Object of the Week: Grocer’s Bike

This week our Archaeology Curator, Morag Clement, talks about the Grocer’s bike in our collection.

This Grocer’s bicycle is a Safety bicycle modified with a basket holder at the front. The first successful Safety bicycle, called the Rover, was invented in 1885 by John Kemp Starley. They possessed a few features that distinguished them from earlier bicycles: with most Safety bikes having equal sized wheels and a chain drive around the rear wheel. They were named for their main selling point as they were advertised as being safer to use than the High Wheeler, aka the Penny Farthing, which it gradually replaced. It has a diamond frame, the most popular frame for this type of bicycle, and was designed to be ridden by a man. A different frame was used on bikes for women to accommodate for women’s fashion at the time, with it mostly consisting of dresses and long skirts.

This bicycle also has pneumatic (inflatable) tyres. Pneumatic tyres were designed and successfully patented by John Boyd Dunlop in 1888, with the tyres becoming widely used in the 1890s. Compared to the solid rubber tyres that were previously used, they made riding the bicycle more comfortable when, for instance riding along cobbled streets, the sort of terrain a grocer would need to traverse in towns such as Kendal in the Victorian Era.

Considering the type of tyres and frame used, the earliest date for this bicycle to be made was the 1890s.

Morag Clement MA(Hons), MPhil, FSAScot 
Archaeology Curator 
Kendal Museum