Road Traffic - Hand Carts, Horse Drawn Vehicles and Bicycles
Hand carts used for traders deliveries are more fully discussed in App One - Traders Delivery vehicles. Horse drawn taxi cabs are discussed separately in App One - Public Service Vehicles - Buses, Trams and Taxis
The hand cart of 'barrow' (a small usually open two-wheeled cart pushed by hand) was widely used by a variety of trades, one common use being for parcels deliveries in towns. The example below was used by one of the tram operating companies in Manchester (these services also carried parcels as they were quick and reliable)
Fig ___ Parcels delivery hand cart used by a Tram company
Hand carts were also used as mobile shops, for example costermongers (selling fruit and vegetables) gathering in designated areas to form an ad hoc market. In the illustration below A shows a typical street traders cart, the body is about two feet six inches wide (75cm), it is quite shallow as he wants to show off his wares. The cart has springs to protect the goods from the vibration of the rough roads and legs at the rear to hold it more or less level when stationary. The example B in the top row centre is a typical cart used for bakery deliveries, this has a deeper body as display is not part of its function and it has small metal 'legs' at the bottom of each end (which end was up would depend on where the bread was inside it). The metal rack on the top holds the empty wickerwork baskets used to carry the bread inside the body, these run into rails inside the body of the cart and function as slide-out shelves. The wooden crate with a set of old pram wheels C in the top right is the sort of hand cart children might use to collect, say, a bag of potatoes from the greengrocer's. Not all hand carts had the 'table legs' to hold the cart level when not being pushed, D shows a cart used by a chimney sweep in the 1890s where the handle rests on the floor. Not all traders carts were so up market, example E is another chimney sweeps cart this time from the early 1930s. The body is unpainted wood and note the simple mass produced spoked metal wheels. The small diameter wheels must have been hard work on a simple macadam road surface but these were hard times and he may have been just staring up the business.
Fig ___ Traders hand carts
The chimney sweep's cart with its rods and brushes was a common sight in Britain. Up to the 1960s most houses had at least one coal fire so he would only need to push the cart a short distance between jobs. The design of the cart was usually determined by the duties it was to perform, the windows cleaners cart shown below has a narrow body just wide enough to carry the ladders and has no 'legs' to support it when not being pushed.
Fig___ Window cleaners with hand cart
Hand carts were on the wane from the mid 1930s however, increasingly replaced by motorcycle combinations and small three and four wheeled vans. Their main employment by the post war era was associated with street markets but some tradesmen continued using them until about 1980, my local council were used hand carts for their plumbers and carpenters until 1974.
In 2004 the only hand cart I know of in regular use operates at the local market collecting packaging from the traders, for many years this was a wooden type similar to that shown above left 'A' but in 2007 he was using an all-metal cart. Note the small wheels, not a problem in a world where roads are all tarmac. Dave who operates the business is now in his 60s and presumably when he retires the cart will no longer be seen.
Fig ___ Modern hand cart
In N a handcart is rather small, however this does mean you can get away with suggestion rather than actual detail. The example shown below is a scrap of post card bent to shape for the body, the handles and legs are bent up from thin wire, coated with solder to reinforce them, and the wheels are just small press-stud fasteners with the plug part flattened and glued to the under side of the body. The model only took about ten minutes to make, the eye fills-in detail that isn't there and it looked acceptable parked in a joiners yard on the Tickling layout.
Fig ___ Model hand cart
Horse drawn vehicles
Note - Horse drawn taxis and buses are considered in detail in Appendix One - Public Service Vehicles
The horse drawn carriage was invented in Hungary in the Fifteenth Century, it was built to carry a Princess to her wedding but this early design had no steering as such and had to be dragged sideways by its team of horse to turn a corner. Development was slow but eventually the front axle was mounted on a turntable to provide steering and the horse drawn waggon was a semi-practical, if not very comfortable vehicle. Suspension systems evolved slowly but by the early nineteenth century most of the problems had been solved and the improvements in road construction and maintenance made the horse drawn carriage a viable form of transport.
On early horse drawn vehicles the driver either walked alongside or rode one of the horses in the team, by the time the railways arrived a drivers seat was fitted to many passenger carrying vehicles (although it was much less common on goods vehicles), for historical reasons I am not sure I fully understand this is called a box.
