Days of Old


A velocipede housed in Miami University Archives, part of the University Libraries Special Collections Department.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

In the 1860s, Miami students were learning to ride a conveyance around campus called a velocipede. Though its name makes it sound like some kind of rapid and deadly dinosaur, it is actually a wheeled vehicle, a precursor to our bicycle of today. Velocipede is a French term derived from Latin meaning “swift foot.”

Its manufacturers created larger and larger wheels once they realized that the bigger the wheel, the farther you could travel with one rotation of the pedals, attached directly to the front wheel.

At Miami, there was a University Velocipede Club, and photos in the archives show students of the time (circa 1891) with various models.

In the photo at right, taken in front of old Harrison Hall, Everett McDonald and Robert Harvey stand in the center with their “ordinaries,” the more common term for the high wheeler. Carl Greer, on the left, holds a “safety,” a popular alternative that started replacing the ordinary in the late 1880s because a rider’s feet could reach the ground easily, and the pedals powered the rear wheel, keeping toes away from the dangerous front wheel. The man on the right is unidentified.

Another term for velocipede, coined about 1869, is boneshaker because the bicycle came without springs and was ridden on cobblestone streets, often rutted ones.