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Whenever the phrase “history of bicycles” is mentioned, most of our minds automatically envision that weird-looking vehicle with a huge wheel at the front and a minuscule one at the back. But this was not where bicycles began. Believe it or not, the Penny-Farthing was quite an upgrade on the first two-wheeler. The very first undisputed incarnation of what is today known as a bicycle was created by a certain Karl von Drais back in 1817. It was a basic machine made mostly of wood which one powered with their legs, not by pedaling but more like the Flintstones power their cars. Christened’ draisine’, the machine received a few tweaks in the years that followed.

However, the most significant improvement to von Drais’ invention came in 1839 when a Scottish blacksmith mechanized the draisine by adding a crank and treadles. Kirkpatrick MacMillan’s mention in bicycle history is considered heretical by some. Still, there is no disputing that the next stage of bike evolution happened in France with the re-imagination of the ‘velocipede.’ This happened in Paris as the 1860s were drawing to a close. While Pierre Michaux is credited with introducing a pedaling system to bicycles, it was a pair of wealthy brothers who ensured their spread by investing in their mass-production. Then came the so-called “high-wheelers” or penny-farthings in the 1870s. Laugh all you want, but they were the fastest, most comfortable bikes around then.

Almost two decades later pneumatic tires were born, brought to light by a certain veterinarian named Dunlop. This ushered in the first bicycle boom in the 1890s when pedaling to work was what every working middle-class citizen dreamed of. It was during this time the ‘safety bicycle’ was invented. It was built for both men and women to ride safely; It was the template on which today’s bikes were fashioned. The early 1900s ushered in the era of racing, and such gadgets as gears and chains were added to boost their speed. Further modifications were added to adopt bicycles to different functions better. And this brings us to the array of road, mountain and leisure models available to us today.

Antique Tricycles

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Antique Tricycles on eBay.com

Antique tricycles are very popular today among bicycle, tricycle, and antique enthusiasts. Because tricycles are almost as early an invention as bicycles, there is a big market for antique and vintage tricycles. With such an interesting history, it’s easy to see why people are so fascinated by old tricycles.

History of Antique Tricycles

Bicycles were becoming quite popular by the mid-nineteenth century, both as a method for transportation and for fun. Due to this increase in popularity, came an increase in safety concerns, which led bicycle builders to build a bicycle with a third wheel to add stability. The first documented adult tricycles appeared on the market around the 1860’s.

Did you know…?

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Did you know that when tricycles first appeared, they were popular not just among children, but also adults?

Women of that time wore dresses and skirts that reached to the ankle all the time, even when they cycled. On regular high-wheeled bicycles, it could be difficult to mount the bicycle in a long dress without losing one’s balance. Thus, women preferred tricycles which were more stable and thus easier to mount.

In the 1870s, chains were used for the first time to drive adult tricycles. One of the first tricycles to have a chain was the Coventry “Rotary” tricycle. This has become one of the most popular antique tricycles today. During this time, wooden tricycles for children were also becoming very popular in America. They were so popular; they were considered part of American life for children.

By the mid 1880s tricycle makers began to make bicycle-type tricycles. It was also popular at the time for tricycles to accommodate two riders at the same time. During this period, children’s tricycles were mainly made from steel, rather than from wood, because of the more indestructible properties of steel.

In the early 1900s, mass production of tricycles began, and the tricycle has taken off from there. In the 1930s and 40’s Art Deco and Modern design, movements led manufacturers to designs beyond just functionality. Tricycles were designed to look modern and streamlined, and they are often the most sought after vintage tricycles today.

When they first came into existence centuries ago, tricycles, sometimes referred to as trikes, were not toys for introducing youngsters to the pleasures of cycling. They were used as an essential means of transport for those who did not have functional limbs. Stephan Farffler, the man who made the world’s first hand-powered three-wheeled vehicle in the 17th century, was disabled himself. His template was borrowed by the two French technicians who created the first tricycle in 1789. Only instead of being propelled by hand like Farffler’s wheelchair, their invention was propelled by pedaling.

