There are new inventions in every age. From the wheel sometime in the distant pass to the Hadron Collider in recent years, there is always someone with an idea to create something new or to improve on an existing product. And the Victorians were great at doing this. They gave us many inventions which we still use today, even though they have, in most cases been improved on over the years. These include the telephone, vacuum cleaner and the bicycle to name but three.
If we concentrate on the bicycle, then today, modern bikes are lighter, faster and easier to ride. They have been improved upon so many times, they are now so much more efficient. But making cycling more efficient, isn’t a modern thing. The Victorians also wanted to improve the design and efficiency of their new invention. One person in particular, a Russian emigree by the name of Anton Oleszkiewicz, had an idea of how to make bike riding much more efficient. Well, it’s nice to have these ideas. Shame many of them do not work quite as well in practise.
Anton surmised that since bikes were powered by the rider’s legs, then if he could add other limbs and parts of the body to the job, then he could increase the speed and efficiency of riding. So, he set about designing a bike which could use other parts of the body and came up with something that did not look promising. It was 1889 when he produced his Winged Messenger or if you prefer the New Improved Driving Mechanism.
It was complicated to say the least. The basic bike design now had levers and springs which attached to an elaborate harness for the rider to wear. Here is one definite reason why this was not going to be a commercial success. One rider took half an hour to put the harness on. It would have been quicker to walk probably. But once fitted, did it work?
Anton organised a public demonstration in Hyde Park. A group of cyclists were assembled to try out the bikes. The idea was that once you had the harness on, you proceeded to pedal the bike up to a reasonable speed before starting to perform a whole series of exercises on the machine in order for other parts of the body to contribute to the ride. The group set off and one bystander described it as a bunch of bike riders suffering from epilepsy. It was the Victorian era when the choice of words was less careful.
So, what was the final result? Not great as far as Anton was concerned. Two cyclists fell off their bikes whilst others suffered from motion sickness due to the gyrations they had to perform. The final nail in this particular coffin came when it was confirmed that there was no increase in speed or efficiency.
What was the effect on poor Anton? Apparently, he took his failure on the chin and decided he would put his talents (which I think were well hidden), to another project. And what was this other project? He decided to improve the aeroplane which was in its infancy. I have one piece of advice for him. No, Anton, Don’t!