily busy and happy. But she always has time for family, travel, and helping other authors. Connect with Charlene on her website: https://charleneraddon.com/

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31 thoughts on “History of Bicycles with Charlene Raddon”

  1. I learned to ride a bike at age 4. At age 5 I learned my bike had brakes and I no longer had to run into the side of our house to stop. By age 7, I had learned to ride without holding on. I could even stand on my seat for a while without falling. I rode bikes until the 1990’s when leaning over on my ten speed was hurting my back to much. Now the only bike I occasionally ride is an exercise bike.
    I miss riding a bike. As a teenager, I rode miles on my bike. And no cell phone or ID on me. Usually no money to even call someone if needed. Sure can’t do that now days.

  2. This post is so interesting! The high bikes look so funky! I stopped riding bikes too soon. I used to ride my pink one all the time until I was in 9th grade which was five years ago. I was a very careful rider, until that one day when me and my cousin got chased by an angry cow in my town! It got loose from it’s owner and started running crazy about our town streets. We were both on our bikes and it was so terrible, we were rushing to cycle so fast and my adrenaline had never been so high. Needless to say, I stopped riding bikes right after that. We still laugh about the incident though!

  3. I did learn to ride a bike as a child but did not get to ride as a preteen/teen due to medical problems. No I don’t ride now.

  4. Wow, what a great blog – I learned a lot! Rode everywhere as a kid. As an adult, I’ve been on several week long bicycle trips – Northern California, Utah, and the best, across the width of New Mexico.

  5. I had a red bicycle as a kid and rode around the neighborhood. It had a white basket and a bell. One year, Dad changed the regular handlebars to high handlebars with streamers and he replaced the traditional seat with a banana seat. That was cool. Eventually upgraded to a three-speed. Later, I had a 10-speed.

    Two of my three guys learned to ride a bike. The youngest got mad when we took the training wheels off, and he wouldn’t ride again.

  6. I loved my bike when I was a little kid. The other kids thought it was cool to strip the rubber hand grips off them, so I did the same. Then I got hit by a car and the metal of the handlebar hit right above an eye. There was so much blood when I got home, my mother said she thought I lost an eye. I still have a scar that runs through the middle of that eyebrow. Needless to say, I was leery of riding again.

  7. What a fun blog this morning, Charlene! Ohmigosh – the black and white picture – is that a BABY on the back end? Yikes!!

    I absolutely love to ride my bike. I keep it at our cabin and ride around the lake again and again. There are only dirt roads around the lake, but it’s flat, no traffic, and the scenery is beautiful.

    Love having you back at P&P!!

    • I can’t say for sure that there is a baby on the back of that bike but it sure looks like it to me and how crazy is s that? Looks very dangerous. I guess with there being two bikes side by side, there’s less danger of falling over, but still….

  8. Good morning! Yes I rode a bicycle pretty much daily as a child! I was quick to learn to ride too. I was the youngest of 5 at the time. We had moved to a new town and all my older siblings (I was 4) were taking off on bikes daily. When my brother right above me in age got a new bike one day because his was getting too small he gave me his. I immediately go on and laid it over but he took the time to give me a couple of good go’s and the rest was history. They weren’t leaving me behind no more! Well if I could help it they weren’t!

    A couple of years later, how many I’m not sure, that same brother had told me not to ever ride his bike. Well that was a challenge now wasn’t it!?!? Needless to say he didn’t fill me in on why or I might would have made a different decision that day. So my best friend and I were doing our normal Saturday morning trip to downtown via bike on this particular Saturday instead of walking. On our way back home we were going down an incline and the bike goes to shaking, we all know that shake, right? My friend was ahead of me when i realized why i wasn’t supposed to ride that bike, yep, no brakes. I was hoping to make it to crossstrret to turn and almost made it but my friend was in the way and I crashed and burned. I had zero skin on both knees & gravel all in my knees. Oh I still remember how painful it was. I’m still amazed to this day that there is only one little gravel dent in one of my knees.

    I’d love the opportunity to read one of your books. A giveaway is an awesome way to find a new author to add to my go to authors list! Stay safe! Happy Spring!

    • Yes, if my brother (if I’d had one) had told me that, I would have sneaked off on it too. My bike shook all the time, probably because I was shaking. My dad got tired of seeing me shake so he took it away from me. I think I only had it about a year.

  9. I did ride a bike as a child, we had one that we all had to share. It was my sister’s bike but we all rode it. I have a bike now that sets in my building but I am afraid to ride it anymore because of the traffic, I guess I really should get rid of it because I don’t use it.

  10. I was born in Pasadena, CA. We moved to the desert when I was nine. Before we moved I bicycled everywhere. In Victorville, CA there were sidewalks where we lived so I still rode. Two years later we moved to a farm in Apple Valley, CA. I didn’t ride much any more due to dirt roads. I did ride my horse everywhere though. When I was to become a sophomore in high school we moved to Barrington Hills, IL. There I could ride my bicycle again all over. There were a lot of hills and that was soooo fun. I married at 23 yrs. and my husband and I still rode. He even entered a long distance race. I stopped when I got pregnant. But in between each child I would ride with them on the back. And with the second one, one on the back of my husbands bike and mine. Bikes were a part of life until our oldest went off to college. My husband and I still rode. But now that we are both in our 60’s, we dont ride anymore. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

  11. I received my bike for my 11th b’day. My b’day is in February so I learned to ride it in the basement. After that I rode it everywhere-a friend’s home, the lake, and sometimes their would be several of us. We became proficient at riding with passengers as well. But as an adult I haven’t rode a bike in decades. I saw my bike in a garage sale probably 30 years ago.

  12. I did ride a bike when I was younger. Loved to go everywhere on my bike! Later, when I was older, my Daddy and I would ride bikes together for exercise. Now, I don’t ride one, as I can’t take a chance I’d fall and break my wrist again, which I did NOT break from falling off a bike!

  13. Here in the Netherlands are more bikes than people, most of the people at least have one bike. There are special ‘fast roads’ for bicycles. My only form of transportation is an electric bike. Almost 6000 kilometer (a little over 3700 miles) in 3 years. It saves me a lot of money.

    I loved Gage’s story.

  14. I was so excited with my first bike..it was a second hand bike but it was all mine ! Eventually my parents bought me a banana seat bicycle ..I loved that bike ..I rode it all over ..we lived in the country about 6 miles from town…I rode all over visiting neighbor kids ..no cell phone..no bike helmet ..just me and my bike ..I later had a 3 speed and rode it a lot but no longer own a bike ..closest I get to ridding a bike now is an exercise bike ! I grew up in the 60s and 70s ..wouldn’t change a thing about my growing up times !

  15. Charlene, Thank you for such an interesting post. The two versions pictured – the one built for two with the infant carrier and the 3 wheeler are versions I have never seen before. We go to museums and historic sites all the time and I find it interesting those have never been displayed. They are certainly much more stable than the two wheeled version of the time or even now. I had a few crashes in my youth. I scraped the side of my torso (don’t wear tube top while biking) and had a bump the size of an egg on my head. I currently have a bike, but we live in the country and it isn’y safe to ride. It seems to “fun” to threaten those on bikes. Our son was forced off the road when he was 12 or so. An adult biker was hit and killed just a mile or so from our house. He was just left there and they never caught the hit and run driver who did it. Anyway, the last time I rode was 6 years or so ago when we rented bikes in Dogwood Canyon, MO. I was a bit shaky (it had been a decade or more since I had ridden), but it came back quickly. There is a new bike trail not far from here and we really need to load our bikes into the truck and head that way to ride.

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