However, tricycles didn’t catch on until James Starley, a sewing machine maker who lived in Coventry, made his version of the tricycle in 1877. What he put on the street is nothing like what you bought your little girl on her last birthday. With its huge wheel on one side, which was counterbalanced by two small ones on the other, it was what we on this side of the 21st century would classify as a circus prop. But Starley was no joke; he was into serious business. So popular had his invention become that he soon got an order from her majesty, the Queen of England.

Like its three-wheeled cousin, the bicycle also had its origins in Germany. The French may have coined the word ‘bicycle’ in 1860, but by 1820 the Germans were riding a rudimentary two-wheeled vehicle called ‘draisine.’ The origin of the name was the machine’s inventor, Karl von Drais, a civil servant by day. British cartwrights picked up on Drais’ design and gave it an improved design a few years later, but it wasn’t until 1839 that a semblance of the mechanically powered bicycle of today first appeared. It was made by a Scotsman named Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a blacksmith by trade. However, it was another blacksmith, this one from France, who crafted the first commercially produced bicycle in the late 1860s.

The funny-looking vintage bicycle with the huge wheel at the front and little one at the back took center stage in the 1870s and 80s after Frenchman Eugene Meyer invented the wire-spoke tension wheel. By the time the 20th century rolled around, the first versions of the bicycle we know and love today had started being used.

Modern Tricycles

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Modern tricycles may not receive the kind of attention their two-wheeled cousins receive today, but they still have an important part to play in human transport. The last time you saw a tricycle was probably a couple of decades back when your parents first introduced you to the wonder of cycling. You may have already done the same for your kids.

It may seem to be just a toy, but pedaling that three-wheeler around is a crucial part of any child’s development. Not only does it help them expend energy in the right way, but it also helps improve their balance and coordination. For most kids, they are an important first step before learning how to command a bicycle. There are tricycles specially designed for children and teenagers with physical disabilities as well that are designed to help boost their muscular development.

Tricycles are not just for kids; they are used by adults too. There was a time you couldn’t get a bike; they were just too dangerous and tricky to balance on. That was back in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s. But adults do need tricycles today. There are some folks who, by no fault of their own, have never learned to balance on a bicycle. They, too, deserve to feel the wind in their faces as they enjoy the physical benefits cycling brings.

Some people cannot use the narrow seat bicycles come with or suffer from back problems that can’t allow them to use bikes. Those who are well advanced in age may not be physically capable of balancing on a two-wheeler. Luckily several companies are dedicated to making adult trikes that suit diverse needs. Besides helping adults with physical challenges, tricycles can also be adapted to carry cargo better than bikes in some cases. Tadpole trikes are particularly suitable for this purpose.


Antique and vintage tricycles in mint condition with all original working parts are quite rare and difficult to find, so they fetch quite a high price, between $2000.00 and $3000.00. Most antique tricycles have some non-working parts, they aren’t in mint condition, or they aren’t as rare to find. In these cases, antique tricycles usually fetch between $100.00 and $500.00. Regardless of their price, the greatest joy of collecting antique and vintage tricycles is their beauty, functionality, and of course, their nostalgia.

Bicycles and Bicycling
“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
Bill Cosby

Bicycles and Bicycling


Tricycle History — 10 Comments

  1. I have a vintage tricycle. I think its a flexible flyer. Can you help me find some info on it. I think its from the late 70s early 80s. Thank you

    • Hi there
      Is it possible for you to upload an image or two of your vintage tricycle?
      It will be published on this website so that other visitors would be able to comment on your question.
      Thank you, David

  2. Dear David,

    I bought an antique tricycle at local antique shop , where I was told it originates from 19th century. I am not sure of its authenticity though, as there are some elements that look suspiciously modern. It may well be that they were added later to keep the bike from falling apart (it’s quite wobbly!). I would appreciate your (or other people’s) opinion on that. I am attaching some pictures for your inspection.

  3. I bought a 1963 Western Flyer for grandson. It’s in very good shape and I’ve cleaned it and repainted it some. Now I want to be sure it is properly lubed.
    Wondering why there is no *maintenance* or *lubrication* info that can be found here.

    Main Q: What type of lube should be put on wheel bearings?

  4. hey..would you be able to help us figure this one out, can’t seem to find any on the internet…we just purchased at auction on the weekend. thanks for the help

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