Inside the Collection

Dursley Pedersen bicycle

Dursley Pedersen bicycle 1910
Dursley Pedersen bicycle, c. 1910. From the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. It was restored in 1985 and 350 individual parts were nickel plated. B1265.

How do you ride this bike, where’s the seat? This rare gentleman’s bicycle in our collection takes its name from its Danish inventor, Mikael Pedersen, and the Gloucestershire town in England where it was made. Pedersen was an engineer and farm machinery inventor who arrived in Britain from Denmark in 1893 and was employed by R. A. Lister, the engine and cream separator manufacturer in Dursley, Gloucestershire.

Woven bicycle seat
The curious woven seat.

Pedersen was also a cycling enthusiast but found the saddle on safety bicycles uncomfortable. He designed and made an amazing hammock-style seat, made from 40 metres of woven cord, suspended between the handlebars and rear frame. It was designed to be soft and comfortable for long rides and to follow the “movement of the body”. It was later advertised as having “perfect ventilation”.

Close up of bicycle handlebars and light
Detail of the frame.

After finding his new seat didn’t fit a conventional safety bike frame, Pedersen set about designing a new, complex, triangular frame of thin diameter tubing duplicated for extra strength. This was said to have been inspired by the Whipple-Murphy lattice truss used in railway bridges since 1847.

With his employer’s help, the Dursley Pedersen Cycle Co. was established in 1899 but had ceased by 1917 with his bicycles continuing to be made by other firms. Only about 8,000 bicycles were thought to have been actually produced. During the First World War bicycle manufacture had fallen, licence fees to Pedersen remained unpaid, and his poor business sense saw him cheated out of payments. Tragically, increasing alcohol misuse, a failed marriage and poor health saw Pedersen reduced to a pauper back in Demark by 1920. He died 9 years later and was buried in an unmarked grave. But in 1995 bike enthusiasts had his remains exhumed and reinterred in Dursley with a headstone to make sure Pedersen’s achievements would be remembered.

The Dursley Pedersen bicycle was an expensive, unusual and controversial bicycle at the time. It was produced when the “difficult to ride” ordinary or “penny farthing” bicycle had given way to the chain-driven smaller-wheeled “safety” bicycle but before the now familiar diamond shape had become standard.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator, Transport

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