Sunday, March 25, 2007


Straddle the saddle
(by permission of Newsquest Essex)

From its earliest days in the 19th century, the bike has reigned supreme. Cycling caught on with people from all classes and became all the rage during Victorian times. The bike was ubiquitous in Chelmsford as everywhere in England in the latter part of the 19th century.

The bike’s origins are interesting. It was the German born Baron von Drais von Sauerbronn, who, way back in 1818 patented the first crude bike. This consisted of a wooden frame with two wheels, of which the rear was fixed and the front mounted in a pivoted fork. The machine was propelled by the feet. The rider pushed himself along with a striking action and the pivoted front wheel enabled him to maintain balance and change direction. Among the names used to describe this invention, were draisine, hobby horse and pedestrian curricles.

Cartoonists and comic satirists of the time enjoyed creating amusing images which appeared in contemporary ‘penny dreadfuls’ and Punch. It was only in 1839 when the Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick MacMillan fitted cranks to drive the rear wheel, that pedaling became easier. Then the Parisian engineer Ernest Michaux introduced the ‘boneshaker bicycle in 1865.which was followed twenty years later when J B Dunlop brought his rubber pneumatic tyre into the picture. And of course we had the ‘penny farthing’ which caused so many accidents but was popular. Innovators and inventors contributed their patents and developments over the years until we have the cycle we know today.

Between the two World Wars, cycling clubs sprang up and youth hostelling was fashionable. Chelmsford folk would buy their cycles from Newcombes cycle shop and Mr George Page would repair and fix wheels and tyres for his customers from his small workshop at the side of the Rose and Crown. In later times, Mr Cass catered for his customers and latterly firms such as Halfords, among others, came into the business within Chelmsford.

And it hasn’t stopped. Cycling is one of the healthiest of exercises and is an ideal opportunity for losing weight and keeping joints flexible. Recently Elli Constantatou, Tourism Programme Manager for Essex Development & Regeneration Agency who lives in Chelmsford, devised a set of nine individual maps giving easy-ride routes covering the most attractive parts of Essex. “Cycling is a wonderful way of seeing the Essex countryside,” said Elli and BBC Essex presenters Steve Scruton and Angela Lodge are swapping their walking boots for cycle clips on Saturday 5 May for the launch of Cycle Essex. This great event is linked to the Helen Rollason Heal Cancer Charity, based in Chelmsford.

Real Essex cycle guides are available from tourist information centres or by visiting More information on the sponsored charity cycle event can be found at

No comments: