02 September 2009

Hull's bike museum shows how it's all changed... not

There are around 20 cycle museums, or museums with a strong cycle element, in Britain. The biggest is the one in Llandrindod Wells in mid-Wales (if you’ve ever cycled the Welsh National Cycle Route from Cardiff to Holyhead, most of Wales seems to be mid-Wales). Camelford in Cornwall (handy for the Camel Trail) has another major collection.

But one of my favourite cycle collections is at Streetlife, Hull’s likeable transport museum, and not just because it’s free.

Their substantial bicycle gallery has the usual range of early machines, from boneshakers (right) through ‘penny-farthings’ to the modern diamond-frame.

There’s an early Pedersen (below), a kind of pedallable Eiffel Tower, a design you still occasionally see in genuine use today.

The information panels and displays show that the social questions raised in the early days of cycling have a surprisingly modern feel.

Folding bicycles for instance (for use in war; presumably the troop ships and trains taking them to the front line had a strict no-non-folding-bikes policy on busy routes).

Or feminism (one Tessie Reynolds, we’re told, caused a scandal in 1893 when she rode from London to Brighton on a man’s bike wearing trousers; sounds like my kind of gal).

Or car conflict. Reckless early motorists were known as ‘speed fiends’ or ‘road hogs’: “they were a hideous sort of thing,” one panel informs us, “and the occupants were generally dressed up in a manner more representing monkeys than anything else. They travelled along at what they considered their legal rate – the supposed 20 m.p.h. - killing and maiming men, women and children, and driving everyone else from the road with their hideous noise and wretched dust...” A century on, little has changed.

Or, indeed, anti-cyclist propaganda in the media. A cartoon is reproduced from the early 1900s showing a mad cyclist (a “scorcher”) mowing down a harmless plod valiantly trying to protect the public from the two-wheeled menace.

That rant was against a cyclist using the road; and we think today’s pavement-cycling hysteria is bad enough...


  1. I take it you've seen the film "Return of the Scorcher" ? It's really very good.

  2. the museum list link is not working, could you publish it again, please? i'm visiting the UK and would be glad to see one of them! thank you!
    Esther A.