The word van comes from Caravan which originally meant a group of people travelling together for safety. By the seventeenth century the word van was being applied to covered vehicles used to carry groups of people and by the eighteenth century it was used for a covered vehicle being used for goods.
A cart has two wheels, a waggon (road waggons have two 'g's in their name, railway wagons only one) has four wheels, both are used as general purpose vehicles mainly for goods.
The traditional 'farmers waggon' was a four wheeled affair with quite large wheels. The designs were never written down but were built by master wheelwrights to dimensions handed down through the business. The hay day for this type of waggon began in about 1800 but from about 1900 they went into decline as cheaper mass-produced waggons came on the market. The last traditional waggons were probably built in the mid 1940's. There were about thirty five officially recognised types of traditional farm waggon, each associated with a specific area of the country. The distance between the wheels had to be to a local standard, to allow the waggons to roll down the deep ruts in the roads, so waggons from one area could not be used in another. The front wheels needed to be big, to give sufficient ground clearance on the rutted roads, so they could not turn under the body, and as a result these waggons were built with a 'wasp waisted' shape to provide clearance at the sides for the front wheels to turn. The example below is a more modern variant, probably a mass produced waggon dating from the early 20th century, and has smaller diameter front wheels.
Fig___ Cheshire farm waggon
The more specialised designs include the farmers or coal merchants 'tip cart' on which the body was mounted on hinges somewhere about its mid-point and could be tipped back to empty the load without un-hitching the horse. These tip carts are also known as tumbrils and were commonly called Scotch Carts in Britain as the design originated in Scotland. The body of these tip carts were between four and six feet (1.6 to 2m) long and anything from three and a half feet to five feet (1.25m to 1.6m) wide. The example shown below was photographed at Tatton Park farm in Cheshire.
Fig___ Tip Cart
The tip cart has twin shafts, designed for a single horse secured between them, the farm cart has a rail to which may be attached either a pair of shafts (supplied as a U shaped set) or a sing pole, which could have a horse attached either side. The shafts tended to get in the way so when a cart or waggon with hinged shafts was 'parked' it was usual to get them out of the way. In the illustration below the top waggon has the single pole placed in the wagon (it would be placed under the wagon were it being loaded or unloaded). The two flat-bed waggons show positions used for securing the twin shafts (always tied back for safety) taken from photographs.
Fig___ Securing the shafts on horse drawn waggons
Carts and waggons used for delivery work or for jobs such as hauling away the manure from stables were not fitted with a driving seat. The horse was either lead by the carter walking along beside the horses head and holding onto the bridle or controlled by voice commands and the use of a long whip. If the horse bolted the carter usually just got out of the way as quickly as possible. Reins first appeared on these vehicles in the mid nineteenth century but carters still preferred to walk or sit on the front corner of the waggon. In towns the local councils preferred the driver to ride on the waggon and use reins to control the horse, this increased the speed of the vehicle somewhat and having the driver high up gave him a better view of the road. It also meant that the driver would, in theory at least, be able to stop the horse bolting. In practice the latter depended to a large extent on the horse's temperament and how startled it had been. In 1900 a law was passed requiring all waggons to be driven with reins but many carters continued to lead their horses. The illustrations in Fig ___ show the driving positions used when reins were employed, having a set of loops for the reins on the horses harness allowed the driver to sit to one side, often perched on the front left hand corner.
Fig___ Driving positions
Up to the 1940s many people either rode a horse or used a horse drawn vehicle for personal transport. Most common was the simple open 'trap' type cart, carrying two or three people and pulled by a single horse.
The sketches below are scanned from a 1930s reprint of Punch cartoons, the example on the left is a farmer from the 1830s, that on the right is a farmer from the 1870s.
Fig___ Nineteenth century traps
One small point is that the use of dogs to pull carts was outlawed in 1837. The term 'dog cart' remained in common use for a light weight horse drawn conveyance, these were regularly seen into the 1940s, usually pulled by a small pony. Once you added a solid roof and four wheels you were really in to two horse designs, which cost more to buy and run. The illustrations below are based on photographs taken in the first half of the 20th century.
Fig___ 20th century Traps
Slightly more up-market was the Victoria (so named because Queen Victoria liked the design). This was a four wheeler, usually pulled by two horses.
