By Jeff Archer
In the late 1880’s, chain drive revolutionized the bike industry. Previously, the cranks were attached directly to the wheel such as on the 1885 Columbia ordinary (Bicycle Times Issue #8). With the ordinary bikes, the only way to go faster was to ride a larger diameter wheel, which made for a more perilous ride. The chain, running on different sized sprockets, allowed a return to normal sized wheels, which lowered the center of gravity and made the bikes safer to ride. They were marketed as “safety bicycles” and since this bike has non-pneumatic tires, it would be classified as a hard tired safety. The ordinary bikes were mostly very similar to each other since the design was constrained by the large, typically 48- to 60-inch wheel. With smaller wheels, the designs were much more varied.
One such design was produced by the Elliot Hickory Company. This bike featured a 31-inch rear wheel and 25-inch front wheel with a step-through frame design. Originally, the frame was marketed as a unisex design but Elliot also sold a traditional diamond frame for men. Since the safety bikes were new to the market, there weren’t the standardized parts like we see today. You didn’t buy off-the-shelf parts to assemble into a bike.
Unique parts can be found in almost every area of this bike. The wheels use wagon wheel technology with hickory rims, spokes and hubs. The framework aft the crank is also constructed from hickory. The lower chain stays would flex giving a more comfortable ride on the wagon-rutted “roads” of the day. The built-in hickory fender is also the sole support for the seat mast assembly which again would absorb vibration. The rear spoon brake is operated by a small chain running inside the frame which runs over a series of rollers inside the stem, head tube and frame. Since the chainstays are a fixed length, the crank assembly has built in adjusters to remove the slack from the chain.
Many of these features show up later with more advanced materials. Hickory becomes carbon fiber, internal chains become internal cables/hoses and the crank adjusters become an eccentric bottom bracket. Just a few examples of current features based on century-old designs.