Early Bicycle History Books


Pelotome’s guide to general bicycle books and the history of cycling.

The 1860s & 1870s.

~ The Velocipede – J.T. Goddard (1869).

1868 – second edition in Oct 1868.

Le Velocipede, sa Structure.

“Le Velocipede, sa Structure, ses accessoires indispensables” is the oldest known bicycle book and is a French guide on “how to learn to ride the velocipede in an hour”. It offers an insight in to the experiences of the author – a manufacturer in Voiron, a town near Grenoble, in the Isère department – at trying to be taken seriously by the press and the public of the day.

  • by Alexis-Georges Favre.
  • Published by Barlatier-Feissat père et fils, Marseille.

October 1868.

The Velocipede and How to Use It.

The oldest known English title on the subject of cycling is this 12 page pamphlet from A. Davis, a saddle and harness manufacturer, and later the UK agent of the French Velocipede Company (Compagnie Imperiale des Velocipede), with a “descriptive treatise of velocipedes in the past; of the present French velocipedes, with instructions of how to learn their use, and engravings and prices.”

  • by A. Davis.
  • Published by A. Davis, London, and Aldershot.
  • (Image from an advert for the 1869 edition of the book).

Dec 1868.

Almanach des vélocipèdes.

This French almanac for 1869 from the daily Le Petit Journal, illustrated by “un Cheval san Ouvrage” (a jobless horse) was the precursor to the influential bi-weekly magazine Le Vélocipèdes illustré, featuring short stories and illustrations, including the fictional writing of Le Grand Jacques (Richard Lesclide).

A pioneer in sports journalism and the future secretary to Victor Hugo, Lesclide founded Le Vélocipède illustré in April 1869, with the magazine notably organising the first city-to-city cycling race in history: the famous Paris-Rouen, on 7th November, 1869.

  • Possibly Le Grand Jacques (Richard Lesclide).
  • published by Librarie du Petit Journal, Paris.


Manuel du Vélocipède.

After the “Almanach des vélocipèdes illustré“, sold out in a few days, a new edition appeared in the form of this charming little book which offered practical advice alongside the fictional stories from Richard Lesclide, under his nom de plume, Le Grand Jacques.

It offers a brief history of the machine and its popularity in Paris, with details of the riders (both real and fictional) meeting at Pré-Catelan for races and to show off their new models.

  • by “Le Grand Jacques” (Richard Lesclide).
  • illustrated by Emile Benassit.
  • published in French by Librairie du Petit Journal, Paris.

Mar 1869.

The Velocipede: Its history, varieties, and practices.

The first in depth book to be published in the English language about the subject, gives hints and tips on how to purchase and ride a bike, alongside a history of the machine up to that early stage, with some marvellous illustrations of various models, from information provided by manufacturers and journals like the Scientific American, the Galaxy, and the Velocipedist.

  • by J.T. Goddard.
  • published by Hurd and Houghton, New York.

Mar 1869.

The Velocipede with Instructions How to Use It.

“and descriptions of the principal velocipedes invented since 1779” was a 16 page pamphlet, three pages of which were devoted to the products of Glasgow furniture manufacturer T. & F. Smith, who also sold two and three-wheeled velocipedes, including their own “Excelsior” model.

  • published by William Love, Glasgow.

April 1869.

The Modern Velocipede.

“Its history and construction, and its use on land, lake, river, and ocean practically explained and profusely Illustrated by engravings of elevations and constructive details,” is a comprehensive book from The English Mechanic magazine. The first proper book to be published in Britain on the subject, it covers the various patented designs around the world, with an informative history of the machine and those which came before.

  • compiled by “a working mechanic”.
  • published by George Maddick, London.

April 1869.

The Velocipede; How to Learn and How to Use It.

This illustrated 12 page pamphlet was published in 1869 by Manchester engineer Andrew Muir, whose velocipede shop at Victoria Bridge, Salford, sold models based on the American, English, German, French, and Swiss designs. His patented adjustable French two-wheeled velocipedes suited riders of various heights, while he also offered to convert two-wheeled machines into tricycles. As well as teaching newcomers in a large room at his shop, Muir also travelled the country giving cycling lessons to clubs, schools and gymnasiums.

  • by Andrew Muir.
  • published by Andrew Muir, Manchester.


Erste deutsche illustrirte Vélocipède Brochüre.

The “first German illustrated Vélocipède brochure“, “Andeutungen über das Vélocipede. seine Besdeutung und Verwendung, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Vélocipede ‘Michaux’” (hints on the Vélocipede. its meaning and use, with special reference to the Vélocipede ‘Michaux’) was the first German-language publication about the bicycle and thought to be the work of Friedrich Maurer, an importer of Michaux velocipedes and gymnasium owner based in Vienna, written under the nom de plume “Hipployt de Wesez”.

As well as a history of the machine, it also gives an insight into the cycling scene in Vienna at the time, including the founding of the Wiener Veloziped Clubs, created by Maurer on 17th March 1869 and headed by Prince Maximilien de Tour et Taxis.