Fig___ Victoria coach
In towns (and in country areas with a railway station) the taxi cab was always a horse drawn vehicle up to the early 1930s and horse drawn taxis continued in use into the 1940s. Taxis usually (but by no means always) had a solid top.
Fig___ One horse 'Hansom' cab and a Brougham type coach in use as a taxi
The most common horse drawn vehicle would probably have been the small traders delivery van, for which the designs varied greatly.
Fig ___ Typical horse drawn delivery vehicles
Big wheels give a smoother ride and can cope with rutted roads but some delivery vehicles benefited from having a low platform which made it easier to lift the load on and off. The only way to arrange this with the large diameter wooden spoked wheels was to fit a 'cranked' or U shaped axle.
A dray and a float are both vehicles with a low floor, both are intended for carrying heavy objects. The word dray is very old and drays are usually associated with the breweries, they tended to operate in a fairly restricted area and used fairly small wheels rather than a cranked axle. The earliest way to transport a barrel was to lash it to two long poles and drag it along behind a horse, which may well be the origin of the word dray. The word float (in this context) appeared in about 1886 and floats were associated with farmers and dairies. Technically a float is a low-floored vehicle with rear access so the modern multi-decked sheep and pig carrying lorries are floats. Farmers floats (notably those used for distributing milk) often featured the cranked type of axle to allow the floor to be as low as possible. Although there are a number of very nice N Gauge horse drawn kits on the market there are no horse drawn milk floats that I know of (Langley offer suitable vehicles in OO). Modelling horse drawn milk floats is discussed separately under Lineside Industries - Dairies & Creameries but one option is to buy an OO kit and use this as a guide for a scratch built model. (Pending completion of the section on Dairies I have placed some information on milk floats in App One - Set Dressing - Tradesmen, Shopkeepers and Street Traders)
Fig___ Milk float with cranked axle
A lorry is a low floored vehicle with four wheels and with low sides or no sides at all. The word dates from about 1834 and may be derived from Laurie, the name of the man who built such a vehicle to run on railway tracks. An alternative origin is a contraction of the word 'trolley' which is a low floored four wheeled vehicle for heavy loads. The name trolley was applied locally to a range of carts and waggons, both horse drawn and man-powered. It became associated with four wheeled waggons for heavy loads and the name was adopted by the railways for low-floored wagons for heavy items.
Solidly built single horse trolleys began to appear in some numbers in the industrial centres in the 1890's. In London they often had a raised driving seat but elsewhere in the country they had no seat. On the latter the driver usually sat on the left hand front corner or walked beside the horse's head to lead it (had he sat on the right hand side his legs would have been vulnerable to passing traffic). After the general introduction of reins in the mid nineteenth century the driver was often seen standing on the front of the platform. They were typically nine feet (3m) long with the body raised above and extending sideways over the tops of the thirty inch (70 cm) diameter wheels. By the early part of the twentieth century it was considered desirable to have some means of fixing the brakes on delivery vehicles and the London trolleys favoured the use of a screw-down brake with a brake wheel raised up close to the driver acting on one of the rear wheels. The example shown below left is a railway company (LMS) trolley, designed for heavy or high loads it has unusually small (about 15 inch or 35cm) wheels, the screw down brake wheel (painted white by railway tradition) is on the side of the vehicle. The intended load is evidently bulky but light as it has shafts for a single horse(a second horse could be added in line-ahead using chains attached to the harness). The example on the right has a pole for two horses and has a fixed wooden frame used for carrying loads of plate glass for shop windows (or indeed any suitable load that would fit, such as large metal rings).
Fig___ LMS trolley and 'glass trolley' from the mid 1930s
A pantechnicon was originally (in 1830) a bazaar selling artistic goods, it was subsequently used to describe large warehouses to store furniture and hence as a colloquial name for a large furniture removals van. Broadly speaking there were two types, one had four small wheels, the other had small wheels at the front and larger wheels on a cranked axle at the rear. For drawings showing sample liveries see also Wagon Loads & Materials Handling - Road vehicles and Farm Equipment.
