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Bicycle Technology Picture Book

A Coffee Table eBook

Copyright 2019-2024, Jeff Napier

Table of Contents

Start Here



Circus Bikes

Plastic Bikes


Tricycles and Quadracycles

People-Powered Cars and Boats

Electric Bikes

Art Bikes


Derailleurs and Sprockets

Bits and Pieces


Planetary Gearsets


Everything Else

Start Here

Table of Contents

A bicycle is the most efficient machine in terms of energy
expended for moving weight over distance.

A human on a bicycle is also the most efficient animal on earth in
terms of energy spent for travel.

According to at least one statistical study, the health benefits
of cycling outweigh the risks by twenty to one.

Therefore, taking a closer look at these wonderful machines will
be fun, don’t you think?

This book was built for your enjoyment. It is a coffee table ebook
containing pictures of all sorts of bicycles and related equipment
from the very first bikes, to prototypes so modern they can’t yet be
built. Most of the pictures illustrate mechanical engineering at its
finest. I have inserted brief explanations and commentary where I
thought it might be useful.

Don’t forget to check out the Art Bikes

Enjoy! – Jeff
, author


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When people first figured out that you could attach pedals to
bicycle wheels, they discovered that the bikes didn’t go very fast.
But, if they could make the wheels bigger, they could go faster. This
was the world’s first version of "gearing up."

The limitation was the length of the rider’s legs. Pretty soon, it
became ordinary for bicycles to have large front wheels, ranging from
50 to 64 inches (127 to 162 cm) in diameter. So, these became known
as "ordinary," bikes, commonly referred to as "ordinaries,"
or "ordinary racers." They were also called
"Penny-Farthings" named after large and small coins of the
era, and sometimes "boneshakers" because they had solid
rubber tires, and no shocks, while the bumpy streets were typically
unpaved or made from bricks.

It was still years into the future before veterinarian and
inventor John Boyd Dunlop would create the first air-filled tires for
his son’s tricycle.

A rider on a penny-farthing replica
image by Agnieszka
Kwiecień, license: CC-BY 3.0

Penny-farthings weren’t the first bikes. The first is credited to
a German inventor, Karl Drais. He built the first one in 1818, and
called it the Laufmaschine. It wasn’t long before his simple
contraption was copied throughout Europe and the United States. The
English started calling them dandy-horses. In America, they
were hobby-horses. and the French called them draisiennes
or draisines. It wasn’t until 40 years later than someone in
France figured out to attach pedals to the front wheel, so riders
didn’t have to kick along the sidewalk to go places. This new French
version was called velocipede (literally: "speed foot"),
although that term has come to mean any of a wide variety of early


Whippet "Safety"
image by Ian.wilkes

Penny-farthings with their outlandish proportions replaced
draisines to gain speed. Bikes were safer dimensions but still
capable of great speed were soon invented, and they became commonly
known as "safeties." The picture above is an oddly
over-engineered model.

McCammon "Safety"
image by Ian.wilkes

This one uses an ingenious seat height adjustment that might be a
nice modern re-invention.

Fred Birchmore

In 1934, Fred Birchmore, of Athens, Georgia, who was 22 years old
at the time, took a 40,000 mile (64,000 kilometer) mile trip. 15,000
of the miles were water crossings, but the remaining 25,000 miles
(40,000 kilometers) were by bicycle, as he circumnavigated the

A bike from 1865

Classic English bike with rod brakes
image by Pramod
Kumar T.K.

Bike repair in Africa, early 1930s

Shaft drive bikes have been around almost as long as chain drives

image by Ian.wilkes

Shaft drive bikes eliminate the need for pants clips, and you
won’t get greasy. Changing the gear ratio requires parts that are not
usually available.

An early form of gearing. Pressure on pedals unwinds straps
around racheted drums.

A restored Shelby from 1938

Military use of bicycles

The caption on this picture says, "US 25th Infantry on
bicycles. Caption: "On June 14, 1897, Lieutenant James Moss,
U.S. Army, led his bicycle corps of the 25th Infantry, from Fort
Missoula, Montana, up wagon trail and Indian path, to St. Louis,
Missouri, arriving July 16, 1897."