  • by Hippolyt de Wesez (thought to be Friedrich Maurer).
  • Published in Vienna.

May 1869.

The Velocipede; Its History and How To Use It.

This 32 page pamphlet to the velocipede, giving “its history, and practical hints how to use it” sold in its thousands in Britain with the illustrations proving popular with those learning to ride.

  • by “an Experienced Velocipedist”.
  • published by J. Bruton, London.

May 1869.

Velocipedes, Bicycles and Tricycles: How to make, and how to use them.

“with a sketch of their history, invention, and progress” contains a treasure trove of information with illustrations from the early inventions in 1819, right through to the so-called French, Parisian and American models available at the time. A summary of the scene in 1869 includes a report that the 52 miles from London to Brighton had been covered in 7½ hours on a bicycle, shaving two hours of the previous fastest time.

  • by “Velox”.
  • published by George Routledge and Sons, London.

August 1869.

Hygiène du vélocipède.

A publication by the Medical Inspector of the Childhood Society of Paris arguing that “the velocipede should no longer be
considered a toy, it is a useful object, an instrument of locomotion”, and when “applied to hygiene and gymnastics, it can be useful for
health, what pleasure it provides and to what end it leads by contributing even to the progress of high morality among the masses”.

  • by M.D. Bellencontre (Élie Désiré Bellencontre)
  • Published by L.Richard, Paris.

September 1869 – Published 1870.

Das Velocipede.

“seine Geschichte, Construction, Gebrauch und Verbreitung” (“Its history, construction, use and distribution”) was the first book to be published in Germany on the subject and is largely a translated compilation of earlier books, including “Erste deutsche illustrirte Vélocipède Brochüre” and “The Modern Velocipede” using many of the same illustrations.

  • by Gustav Steinman.
  • Published by J.J. Weber, Leipzig.

February 1870.

The Bicycle – Its Use and Action.

Famous ex-champion London gymnast Charles Spencer’s pioneering illustrated practical guide on how to ride “the latest and best form of Velocipede, ‘the bicycle’, includes “London to Brighton by ‘Velocipede’,” a four page account (originally published in The Times, on 19th February 1869) of his journey with Mr. John Mayall, “the son of the well-known photographer,” and Mr. Turner, “an expert Velocipedist from Paris.”

Spencer was already the celebrated author of “The Modern Gymnast” handbook and would later team up with Messr. Snoxell to import and improve the “best Paris model of the new two-wheel velocipede.”

  • by Charles Spencer.
  • Published by Frederick Warne and Co., London.

July 1870.

Wheels and Woes, or Words of Warning to Would-be Velocipedists.

This delightful little book “which unites instruction and merriment” includes a chapter wonderfully detailing the author’s three day, 107 mile (171 km) “experimental very long journey” with his companion on their 36 inch wheelers – from Lewes to Salisbury, via Arundel and Southampton – made in the Autumn of 1869, following the “Velocipede agitation” of Britain’s first ever Velocipede Derby at the Crystal Palace in May 1869.

  • by a Light Dragoon (Charles Wyndham).
  • with illustrations by the author.
  • Published by Ward, Lock and Tyler, London.


Théorie vélocipédique et pratique.

“ou Manière d’apprendre le vélocipède sans professeur” (“Velocipedic theory and practice, or way of learning the velocipede without a teacher”) was a helpful non-illustrated 26 lesson guide on how to ride by Rémy Lamon, a Lieutenant in the 12th battalion of Mobiles de la Seine, and member of the Compagnie Parisienne des Vélocipèdes.

12 months after being hit by shrapnel in his leg at the Battle of Le Bourget, during the siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War – adding to an injury he had suffered when taking a bullet in the left hand, at the Battle of Magenta during the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859 – Lamon had finished 14th out of 323 riders in the first ever Paris-Rouen race of 1869, taking home the bronze medal for a wooden machine. Among other races, the book gives a full account of the race and also points out that he was the only competitor to actually make the return journey the following day.

  • by M. Rémy Lamon.
  • Published by the author, Paris.


Essai théorique et pratique sur le véhicule bicycle vélocipède.

The “theoretical and practical essay on the velocipede bicycle vehicle” was released in France in 1874 by Alphonse Marchegay, the editor of Association française pour l’avancement des sciences.

  • by Alphonse Marchegay.
  • Published by Imprimerie Pitrat Aîné, Lyon.
  • (advert for an 1874 Lagrange bicycle, left, not from book).

August 1874.

Practical Hints on Bicycle Riding.

Written “in the language a child could understand”, this useful pamphlet from a promoter of the Surrey Bicycle Club, teaches the reader how to ride the high wheel bicycle of the time, stating that “a person of ordinary agility and address should become proficient in four hours or four lessons, a clever and active one will manage it in half that time.”

  • by William John Boden.
  • Published by William John Boden, London.

Dec 1874.

Bicycling; Its Rise and Development.