Timber carriages had a long, heavy, central shaft with a set of steering wheels mounted at one ends and a moveable axle carrying the rear wheels. They were sometimes called 'pole waggons', not because of the load they carried but because of the long beam or pole forming the chassis. The rear axle could be moved along the pole so that only a proportion of the load was carried by the front wheels to make steering easier. The example shown has twin shafts for a single horse, a second horse could be attached in 'line ahead' using chains, the shafts are shown resting on the floor, as they would be if the wagon was being loaded or unloaded to avoid damage from the swinging load being craned on or off.
Fig___ Timber Carriage
Horse drawn tanker waggons appeared in the late 1880's, although they were never very common. They usually had a cylindrical tank, often with metal frames along the sides to carry pipes and fittings. They were used for a range of liquids, mainly oils such as paraffin and lighter coal tar oils but also for drinking water, they were not (as far as I am aware) ever used for bulk beer. They could be drawn by a single horse or (less commonly) two horses and they remained in use into the 1920's. To model such a tanker the best option is to use wheels from a commercial kit (some makes sell the wheels separately) and a tank made from some 8mm or 10 mm (maximum) diameter tube with the rest made from paper or plastic card. The shafts can be bent up from brass wire, the frames on the sides can be represented by gluing on a strip of 20x30 thou strip on edge and gluing some N signal ladder to the outside edge. The Ratio oil tank at about seven feet in diameter is really too large for a horse drawn tanker even if cut down in length. The example shown dates from the turn of the century, it has a roofed 'cab' for the driver with oil lamps mounted on the sides.
Fig ___ Horse drawn tank wagon
The railway companies used all of the above and also had large numbers of one and two-horse delivery vans on both two-wheeled and four wheeled chassis. Vehicles designed for one-horse use could be rigged for two by replacing the shafts with a centre pole and vise versa.
The pneumatic tyre, mounted on a motor car wheel, was introduced on horse drawn vehicles in the mid 1930's and these were soon standard on the lighter delivery vehicles. This means that the wheels offered by Dornaplas can be used to make up a range of larger horse drawn vehicles such as bread vans.
Up to the 1930's the front wheels of waggons were mounted on a single axle fitted on a turn-table arrangement under the wagon body but by about 1935 'Ackerman' steering had been introduced. This uses wheels mounted on short stub axles fitted to a rigid frame, similar to the arrangement used on lorries and cars. The clever bit, developed by a Mr Rudolf Ackerman, is arranging for the inner wheel to turn slightly more than the outer wheel, this brings the wheels closer to their correct track, reducing wear on the wheels and improving stability.
Fig___ Ackerman Steering
This means the wheels could no longer be turned fully sideways and so increased the turning circle but the pneumatic tyred wheels gave a much smoother ride.
The number of horses employed peaked in 1902 when Britain had something like three and a half million working horses. These required fifteen million acres of land to supply their food and produced about ten million tons of manure a year. The horse drawn waggon and van remained a fairly common sight in Britain up to the 1940's but motor vehicles replaced most of them quite quickly after the Second World War. Railway company horse drawn vehicles remained in service with British Railways in to the mid 1950's. Horse drawn vehicles were generally better than motor vehicles where speed was not so important and where frequent stops were required. Coal merchants, bread companies and dairies were all often still using horses into the 1960's (there was a horse drawn milk float still in service in the South Manchester area in the late 1980's).
When considering horse drawn delivery vehicles calling at street addresses there were two men involved, the driver and his mate. The driver was not allowed to leave the horse unattended, hence the 'mate', although when loading up in railway yards these two just sat on the waggon as the goods yard porters did the loading. There is still a law on the books that if you are a driver of a vehicle and you need to take a pee you can do so against the front off-side wheel of your vehicle providing you shout out 'In pain' three times. Waggons collecting goods for a firm might only have a single driver but he might not be sitting down, generally the driver has to be above the horse and a lot of driving was done standing in the waggon or even on top of the load. The railway company parcels vans would have two men, or a man and a boy and the latter was often seen standing on the back of the van, hanging onto a rope attached to the roof. Railway company parcels vans are discussed in Volume 1 under Railway Company Goods Facilities - Railway Owned Road Vehicles. It is worth noting that as from 1937 horse drawn vehicles were banned from certain parts of London although I am not sure why this law was passed.
