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Anecdotes from the Archive

Odd Bicycles from the Archives, or Ways to Cheat in Cycling Besides Doping

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This past Monday, the first doping scandal of the 2011 Tour de France was announced. Russian rider Alexandr Kolobnev tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide (used to mask other doping agents) and has since voluntarily left the race while his urine is tested for further substances. Professional cyclists have been using performance-enhancing drugs for decades. Some medical professionals have begun to argue for the legalization of these substances so they can be safely monitored since cyclists and other athletes can't seem to stay away. However, I think if you’re going to try and cheat your competition in a cycling race, why not try and reinvent the bike rather than the rider and have some fun while you're at it?


An article titled “Grotesque Forms of Cycles” ran in the December 30, 1899, issue of Scientific American, and featured cycles built for a “Great Cycle Meeting” that took place at Holburn Viaduct, England.  While they were made for advertisement purposes, there is no doubt that some of these cycles could be used to get ahead in a road race.


A gigantic bicycle was on display whose wheels measured 19 ½ feet in diameter and pneumatic tires 8 inches in thickness. It was created by Messrs. H.A. Lozier & Company, the manufacturers of the Cleveland bicycle. Surely a bicycle that large would be capable of covering a great deal of ground, giving its rider a sure advantage in a race.

giant bike


Perhaps you would be more interested in giving your whole team a leg up. This tricycle, boasted as being the largest in the world, was able to carry 8 cyclists and had two driving wheels and a steering wheel that measured 13 feet and 7 ½ feet respectively. It was constructed for the Wowenhoe & Rubler Company of Boston and weighed 2,236 pounds (not including the 8 riders).


The meeting also featured advantages for the heavier-than-average cyclist wanting to compete, particularly the heaviest cyclist in the world in 1899, referred to only as “Grimes.” Grimes weighed in at 567 pounds, measured 6 feet tall 62 inches around the chest. The bicycle he is pictured with was specially built for him.

Grimes bike


Lastly, for those who preferred to cycle for leisure rather than competition, “The Sociable” offered the chance to ride side by side with a companion. Its driving wheel measured about 6 feet in diameter and covered over 19 feet with each revolution. Herr Karl Jatho, the inventor, is pictured on the cycle with his sister.

Sociable bike



While performance-enhancing drugs may do more for a cyclist’s race standings than any one of these imaginative contraptions, we are at least reminded of the innocence and whimsy that can accompany a bike ride. Besides, isn't it always safer to soup up your wheels instead of your body?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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