Historical Curiosities: 19th Century Folding Bicycles in War

Folding Bicycles

If you think that folding bikes are a huge invention adapted to people who live in the big city of these times, you are making a very big mistake. Such bicycles existed in the 19th century, and even then, people enjoyed lighter bicycles. However, there were some exceptions. It must be noticed that folding bikes in those days were used only for military purposes and certainly not a single person could afford to buy such a huge miracle of engineering back in that time.

The Cyclists of An Army

The special cycling teams were formed in the armies of France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom. The best, fastest cyclists had some special trainings in order to be complete the tasks or transmit the information as fast as possible. At the same time, the most suitable bike design for the war was created. In a lecture given in 1899, the British captain B.F.S. Baden-Powell pointed out the advantages of folding bikes.

When it is needed to cross an area of soft or wet ground, it is very convenient to fold and carry the bike as a backpack. This advantage is especially highlighted when a soldier needs to defeat an enemy on a hill, then a solder can leave his vehicle at the bottom and return to pick up after the battle. Another advantage is the compactness of the bike when traveling by train or other vehicle.

The Cyclists of An Army
Folding Bicycle

French Manufacturer

In 1886, the French bicycle factory Clement-Gladiator developed the first demo version of a folding bicycle that they believed was to be used by the French army. The manufacturer prepared even the series of photos to explain how such a bicycle could be used by soldiers in situations related to battle, transportation, and travel issues. The manufacturers were right: the army adopted this idea and found a great comfort in using bikes as soldiers were able to move fast, as well as they were not so visible, and the bikes were not making noise. Soon after the date of relieving a demo version, the company got an order to make many units of these folding bikes for the army as soon as possible.

The company that made these bikes was founded in 1891 by Alexandre Darracq and Jean Aucoc. The plant operated on the eastern outskirts of Paris. The company was focusing on a useful production and low prices as the chiefs of the company believed that after war these bikes could be useful gadget to ordinary people all around the country. However, the low price of the bicycles they produced hit the British market of bicycle manufacturers, the English financial syndicate that owned Harry Lawson of Dunlop, bought the French companies of Clement, Gladiator, and Humber in 1896.However, the technological progress was very fast. As a result, these factories soon began to produce tricycles and quadricycles vehicles and produced a motorcycle in 1902. Later, the companies switched to the production of motorcycles and cars only.

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