Two examples of horse drawn vehicles which often did not follow the two-man rule were milk floats and 'rag and bone men' (see Appendix One - Street Traders).
Horses on delivery rounds often had a 'nose bag' attached to their bridle, this was a canvass bag containing food, when the vehicle stopped the horse could lower this to the ground to take a bite to eat.
Horse drawn mobile shops were a feature of life into the 1940's, a few lasting into the 1950's. They delivered round the suburban streets and up to the 1930's they wee often parked along the side of the road with the pavement side of the tarpaulin supported on poles to form an awning. Common examples of horse drawn shops were fruit and vegetable sellers (as sketched on the left) but in the 1920's horse drawn mobile butchers shops and fish mongers shops were built in some numbers (as per the example shown on the right). One option for an unusual vehicle in your goods yard is the fish mongers van shown below. In the 1950's war surplus lorries were similarly used, they were seen in relatively built up areas into the 1960's and some remained in service in country areas into the 1970's. Rag and bone men were still using horse drawn waggons into the 1970's.
Fig ___ Horse drawn 'mobile shops'
Horses can be purchased separately from various manufacturers and for scratch building purposes it may be of some help to show how the typical harness looked when fitted to the horses. The light harness for a single horse between shafts shown in the upper left was used with two-wheeled and lighter four wheeled vans and waggons. The heavy type for a single horse between shafts was used for most four wheeled waggons and heavier four wheeled vans. The pair of horses with the central pole shown in the lower left illustrate the simple harness employed with this arrangement. Note how the reins pass through loops on the harness to ensure they pull down when used. The horse in the lower right is rigged for pulling a heavy load, perhaps some logs being dragged along on the ground. The same harness was used when pulling railway wagons about, the ends of the chains being fitted with hooks for this purpose (see Volume 1 Fig___). In all cases the actual load is taken by the collar round the horses neck, the remainder of the harness is there to support the pole or shafts and to guide the reins so they act in the desired way (pulling the horses head down and back). If using a Prieser or similar model horse you can add the collar by winding several turns of thin cotton, the remainder of the harness can then be made up from thin strips of cigarette paper. As you will see the horse cannot 'reverse' as this would just push the collar over its head.
Fig___ Horse harnesses
'Horse Brasses' are cast brass ornaments which are attached to horses harnesses, they were originally 'magic charms' intended to ward off the 'evil eye', by the time the railways arrived these were (mostly) just used for ornament. Common on horses hauling a brewers dray they would generally only be seen on farm horse harnesses at shows and when attending a market.
In 1790 a Frenchman had popularised an un-steerable foot-propelled two-wheeler (races were held in Paris along the Chaps Elysees). Thirty years later a German Baron had taken this idea and added both a sprung seat and steering. To allow the rider to use their hands for sterering a padded bar was added as a chest support.
Fig___ 1820 'Hobby Horse'
A Scots blacksmith by the name of Macmillan built himself mechanically propelled bike in 1839, suitable chain was not available so the bike was propelled by push rods linked to a crank on the rear wheel. Mr Macmillan took the machine for a spin but he ran over and killed a child which caused him to abandon the research. The pedal was invented by a Frenchman called Pierre Michaux in 1861 and within a year bikes with pedals mounted on the front wheel, called 'velocipedes', were being imported from Paris (although an Englishman by the name of Dennis Johnson had patented the idea as far back as 1818). Velocipede riders were known as 'velocipedestrians' and a number of enthusiastic clubs were formed.
Fig___ 1869 Velocipede
In 1869 the British produced the first machines with steel wheels and solid rubber tyres, by this time the name Bicycle was in common use. The pedals were at this time mounted on the dront wheel. The speed of the bike could be increased by making the front wheel larger and during the 1870's front wheels became larger and in 1880 a British engineer called James Starley introduced the 'Penny Farthing' or 'Big Bi' with a five foot diameter front wheel and a small trailing wheel (the penny farthing name referred to the relative sizes of the wheels which resembled the British penny and the farthing or quarter penny coins).
Fig___ 1870s Penny Farthing
The large front wheel offered higher speeds and conferred a certain status on the owner, the design was popular and they became commonly known as the 'Ordinary'.
