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Exhibitions > 1817

The Draisienne Walking Machine

"Draisienne," "dandy-horse," and "hobby horse" are different names for the famous bicycle developed by the German Baron Karl von Drais. This "walking machine" enabled him to easily wander through the royal gardens, and grew popular in Germany and throughout Europe in 1818-1819. It was patented in Baden, Germany,  in 1818. Drais' "walking machine" had two identical front and rear wheels, which were connected by a wooden frame, and had no springs, pedals, or breaks. This wooden bicycle was pushed forward by the rider using his legs, and the front wheel could be steered in different directions. Baron von Drais was interested in developing a vehicle that would replace horses in terms of its effiency, yet he did not take into account the difficult conditions on the roads, the rider's shoe soles, which wore out much more quickly than horseshoes, and additional technical problems. The Draisienne was very fast for its time, reaching a speed of 16 kilometers per hour.

The first draisienne race took place in 1819. The winner was a German rider named Semmler, who completed a 10-kilometer-long course in 31.5 minutes.

The "hobby horse" - Drais "walking machine" - became a success in Britain when the carriage builder Denis Johnson produced a similar yet improved model in 1818, with larger wheels that made the ride more comfortable. This model similarly had no breaks, and riders had to drag their feet in order to stop. It was popular in Britain for about two years and was called a "dandy horse" or a "hobby horse," names that alluded to its high price. it was purchased as a form of afternoon entertainment by King
George IV and members of the court. Johnson even opened a riding school for potential buyers.

The City of London soon restricted the use of these "hobby horses," since the speed at which they moved alongside the horses in the streets constituted a danger to pedestrians. In the countryside, however, they were used by religious ministers and priests to visit community members, and postmen even used them to deliver the mail.


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