The first velocipedes - Bicycles

As early as the 18th century, many attempts were made to invent a simple type of vehicle with only two wheels. At the very beginning of the 19th century, people rode around on wheeled stick-horse-like constructions, which you pushed along with your foot. It wasn’t until 1817 that these models actually became steerable, and then they were called Laufmaschine (German for “running machine”).

The first velocipede with pedals was designed by Frenchman Pierre Michaux in 1855, or Pierre Lallement in 1863. But it wasn’t until the end of the 1880s that the first “modern” velocipede – the “safety velocipede” – with chain propulsion and air-filled tires, came into use. The first velocipede came to Sweden in 1867.  Germany, France and the UK were the first European countries to manufacture velocipedes industrially. 


As mentioned above, the term bicycle came into use and began to replace velocipede in the 1870s. This occurred at the same time as the velocipede became fitted with air-filled rubber tires. The earliest bicycles were very expensive; in Sweden, a bicycle cost about six months’ wages for the average worker. This made them highly desirable, and right from the start it was necessary to lock them. With increased competition and more streamlined manufacturing in the early 20th century, prices began to drop and demand increased. To many, a bicycle meant freedom, a new opportunity to expand your horizons, a way to get to know your surroundings, and perhaps your homeland, if you combined it with rail transport.

Early long trips on velocipedes

At the turn of the 20th century, British author Jerome K Jerome wrote a book about the adventures of three cycling Englishmen on German roads, Three Men on the Bummel. But there were those who dared to go even farther on a bicycle. Some bold men even circumnavigated the globe on a bicycle, including Kai Thorenfelt, Jorden rundt paa cykle, 1928.

A selection of well-known early bicycle manufacturers in Sweden

The Husqvarna Vapenfabrik made the Husqvarna brand (1886); the Nyman Company, Stockholm/Uppsala, made the Hermes brand (1888); the Varberg company made the Monark brand (1908); (in 1960 Nymans merged with Monark); and Wiklunds in Stockholm had its Nordstjernan brand (1900). In addition there were Bernhard Hedlunds in Hedemora with the Brage brand; August Lindblad, Stockholm/Malmö, with the Drott brand; Josef Eriksson, Uppsala, with the Fram brand; AB Maskinfabriken, Halmstad, with the Rex brand; and John Hedberg and Malmö with the Örnen brand.

In Germany, Sachs (1887) and Adler were among the earliest. Their bicycles were also exported to Sweden. Crescent was manufactured in the United States and exported to Sweden, and was sold from Stockholm as early as 1897.

Repair shops

Specialized bicycle repair shops gradually replaced smithies for repairs. These repair shops soon also became retailers of one or another make, and also sold other goods, such as sports equipment. During the interwar period and the Second World War, the number of bicycles increased, and so did the number of bicycle repair shops. Mail-order companies also sold bicycles.

Driver’s licenses for velocipedes and bicycles

To create order in traffic, some cities in Sweden required bicycle registration. This also made it easier to identify a stolen bicycle, and to identify the rider in the event of traffic offenses. Like the first cars, velocipedes and later bicycles caused problems in the traffic of the day. A bit further into the 20th century, Finland required bicyclists to obtain a permit from the police. The registration, which was also proof that the rider was capable of controlling the vehicle, was marked with the driver’s (rider’s) name and photograph. It also had a registration number, make, factory number, issue date and the signature of an official.

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