Swiss army bike


Side-by-side tandem
Library of New South Wales


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You would think that the idea of pedals and cracks attached
directly to a wheel would have died out with penny-farthings. But no,
there are still vehicles with direct drive wheels. These would be

Unicycles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are for
off-road competition, a somewhat dangerous skill that is quite
difficult to master. These typically have large diameter wheels with
fat, knobby tires.

Off-road unicycling
image by Samuel

Others have thin
large diameter wheels for city commuting.

A commuting unicycle
image by Midiman

Other unicycles
have small wheels, sometimes for children, and sometimes for
performance, since with a smaller wheel, you can maneuver more
precisely at slower speeds, and on a smaller stage.

image by xeaza

Another category
is tall unicycles, often called "giraffe" unicycles. Using
a chain drive from the pedals to the wheel, they can range from 4-1/2
feet to over 100 feet (1.4 to 30 meters) tall.

image by Russavia

Sem Abrahams holds the world record with a unicycle more than ten
times taller. His unicycle was just a bit over 114 feet (34 meters)
tall. The picture below links to a video of Sem’s world record ride.
If your ebook reader doesn’t support Internet links, you can go to

World’s tallest unicycle

Then there are monocycles. Whereas a unicyclist sits above the
wheel, or outside of the wheel, the monocyclist sits within the


What do you suppose will happen if this rider has to stop fast?
Right! One of the problems with monocycles is when you put on the
brakes, you tumble right around with the wheel.

You would think that you can’t remove much else from a unicycle,
and still have a human-powered vehicle. But actually, you can remove
the seat, frame and bearings. Then you have what’s called an
"ultimate wheel."

image by Ian

When first learning, you can cover the
sides of the tire with electrical tape. This way, you can use the
insides of your shins as a frame and bearings. Just squeeze your legs
close together, and let the wheel rub as needed. In time, you can
learn to ride without contacting the tire at all. At first however,
you’ll want to wear pants, at least, since the wheel will inevitably
tilt one way or the other and rub uncomfortably hard.

Circus Bikes

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Amazing tricks can be performed on a BMX bike.

Freestyle BMX bike
image by Tukka

In the
above picture, notice the footpegs on the front and rear axles. Also
notice the rotor, a device mounted on the handlebar stem so that the
handlebar can be turned all the way around without interference from
the brake cables. This bike also has a long frame to accommodate
turning the front wheel around without interference from the rider’s
feet or knees.

Even more
remarkable tricks can be performed on a circus bike.

Circus Bike

image by

image by Shizhao

image by Shizhao


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The idea of making bicycles almost entirely from plastic has
enticed people for years. In 1971, Original Plastic Bike Incorporated
was founded based on a design for a complete road bike that was
supposed to weigh just 17 pounds (7.5 kg), and be as strong as, or
even stronger than steel and aluminum alloy bikes. Some prototypes
were built, but the bike never went into production.

Itera Plastic Bike

We are no longer surprised to see plastic bicycle wheels in the
smaller diameters. These wheels aren’t quite all-plastic. The hubs
are made from regular steel components.

image by Incase


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Recumbence: The act of laying down.

Recumbent bikes, sometimes called "bents," seem like a
relatively new invention. Here’s a picture of a recumbent from 1914:

Trans-V recumbent

Toxy CL recumbent
image by EvaK

Cruzbike Vendetta
image by Bentrider811

Android front wheel drive recumbent
image by

Velokraft No-com

image by bradhoc

Tandem recumbent
image by BetacommandBot

Recumbent tricycles answer to the slow speed stability problem
from which many recumbents suffer, and to starting and stopping
nicely, but have design issues. With two front wheels, they tend to
catch a lot more wind, which defeats one of the primary advantages of
recumbents. With two rear wheels, traction can sometimes be a
problem, and transmitting power to one or both wheels requires a more
elaborate drivetrain.

Recumbent Tricycle
image by Boliston

and Quadracycles

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image by Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden

Rickshaws are almost always designed with one wheel in the front,
and two in the back to support the weight of passengers. You’d think
rickshaws were invented somewhere in Asia, but they are an American

image by Les

Quadracycles can be unique and fun, but don’t add anything in
terms of efficiency. They may be safer, since they are hard to fall
off. (Your author has discovered it is not impossible to fall off a

Quadracycles are often used when a group of three or more people
want to go together on a human-powered machine.