Fig ___ Modelling the 'Ordinary'
The legacy of the penny farthing is still with us today, if you look at the specification for bicycle gears they are quoted in 'inches', this figure is the equivalent diameter of the front wheel of a penny farthing type machine. Typical gearing on a standard bike today is quoted as '60 inches' and if you divide the gear figure of your bike by three you get the distance travelled in yards for one revolution of the pedals.
The dangers of riding so high (particularly when going down hills) resulted in several designs of three and four wheeled cycles, often with seating for two, but all of these were mainly toys for the wealthy and could only be used in towns or other areas with good quality road surfaces. Metal ball bearings were first used on bicycles in 1877.
The examples shown below are typical of the sort of machine developed in the later 19th century, the sketches are taken from advertisements of the time.
Fig ___ Typical bike and trike from the 1880s
Note that not all three wheelers had conventional handle bars however (see also Appendix One - Traders delivery vehicles and mobile shops which includes a sketch of a tricycle with steering handles to either side of the rider).
The big change in the fortunes of the 'bike' came in the later 1880's with the chain driven 'safety bicycle' of the same general type as used today. The roller chain was invented by Slater in 1864 and the first chain drive for bikes was developed by H. J. Lawson in 1879 but sales were slow until the revolutionary Rover Safety Cycle (designed by James Starley's nephew John) appeared in 1885. Early models had a large front wheel and a slightly smaller rear wheel to retain the familiarity of the 'ordinary'. The design evolved quickly however and by 1890 bicycles had the familiar pattern tubular steel frame and pneumatic tyres on equal sized wheels.
Fig ___ Safety Bicycle
The sprung saddle and ball bearings for the axles followed quickly, pneumatic tyres were introduced in 1887.
In 1888 the bike was officially recognised in law as a 'carriage' and hence was formally allowed to use the roads, the same law required all bikes to be fitted with a bell which was to be continually rung whilst the bike was moving (that last bit of the law was finally repealed in 1930).
Ladies had special requirements, they wore ankle length skirts and petticoats so a ladies bike had the chain encased in a sheet metal hood and there was an oilcloth or netting skirt over the rear wheel to prevent the hem of the skirt being caught in the spokes. As it was considered undignified for a lady to throw her leg over the rear of the machine, and riding side saddle was hardly practical, the cross-bar on a ladies bike extended downwards from the handlebars, so she could step-through to mount the machine. The example below, a Rudge, has a brake on the rear wheel only.
Fig ___ Ladies Bicycle from the 1890s
Early ladies bikes had a curved cross-bar as shown above, by the mid 1930s a more common arrangement was a straight bar running parallel with the front frame (although up-market ladies bikes with the curved cross bar remain available in 2007). The cloth covering on the rear wheel was regularly seen into the 1960s, becoming less common as skirt lengths shortened.
Cycling was initially seen as a hobby and racing was fairly popular, the use of bicycles for pottering about the countryside and, more importantly, getting to and from work was a development of the early 1890s. The idea soon caught on, although there were grave warnings about the effect on the morals of the country with young men, and particularly young women, pedaling about in revealing and unrestrictive cycling attire. Two basic types of bike evolved, a light weight 'racing' bike used by people engaged in bicycle racing but also by young people in a hurry, and the rather heavier 'touring' bike. more ruggedly built and offering a more upright posture. The racing bikes adopted the 'cable operated' brake to save weight, these used a stiff but flexible sheath with a wire centre, the wire was attached to a lever which also held the end of the sheath, pulling the brake lever pulled the wire back through the sheath and operated the brakes. Most bikes used 'caliper brakes' consisting of two metal brackets holding rubber pads which gripped the rim of the wheel when the brake was pulled. Fine in good weather these became problematic in wet weather and where weight was not an issue the more expensive but more efficient 'hub brake' was employed.
The illustration below shows typical designs of the early 1930s which were still the norm into the 1970s. A is a Gents racing cycle with cable operated brakes but no gears as such and B is the ladies version. C shows a typical 'touring' bike, of heavier construction and designed to carry quite a load using a saddle bag and possibly panniers on the rear wheels. This machine has rod-operated brakes (more reliable but heavier than the cable operated type) and a three-speed hub gear. D is a tandem, never very common, both riders operate the pedals but the one in front does the steering so the person in the rear has a less enjoyable time. A tandem such as this with two people in average physical condition can however 'cruise' comfortably at 30-40mph, the example shown has a large 'touring' saddlebag and hub brakes. The tandem also features the advanced five speed 'derailleur' gears which have the entire gear train on view and a tensioning arm extending below the hub.
