Freedom Machine

by Derek Morrison

dandy-horse_smTA freedom machine for those inspired
First carved from wood
A forty eight pound velocipede … or for the posh
A dandy-horse.

A freedom machine for those inspired
And human powered
People with other lives escaping … transiently
To other destinations.

A freedom machine for those inspired
Shrinker of distance
Expanding horizons … and new relationships
Before combustion.

A freedom machine for those inspired
Asserting a place
In byways and highways … of a circulatory system
For combustion.

A freedom machine for those inspired
Comparison and learning
Opportunities sometimes unspoken … of kit
And pace.

A freedom machine for those inspired
Now spun from carbon
An eleven pound velocipede … or for the posh
A dandy-horse.

[To listen to this verse select below]


The first draft of this verse actually started life as below. That approach, however, risked becoming rather a linear history of bicycle development which was not my intention. So I decided to try and create a less explicit rhythmic approach to the verse that is more open to interpretation by the reader.

A freedom machine
And human powered
Near techno perfection
From ingenuity flowered.

Draisine or dandy-horse
Also called velocipede
Mainly wood
But it did lead.

Pedaled cranks
Next appeared
Front wheel only
Certainly not geared.

Wrought iron
Transcended wood
Enter blacksmiths
Who understood.

Original draisine (1817)
Original draisine (1817)

The ancestor of the two wheeled bicycle is now commonly accepted to be the wooden pedal-lessĀ  Draisine or Laufmaschine (Running Machine) invented by Karl von Drais in 1817. Later iterations of the draisine became popular among the wealthy gentlemen of the day (or “Dandies”) and so their novel transport became knows as the Dandy Horse. Wood was eventually placed with wrought iron – the carbon fibre of its day – and so blacksmiths found new business opportunities in meeting the demand.

In the 1860s pedals and cranks were added but only directly to the front wheel with various iterations leading eventually to the Penny Farthing.

Penny Farthing
Penny Farthing cycle rider
Published in Century Magazine, June, 1890
Ladies Safety Cycle (1889)
Ladies Safety Cycle (1889)

It was not until the 1880s and various iterations of the “Safety Cycle” that design geometries began to coalesce towards something we would recognize as a bicycle today. Ironically, the first safety cycles were much less comfortable that their larger wheeled predecessors and so various integrated suspension systems were tried. But in 1888 these safety cycle suspension and comfort complexities began to be swept away following the invention of Scottish veterinary surgeon John Boyd Dunlop’s pneumatic bicycle tyre. Over the next decade Dunlop’s tyres began to gain traction (both literally and metaphorically). Dunlop’s 1888 patent was overturned two years later because a prior patent had been awarded in 1846 (France) and 1847 (US) to another Scot, Robert William Thomson, i.e. there had been ‘prior art’. Despite the eventual forfeit of the patent Dunlop is recognised as the inventor of the first practical pneumatic tyre.

John Boyd Dunlop
John Boyd Dunlop (1840-1921), inventor of the first practical pneumatic tyre.

Equally, ironically, it’s interesting that today we now find various integrated suspension systems being built into relatively expensive road cycles despite their pneumatic tyres, e.g. via silicone inserts, or ‘tuning’ of the carbon frame for rigidity/flexibility depending on whether an ‘endurance’ or ‘race’ geometry is required.

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