Antique quadracycle
image by Randal J. (RJFerret)

image by Prayitno

Tricycles and quadracycles are often created for
people who have disabilities, such as paralyzed legs, since balancing
a two-wheeled machine would be difficult.

Human-Powered Cars and Boats

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Through the years, inventors have tried to add car-like features
to bicycles, with varying degrees of success. The problem quickly
becomes one of weight versus convenience. Putting doors, a roof, and
comfortable seats in a human-powered vehicle raises the weight so it
is hard to take it up hills. Maintenance can also be an issue. Until
someone makes a standardized one that is very popular, replacement
parts will not be readily available.

Finally, if you enclose a rider, you need to do something to keep
that rider cool in warm weather.

One machine that was popular in the mid 1970s was the PPV
(People-Powered Vehicle). This semi-enclosed vehicle could
accommodate two riders, or one rider with several bags of groceries.
With one rider, it was a monster taking it up hills, even with its
three-speed transmission. To the inventor’s credit, for durability,
it used a real transmission instead of a three-speed Sturmey-Archer,
Shimano or Sachs hub. On the other hand, for stopping, it depended
entirely on a drum brake in the front wheel, controlled by a single
brake handlever and cable.

image by livewombat

Pedal-powered boats are terribly inefficient, but they’re fun! You
can rent these at many resorts, parks, marinas and so on, and they
are calm, meditative fun.

image by Bart Everson


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image by Pleclown

The idea of hooking up a battery and motor to a bicycle is
attractive. Imagine that you are a healthy commuter who has an off
day. Wouldn’t it be great to let the bike to all, or most of the
work? Or, perhaps you’re not so healthy. You can work your way slowly
to better health by letting an electric bike do most of the work at
first, and less and less as you regain your health.

The line between what can be called an ‘electric bike’ and other
two-wheeled electric-powered machines is blurry.

Electric motorcycles are being manufactured that weigh hundreds of
pounds and have great speed and range.

Electric scooters of all sorts ranging from toys to machines
ridden by professional security, maintenance and guide personnel,
such as the Segway, might be called electric bicycles by some.


Conversion kits can be attached to most adult bikes, so the
mountain or road bike you’ve always enjoyed can continue to entertain
you, but now as an electric bike. However, conversion kits can be
somewhat clunky compared to bikes designed and manufactured to be
electric bikes in the first place.

Hundreds or thousands of people have tried their own homemade

A homemade electric bike conversion
image by Hamish

The unwieldy-looking bicycle pictured above used an ordinary car
battery mounted above the front wheel. These batteries have poor
range to weight ratio. Being filled with liquid and lead, they are
remarkably heavy. The inventor of this bike reports having crashed
into a tree and smashed his battery shortly after the picture was

Electric bicycles are manufactured with and without pedals and
human-powered drivelines. Perhaps without pedals, it can’t be called
a ‘bicycle.’ I’ll leave you to decide.


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Bicycles are good candidates for artistic treatment, as the
following pictures illustrate.

image by Chris

image by Donna
B McNicol

image by hAdamksy

image by Amit Patel

image by Porsche

The Orange Krate, one of a series of art bikes, all
in the same configuration, but with varying colors, manufactured by
Schwinn in the late 1960s.
image by Nels
P Olsen

image by Andy

Artistic Unicycles

Then we have art unicycles. Unicycles have been decorated,
outfitted with colored lights, and made to look like other objects,
such as wheelbarrows.

image by Steph

Most artistic unicycles have something added, since there isn’t
much left to remove from a unicycle.

One goofy addition is a "handlebar unit." This is not
attached to the unicycle, but pushed along, generally in front, not
for assisting the rider in balancing, but for show. At first, it
appears the rider is on an ordinary bicycle. But wait, there’s no
frame between the front and rear wheels. Then the rider can turn the
handlebar unit this way and that, hold it over head, throw it and
catch it, and so on, resulting in a rather amazing show for anyone
not expecting that.

image by Daniel

Your silly author added a couple of wheels to make a tall unicycle
in which one tire rubbed on the one below, turning that wheel
backward, and that one’s tire rubbed on the bottom wheel, turning it

The author on his three-wheel unicycle
This picture is fuzzy because it was a low-quality snapshot. No one realized this picture might be important later.


