Sunday, 2 June 2013


There is good reason that the Scottish Bicycle Museum is to be found in an outbuilding of Drumlanrig Castle, for a local blacksmith (the castle website calls him the Drumlanrig blacksmith) invented the pedal driven bicycle back in 1839. Kirkpatrick Macmillan had seen one of the bicycles predecessors, the hobby horse, and realised that he could improve it. He became quite proficient at it and could cycle the 14 miles to Dumfries in about an hour and managed to cycle the 68 miles to Glasgow in two days (he knocked over a small girl en route and picked up a 5 shilling fine - another first I imagine). He never patented his invention but seemed unperturbed when others went on to make money from it, being quite content with his life as a country blacksmith.

Strangely, this reconstruction of Mr Macmillan's bicycle is the newest bike featured in this blog - it was built in 1990 to celebrate it's 150th anniversary. I think the horses head is a nice touch, sadly quickly lost to progress.

An 1868 velocipede, generally known a a bone shaker.

We know them as penny farthings, but they were on the way out by the time the term was first used in 1891. It was in the 1870s that a desire for speed increased the size of the front wheel quite considerably. For a cautious and generally timid person, it seems really quite lunatic - it's not as if the saying "better late than never" didn't exist - it's in the Canterbury Tales from 1386. It certainly looks like this Haynes and Jeffries Transitional Bicycle from 1875 has had a few tumbles in it's lifetime.

I think we may have a little label confusion here, this bike has the number 5 on it, where as in this blog the bike after it is clearly wearing the number 5 and this one is number six. Number 5 is listed as an 1855 Grout tension bicycle54 and number 6 is an 1888 American Eagle. I'm guessing this is the American Eagle. Look! it's got the little wheel in front, I cringe at the very thought of trying to round a corner with that.

It wasn't all madness, this contraption (a Rudge Rotary tricycle from 1888) has 3 wheels which seemed a better idea altogether while the laws of physics concerning bicycles were still in their infancy.

It's a bit awkward to see what's going on from this angle (it was almost hanging from the roof) but this advert for their Coventry model makes it all a bit clearer.

This bicycle from 1886 almost looks like something you could buy now although it still has solid rubber tyres

This is a 1989 Singer Semi Diamond Safety. I think I might even be tempted to get on one of these, though I would be looking for an uncobbled street.

Here we are at the end of the century, 1895 to be precise. This is described as a Pneumatic tyred geared front driver. It still has a hint of the penny farthing about it to me, although perhaps getting nearer a penny halfpenny.

 Here's a little article on the BBC about a man in Hull who built his own penny farthing. There is, these days, no need to build your own as there is a company who will still sell you one, though it appears they are currently out of stock (not cheap either). They normally sell unicycles, which says a lot I think (I've tried one - it's impossible)

Here's a 1905 Rover Imperial Ladies Roadster.

A bicycle built for two - this particular one was built in 1936 in Edinburgh by N.R.Stark

 There comes a time when two becomes three - seems like this 1395 BSA arrangement has come up with the very answer.

It's not long before almost anything useful ends up in the hands of the army one way or other. This bike is from the First World War. It's a Dursley Pedersen Model Royal and folds up apparently.

It's got a string seat. Not sure how comfy that would be but if any of you macrame boffins out there want to give it a go and let me know, I'll be pleased to hear.

This is a British Army bike from the Second World War. I think the gun case has just been put on for effect (I suspect it probably last contained a 12 bore for bagging pheasants (maybe even peasants))

A 1946 Swiss Army Bike. There's a bicycle pump neatly folded along the cross bar. Somewhere on it there will be a bottle opener and a thing for taking stones out of horses hooves.

I am a chap of a certain age - I'm sure my contemporaries will be familiar with these.

I had a pretty ordinary blue bike rather than a chopper - probably much better suited to the treatment it got. There is nothing that looks much like it here in the museum. I did eventually progress onto something more in this vein, though not so posh and much more brown.

I know that the bicycle has continued to develop into the 21st century but the museum is mostly about the early days of cycling so my blog ends here.

Happy cycling.


Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

What a neat museum, one that I would thoroughly enjoy. Thanks for the tour.

Michael (Light-In-A-Box) said...

Interesting post Sandy, I've had my share of bycycles throughout my life, most of them had short lives as I beat the hell out of them, now they beat the hell out of me!
That's quite a collection of bicycles, I have a feeling someone would be quite sore after a ride on one of the antiques, if not seriously injured! : )

The Glebe Blog said...

I remember probably thirty years ago on a visit to Drumlanrig, my girls hired bikes to explore the grounds. None of them were like those. My eldest daughter however was once the proud owner of a Chopper.

Sandy's witterings said...

John, certainly was a good wee museum and all included inthe price of looking round the castle.

Michael, there certainly are some uncomfortable machines here, especially considering what the state of their roads must have been.

Jim, It looks like there's quite some grounds - a bike could be a good way to get about it. It just wasn't ground exploring weather when I was there (which is where the bike museum scored, what with it's roof and all)

Shundo said...

I do sometimes wonder if the world would be a better place without some of the engines and contraptions that all seem to have been invented by enterprising Scots, but the world would definitely not be a better place without bicycles - even uncomfortable ones.
I suspect I must have given my parents a really hard time in order for them to buy me a Chopper, but they did not succumb, so I had the ordinary bike and my friend Gareth had the Chopper. Constant jealousy of the worst kind...

Dominic Rivron said...

What interesting photos. This is not a facetious question - it popped into my head as soon as I read your post and it intrigues me. Since Scottish men have worn kilts (probably more in the past than now) did this mean there were more "ladies bikes" (no crossbar) in Scotland than "mens", with a crossbar? If so, were they marketed as "ladies bikes" or what?

Sandy's witterings said...

Shundo, we do seem to lay claim to quite a few of the worlds contraptions - of varying usefulness. Perhaps the bike just attracts less misuse than some other inventions.

Dominic - I'm afraid the wearing of the kilt is a bit of a myth - certainly in our corner of the world. I suspect that Kirkpatrick Macmillan spent his entire life in a pair of trousers (hopefully not the same pair for his duration) and almost every other bloke in Scotland over the last 200 years.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for that. I googled the problem - to discover I'm not the first to think about it! Just the sort of question that brings the internet into its own. What I did learn was that the the sporran was more inconvenient than the kilt.

Of course you're right about the myth of kilt-wearing: much of the discussion I found to do with military uniform. One wag observed that while riding a bike in a kilt "don't try to salute".