Fig ___ Standard bicycle types 1920s-1980s
By the 1890's the price of bicycles had fallen to the point where an ordinary working man could afford such a machine. The push-bike has a practical commuting radius of some ten miles (16 km) and the mass-production techniques developed for bicycle production laid the groundwork for the later motor car industry.
Cycle racing came in two forms, on the open road they held 'time trials' in which each cyclist (wearing regulation dark clothing) set off at intervals of about 90 seconds to cover a course of 25, 50 or 100 miles, the winner being the contestant with the fastest time. Track racing, using banked wooden tracks of the type used for the Olympics these days or larger circuits in the open and featuring a 'mass start' tended to be more prolongued affairs, one common type was the six-day event in which teams of two riders operated with one or other on the track at all times. Cycle racing was controlled by the National Cyclists Union, the touring side being covered by the Cycle Touring Club.
From a modelling point of view the bicycle was a very common method of getting about right into the 1960's, so most works would have some 'bike sheds'. These came in all forms from a simple open fronted wooden building to purpose built structures. The example below, photographed in about 2000, was still in use at a local hospital and represents a very common 'industrial' bike shed design from the 1920s to the present day. The framework consists of U shaped tube into which the bike wheels are resting. To keep the floor area down the bikes sit at a steep angle, as can be seen in the upper left picture. Bike sheds of this type were common in Britain from the 1920s (possibly earlier) right up to the 1970s.
Fig ___ Bike Sheds
Delivery boys using bikes equipped with a large metal frame in front of the handle bars were still seen as late as the early 1970's (see also Appendix One - Set Dressing - Traders delivery vehicles).
In the later 1950s a chap called Alex Moulton took a long look at the basic design of bicycles and came up with a new light weight variant. To make it easier to get on and off he used a new frame design called the F frame, which had no cross bar, the machine had small wheels so it was easier to store and suspension front and rear to provide a comfy ride. The machine went on sale in 1962 and became in instant success, the light weight and better acceleration than a conventional bike made it well suited to in-town cycling.
Fig ___ Original 1960s Moulton bicycle
The Moulton style was widely imitated with varying degrees of success, bikes featuring smaller wheels and often supplied with a large PVC bag on the rear carrier were produced by a number of manufacturers. Intended as a light weight shopping bike these suffered somewhat because the smaller wheels gave a rough ride as the copies lacked rubber shock absorbers.
The example below dates from about 1970. This design with the long handlebar support was found to be problematic as (on some designs) the handlebars could come loose.
Fig ___ Bike from 1970
The competition from larger firms caused Mr Moulton to sell the rights to Raleigh in the early 1970s, they almost immediately withdrew it from the market.
The small wheeled machines were popular with women but less so amongst men, who tended to favour 'racing bikes' with dropped handlebars and five or more gears. The small wheeled machines had one trick that traditional bikes could not match, they could be built to fold up so they could be carried on public transport. Although on the face of it this was a very good thing the public transport officials were not terribly keen and the cost of a folding bike tended to be much higher than an ordinary type so they were never terribly common.
In the early 1980s Mr Moulton bought back the rights to his machine and produced a new even lighter version using an advanced 'space frame' design, called the AM and although it was pitched at the high end of the market this did rather well. In the 1990s Pashley Cycles produced a low cost version under licence.
In the later 1980s a new type of bike appeared known as the 'mountain bike' and designed for people to ride off the roads and footpaths across open country. These were of necessity very sturdy machines with suspension on the front forks and a great many gears. They rapidly gained in popularity although they were ill suited to road running as the wide 'mud' tyres produce a lot of drag. At about this time, as traffic levels increased, a number of cycle courier services were set up in cities to move documents and the like from place to place, this being much faster than trying to get a car or even a motorcycle the same distance. These firms initially favoured the rugged mountain bike but by the later 1990s many had switched back to more roadworthy machines. The mountain bike remained the most popular type in Britain outside the cycle clubs, largely as a matter of fashion rather than function, into the first decade of the twenty first century.