“A text book for riders” aimed to cater for the rapidly developing bicycle movement by filling the void, after early books about the wooden wheeled machine had become valueless. With numerous illustrations to assist the beginner, the book is the first to be published with 25 informative routes of England, four in Ireland, and five in Scotland, while a section of “Continental Tours” gives a further six in France – including “The Battlefields of 1870″, and the “Upper Rhine” [Alsace] , five in Switzerland, five in Belgium, two in Holland, and another in Germany- each highlighting the points of interest, hotels, museums, mileage, gradients and road conditions along the way,

  • Published by Tinsley Bros., London.

1874 – published in March 1875, with editions in 1876, 1877 & 1878.

The Bicycle for 1874.

Written by the honorable secretary to the Surrey Bicycle Club, this first in a series of his “record of bicycling for the past year” for the weekly Bicycle Journal magazine, includes a short account of the author’s fifty miles cycle from London to “a small farm in Sussex”, where his father was staying, on his “very giraffe of a bicycle as to height, no less than forty-five inches in the driving wheel.”

  • by Alfred Howard.
  • Published by Henry Kent Causton & Sons, London.
  • (illustration of an 1874 racing bicycle, left, not from book).

April 1876.

A Pocket Manual on the Bicycle.

“With instructions how to ride, which to buy, a list of chief makers, rules of the road and club, hints on training, &c.” was yet another useful early guide with the author making the argument against the assertion that the use of the bicycle is injurious to health, and has some sensible observations on the outcry raised by the accidents caused by cyclists. As well as a “review,” there are chapters on “learning to ride” and “how to choose a machine,” with over forty different manufacturers listed, chapters on “cleaning your machine,” “hints on training,”, “rules for bicycle riders”, ” rules of the road,” and “how to form a club, with suitable rules,”

  • by “A Constant Rider”.
  • published by Keyworth & Everard, Cirencester.

July 1876.

The Modern Bicycle.

This updated version of Charles Spencer’s pioneering book from 1869, “containing instructions for beginners; choice of a machine; hints on training; road book for England, Wales, &c, &c,” was part of “Warne’s Useful Books, for the Country or the Fireside” series. Containing a comprehensive list of 245 routes with their mileage, under the section “The Bicycle Road Guide”, it also features an 18 page chapter providing “the detailed account of the trip from London to John o’ Groats, the longest on record which has ever been undertaken,” in June 1873, by four members of the Middlesex Bicycle Club over fourteen days, and an estimated 800 miles (“a very moderate estimate when the winding of the roads is taken into consideration, to say nothing of the continual ascents”).

  • by Charles Spencer.
  • with practical illustrations.
  • published by Frederick Warne and Co., London.

December 1877.

The Guardians.

“Or, Is ‘union’ strength? A bicycling burlesque in one act” (in verse) by the mysterious nom de plume, Ixion, was a short parody. A review in the English Mechanic and World of Science in January 1878 slated it “is doubtless amusing to those who like the word-torturing that nowadays does duty for wit. ‘Our horses swiftly through the counties glide, And grow less tyred [sic] with every mile we ride,’ is perhaps the best couplet in the whole of the effusion.”

  • by Ixion.
  • Published by Hardwicke & Bogue, London.
  • (illustration of an 1877 Ariel Bicycle, left, not from book)

July 1878 – revised editions in 1879, ’80, ’81, ’82 & ’87.

The “Indispensable” Bicyclist’s Handbook.

“A complete cyclopædia on the subject” by Henry Sturmey of the Weymouth Bicycle Club. He would join the Iliffe & Son publishing company in 1877, specialising in cycling books, and was an early leader in what became the Cyclists’ Touring Club in 1879. Today, he is best remembered for inventing the Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub for bicycles with James Archer in 1901.

At 270 pages long – 100 of which were illustrated – it offered “everything that a bicyclist could possibly want to know about the subject” including manufacturers, models and prices. Alternative versions of the book would be devoted solely to the tricycle and safety bicycle, while the 1887 version encompassed all.

  • by Henry Sturmey.
  • Published by H. Wheeler, Weymouth.
  • Later editions by Iliffe and Son, Coventry.
  • Image from an 1878 newspaper advert for the first edition.

1879 – revised in 1880.

The American Bicycler.

Perhaps taking its inspiration from Alfred Howard’s British “The Bicycle for…” series, “a manual for the observer, the learner, and the expert” gives instructions on how to ride a bicycle, including the rules of the road, and also features chapters on road racing, American clubs, and suggested routes around Boston with mileage. A review of 1878 also states that “the bicycle has begun to supersede those ill-starred velocipedes ; and Detroit leads the country in having an aristocratic lady- bicycler”.

A revised edition in 1880 was enlarged to include 85 routes, more than half being outside Massachusetts,

  • by Charles E. Pratt.
  • Published by Houghton, Osgood & Company, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.


“While learning, with bruised elbows and scraped knees, with the bicycle more of the time on us than we on it, we felt how usefully we could employ a few hints of instruction, and how invaluable we should find some little book that would tell us all about the machine.”

– The Velocipede, by J.T. Goddard, 1869.

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