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image by Paretz

Italian firefighter bicycle
image by Harlock81

What can be carried on a bicycle is amazing. Carrying too much
badly is also a cause for many bike accidents, so please be careful.

A rolling shoe repair shop
image by

A cargo bike
image by Salim

Long wheelbase cargo bike
image by Tulio

image by Bernard

Bicycle ambulance
image by Oxyman


Bicycle trailer with passenger

Bicycle truck


In the mid 1980s Tom Wooten, known as Wrong Way Wooten, from Bryn
Mawr, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, became rather famous for
riding his bike backward.

Wrong Way Wooten

He built a custom bike for his purpose. It was based on a Schwinn
Varsity, which was a very heavy all-steel bike of the late 1970s,
with a one-piece crank. He put padded tape on the handlebar to make
sitting more comfortable. He installed two mirrors on long arms so he
could see where he was going. He removed the seat, and put a portable
television in its place. He then somehow attached another ten-speed
bike to the rear of his bike in order to carry more gear.

Wrong Way then set out on a journey across the
United States with a specific self-appointed mission. "The main
reason I do what I do is to get people to realize that they have a
responsibility to other people." He represented several major
charities including The American Cancer Society, The American Lung
Society, The Heart Fund, the Jaycees, United Way, and March of Dimes,
encouraging people to donate to their favorite charities. According
to the legend, he criss-crossed the country several times totaling
28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) over the next 17 years.

Derailleurs and Sprockets

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Simple but high-end, non-index shifters
image by Arnoooo

One of the latest changes in derailleurs isn’t in mechanical
design, but in the word itself. It is slowly evolving to be spelled

SRAM Rival rear derailleur
image by Fanny

< IMG width="95%" src=""0>

SRAM Rival front derailleur image by Fanny

A Huret Svetto derailleur, circa 1970
image by Paco Girasol

Shimano LX e-type front derailleur image by Jeremy

Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur

Single-speed bike with a chain tensioner
image by Ralf

above configuration seems redundant until you notice that the bike
has vertical dropouts. There is no way to adjust chain tension. Many
years ago, "half-links" were available, so you could adjust
a chain’s length to the nearest link, not to the nearest set of two
links. That was generally adequate adjustment granularity for most

Let’s hope this bike has a freewheeling sprocket. If fixed gear,
the first resistance against the pedals would cause the tensioner to
let out all the slack.

image by Ralf

image by Cvosmer

Belt drive
image by Keanu @ no:wp


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There are more ways to stop a bike than to make it go. Below are
pictures of some interesting concepts in braking:

Spoon brake
image by AndrewDressel

One of the first brakes, called a spoon brake, just rubbed
on the surface of the tire. This was common on penny-farthings (also
called "ordinaries") – the bikes with huge front wheels –
if they had brakes at all.

Fongers rod actuated brake on Westrick rim
image by Jeremy

It didn’t take long to figure out that rubbing something against
the rim was more durable than against the tire.

A typical old coaster brake

Coaster brakes are relatively complex mechanisms, yet they
appeared early in the history of bicycles.


Early drum brake
image by Ralf

Something more powerful was needed for motorcycles and cars, so
the drum brake was invented. This has two half-circle shoes that rub
against the inside of the hub shell when actuated with a cam. Just
like most caliper (rim) brakes, these work poorly when wet, unless
sealed against the weather.

Modern drum brake
image by Haupseite

Band brake
image by imoni

A band brake fits loosely around the outside of a drum mounted on
the hub. When actuated, the band tightens around the drum. This type
of brake is used extensively on slow-moving machinery such as riding
movers. Interestingly, in one direction, generally forward, the brake
is easily controlled. In the other direction, as soon as the band
touches the drum, it tends to tighten itself, making braking touchy.
Band brakes are seldom used on bicycles.

image by Ralf

A very common type of brake used in bicycles is a caliper brake.
There are several variations. This one is called a "centerpull"
style, because the cable pulls equally on both sides. Sidepull brakes
have a cable in which the inner wire pulls on one side, while the
cable housing ("equal and opposite reaction") pushes on the
other side.

