Updated: 19 May 2010
Thrustpac bike added
This page deals with unusual bicycles powered solely by human effort. Bicycles with other forms of propulsion, such as rockets or steam-engines, have their own pages.
There have of course been many "unusual" bicycles, and this gallery shows just a sample.
THE COMPRESSED-AIR ENERGY STORAGE BICYCLE
Left: Compressed-air energy-storage bicycle: 1902.
This machine was to have been driven primarily by pedal, but using a reservoir of compressed-air as an energy-storage system. It has a compressed-air motor linked to the pedal cranks, fed from the reservoir under the top tube. This is pumped up by the ten-cylinder compressor built into the rear wheel. I assume that the wheel part would have to be the compressor as otherwise it would be impossible to utilise the energy available when free-wheeling downhill. The compressed-air motor appears to be the small box above the top tube, but it is not very clear how the links to the cranks are driven.
It is however very clear indeed that the weight of the ten-cylinder wheel would be an impossible burden for a cyclist. The inefficiency involved in compressing air (the heat generated by the compression usually being lost) would also argue against this system being of any use to man or beast.
This sadly hopeless attempt at a worthy end was patented by William Rutherford Taylor, a cycle fitter and agent of Bo'ness, Scotland. It seems very unlikely that this idea even got to the prototype stage.
THE PADDLE-WHEEL PROPELLED BICYCLE
Left: The Paddlewheel Bicycle: 1892.
This letter was published in the English journal "Flight" (for 22nd Jan 1910, on page 66).
THE THRUSTPAC PROPELLOR-PROPELLED BICYCLE
Left: The Thrustpac Bicycle: 2006.
I put this scary-looking concept in the bicycles gallery rather than the motorcycles gallery as the engine is attached to the rider rather than the bicycle.
For full-on propellor-driven motorcycles,
see the motorcycle gallery.
Thrustpac is a commercial operation in California; see
They claim it can also be used with scooters and small boats.
From the Metro newspaper (London) 8 Jan 2006
THE SUSPENDED MONORAIL BICYCLE
Left: The Suspended Monorail Bicycle: 1892.
This is the front cover photo of "New Movement in Cities" a book on urban transport written by expert Brian Richards. He is riding on what is now identified as the Hotchkiss Bicycle Railway, which runs from Mount Holly to Smithville in New Jersey, USA. It was invented by Arthur E Hotchkiss, and built in 1892. According to one source, the idea was that you hired a bicycle and cycled along the girder track to your destination; there were a number of bicycle depots along the route. Why this would be better than cycling along a paved path I do not know. I also don't know what Mr Richards opinion of this system was, but I doubt very much if it was seriously proposed as a solution to our transport problems.
An interesting point is that the monorail bicycles were bidirectional, so they did not have to be laboriously lifted off the girder and turned around. There were handlebars at each end, for support rather than steering, and the saddle presumably swivelled.
More on the Hotchkiss Bicycle Railway:
Another source states that the Railway was built to allow employees to commute quickly from Mount Holly to a large factory at Smithville. The railway was not a success, the impossibility of overtaking being one reason; another was that a second track was never completed, so if riders travelling in opposite directions met, one had to pull off onto a siding. One might imagine this leading to disagreements about who had the right of way. The railway was in a severe state of disrepair by 1898 when the Mount Holly and Smithville Bicycle Railway Company (as it appears to have been known) declared bankruptcy.
Presumably the system was repaired at some point, and probably opened for recreational use; hence the modern photograph.
Left: The Suspended Monorail Bicycle: 1892.
A contemporary picture, with a serious-looking rider skimming above a landscape apparently by Van Gogh. It is not clear just how far off the ground the bicycle is; there would seem to be no advantage in having a ground clearance of more than a foot or two.
Here the rider has the chain-drive in front of him, not behind like Mr Richards, so confirming the bidirectional nature of the bicycles. Note the supporting steelwork is hook-shaped to allow the wheels to pass.
ERIC STALLER'S CONFERENCE BIKE
Left: The Eric Staller Conference Bicycle: 2005.
This inspired creation is pedalled by seven people sitting in a circle. Steering is not however, by committee- an opportunity lost there, I feel. The chap on the extreme right is holding the steering wheel. The front of the vehicle is at the left.
OK, it's not strictly a bicycle- in fact it's a quadcycle, though the two back wheels are so close together you could, if you wanted to be difficult, argue that it was more of a tricycle than anything else. But there isn't an unusual quadcycle page (for which this machine would certainly qualify) just a conventional quadcycle page, so here it is.
For more info see: The Conference Bike.
Left: The BootBike
This fascinating machine looks quite practical. It would certainly eliminate the possibility of punctures.
The picture was sent to me by one of my vast network of correspondents, unfortunately with no accompanying details at all. To begin with, close examination has persuaded me that it is a real machine and not just a Photoshop job.
The rider is on the right side of the road rather than the left, so it comes from continental Europe rather than Great Britain. I suspect its origin is German.
If anyone can offer any more information I would be most grateful.