Campagnolo Delta – a highly styled caliper brake
image by

Rollercam brake – uses a cam instead of a bridge cable
by Jeff Archer

And then we have disk brakes. These are easier to keep adjusted
than caliper brakes. Because the rotor is small and near the center
of the wheel, it is less likely to get bent. The overall weight is
low compared to other kinds of brakes.

and Pieces

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a Few Modern Components

image by Hauptseite

image by Ukxpat

image by KMJ

image by AndrewDressel

a few old ones:

image by Wp-0001

When chains and sprockets were first used with bicycles, they were
adapted from farm and industrial machinery. At the time, skip-link
also known as inch-pitch chain was common.

image by tetedelacourse

Sew-up tires, also known as "tubulars"
are far less common today than they were until the early 1980s. These
are made like an American football. They have an inner tube that is
completely surrounded by the tire. The tire is sewn together with
heavy stitches along the inside edge. You can inflate a sew-up off a
wheel, and it will look like a giant, thin donut. They were very
popular for road and track racing, since they can hold a very high
pressure, and are thin and light. These are glued or fastened to the
rims with double-sided tape.
The sew-up is a simple tire compared to the modern kind, called a

Crosssection of a typical bicycle wheel
image by Deerwood

In the picture above:

1. The metal wheel rim.

2. The rim strip. This is a rubber, cloth or plastic strip that
protects the inner tube from punctures caused by contact with the
spoke heads.

3. The side of the rim where a caliper brake can be used.

4. Inside the edges of the tire are steel cables. Without these,
when pressurized, the tire would stretch and blow off the rim.

5. The inner tube. Because of the small volume of air in a bicycle
tire, the smallest leak would cause it to deflate quickly. Since
bicycle rims usually have to accommodate spokes, it would be
difficult to seal the spoke holes. Therefore, it is not practical to
make a tubeless tire, such as cars use. The inner tube makes it
possible to have a system that is not microscopically precise, yet is
air tight.

6. The tire casing is made of cloth, and has sufficient strength
and flexibility to withstand the air pressure and bumps and cracks in
the road surface.

7. The tread of the tire is usually rubber impregnated with
carbon. That’s why most tires are black. The carbon keeps the rubber
from wearing out immediately. Without carbon, instead of 2,000 miles
(3,000 km) per pair of tires, they might last 10 miles (15 km).


For a short while in the 1970s, wingnuts were popular. The idea is
that riders would not have to use a wrench to remove and replace
wheels. Even though hollow axles with quick release skewers were
available then, they were somewhat more expensive.

The problem with wingnuts is that it was
hard to get them tight enough. The rear wheel would typically pull to
one side on a hard hill climb, so the rider would have to stop and
reposition the wheel, then attempt to tighten the wingnut
sufficiently. Sometimes the wings would break off. Worse, wingnuts on
the front wheel could come loose by simply parking against a bush or
bumping a wingnut with a shoe.

Seats or Saddles

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image by Ralf

Serious cyclists call seats "saddles."

Serious cyclists call seatposts "seat pillars."

Go figure!

image by AndrewDressel

A "banana" seat from a stingray bike of the late 1960s

image by AndrewDressel

A sprung leather saddle
image by Suleyman

The Brooks Professional, a top of the line leather seat
by The

image by Hutschi

New riders are advised to limit the length
of their rides until they get used to their saddles. Until a rider is
quite experienced, most saddles are uncomfortable. For that reason,
inventors have been working since the beginning of bicycling to come
up with better alternatives.

Planetary Gearsets

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Only a few short years elapsed between the time when bicycles
started to standardize as "safeties," and when planetary
geared hubs, also called planetary gearsets, started to appear.

Safeties were bikes with same-size wheels and a chain drive from
centrally located pedals with a large sprocket to the rear wheel with
a smaller sprocket – in other words, the typical modern bicycle
design. Before safeties, bikes had pedals attached directly to a
wheel. The driven wheel had to be as large as possible. That way,
each turn of the pedals would carry the bike a reasonable distance,
so as to avoid being a slow-poke.

With a planetary gearset, the hub can turn different speeds than
the sprocket mounted on the hub. Planetary gearsets are also known as
"epicyclic gearing" or "gear hubs." The first
ones showed up around 1880, but the first commercially successful
two-speed planetary hub, called "The Hub," was in
production starting in 1898. By 1902, a three-speed hub was

Now, more than a century later, planetary gearsets are still
available, with versions containing as many as 14 distinct speeds.

 The Rholoff Speedhub – 14 Speeds
image by">Marcela

The planetary gearset has some advantages. The system is enclosed,
so is less vulnerable to weather and dirt. There’s no low-hanging
chain tensioner to get bent or caught in the weeds. The chainline is
simple, so easier to enclose, preventing grease marks on socks and
pants. In fact, belt and fully-enclosed shaft drives work with
planetary gearsets. Because a derailleur system can only be shifted
when the chain is moving, the planetary gearset is easier for
beginners, and commuters, who often have to shift after having come
to a stop. Derailleur bikes almost always have dished rear wheels.
This means that the hub flange on the right-hand side is offset
toward the center of the hub in order to make room for the sprockets.
A dished wheel is weaker against lateral forces. Planetary hubs can
have widely spaced flanges for strong rear wheels.

The downside of planetary gearsets is that they tend to
concentrate a lot of weight in the rear wheel, and may cost more.

One of the most prolific manufacturers is Sturmey-Archer, who made
a hub that remained mostly unchanged for many years, and was the
centerpiece of the classic European three-speed bike, which was very
popular in America during the 1950s and 1960s.

Classic Raleigh Three-Speed with Sturmey-Archer Hub
image by

When you come across an old three-speed, you can wipe the road
grime away, and read the month and year of manufacture on the outside
of a Sturmey-Archer hub.

Sturmey-Archer three-speed shifter
image by huubvanhughten

image by PeterWiki,

Then there is a new variable speed hub design, called NuVinci that
doesn’t use gears at all. There are no clicks or stops on the
shifter. You can select the exact ratio you want at any time. This
uses a system of cones and rollers to vary the ratio.

The NuVinci hub
image by Keanu @ no:wp

Inside the NuVinci hub
image by Keanu4


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image by Usien

image by SJu

image by SJu


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Change – a folding mountain bike
image by Jean.rhs

image by Erik

image by Andrew

Bicycle for three
image by AndreasFahrrad

Bicycle workshop in a village in Burundi in the province of
image by Andreas31

Modern six-day race
image by tetedelacourse

Start of a road race in Mendefera, Eritrea
image by David

Road race in Belgium
image by Wouter

Rental bikes
image by Tullia

In Amsterdam
image by Clive
Power from London

Dahon folding bike

Geoff Gallice
from Gainesville, FL, USA

Touring bike
image by Keithonearth

"Yellow Bike" (see below)
image by Wolfgangus

This yellow bike is in Varberg, Sweden, and may be a "free
rental" bike. In Portland, Oregon and various other communities
throughout the world, "Yellow Bike" programs have been
tried in which bikes, which are typically painted yellow, and
converted to one-speed coaster brake machines, are given to the
public for free use. This cuts down on pollution and noise, and
reintroduces adults to bicycling who might not otherwise ride a bike.
Most yellow bike programs do not last long, since the bikes tend to
disappear faster than additional bikes can be added to the fleet.
Most yellow bikes carried signs specifically explaining that they
were free to use.

A field of bikes in Oxford, England
image by Adam

image by Halfalah

A hand and foot bike
image by

This is must be an interesting
contraption to ride. You can power this bike with your hands as well
as your feet. Notice that the handlebars are not hooked to the front
wheel at all. The fork has a strong reverse camber, so leaning should
be sufficient to control the bike’s direction. Starting might be
disconcerting at first.

A railway bike
image by

Leo Tolstoy’s bike
image by Moscvitch

image by Russ
from Grosse Pointe Park, USA

playground ride. Lund, Sweden.
image by Popperipopp

Doing everything wrong
image by

In the above picture, the rider has no helmet, is riding with flip
flops on his feet, his seat is way too low, and look at that: he has
no brake levers or cables! I think we can assume it is a test ride.

An amphibious bike created in 1932

Bicycle lawn mower

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bike bus