Dursley Pedersen bicycle design

Dursley Pedersen Bicycle, c1910

It is again that time of the year when cycling greats take to the impossible Alps of France and battle it out over three weeks to determine who shall be deemed ‘King of the Mountains’ or polka-dot jersey, green jersey (the leader of the points classification), white jersey (the rider aged under 26 who places highest in the general classification) and of course the most coveted of all, the yellow jersey (the general classification leader). But have you stopped to think about the discomfort the riders may be experiencing? The need for cycling comfort clearly consumed Mikael Pedersen enough to lead him to design the little known Dursley Pedersen bicycle.

Margaret Simpson of the Powerhouse Museum writes…

How do you ride this bike, where’s the seat? This rare gentleman’s bicycle in our collection takes its name from its Danish inventor, Mikael Pedersen, and the Gloucestershire town in England where it was made. Pedersen was an engineer and farm machinery inventor who arrived in Britain from Denmark in 1893 and was employed by R. A. Lister, the engine and cream separator manufacturer in Dursley, Gloucestershire.

Pedersen was also a cycling enthusiast but found the saddle on safety bicycles uncomfortable. He designed and made an amazing hammock-style seat, made from 40 metres of woven cord, suspended between the handlebars and rear frame. It was designed to be soft and comfortable for long rides and to follow the “movement of the body”. It was later advertised as having “perfect ventilation”.

Hammock seat, detail

Hammock seat, detail

After finding his new seat didn’t fit a conventional safety bike frame, Pedersen set about designing a new, complex, triangular frame of thin diameter tubing duplicated for extra strength. This was said to have been inspired by the Whipple-Murphy lattice truss used in railway bridges since 1847.

With his employer’s help, the Dursley Pedersen Cycle Co. was established in 1899 but had ceased by 1917 with his bicycles continuing to be made by other firms. Only about 8,000 bicycles were thought to have been actually produced. During the First World War bicycle manufacture had fallen, licence fees to Pedersen remained unpaid, and his poor business sense saw him cheated out of payments. Tragically, increasing alcohol misuse, a failed marriage and poor health saw Pedersen reduced to a pauper back in Demark by 1920. He died 9 years later and was buried in an unmarked grave. But in 1995 bike enthusiasts had his remains exhumed and reinterred in Dursley with a headstone to make sure Pedersen’s achievements would be remembered.

Dursley Pedersen Bicycle, detail, c1910

Dursley Pedersen Bicycle, detail, c1910

The Dursley Pedersen bicycle was an expensive, unusual and controversial bicycle at the time. It was produced when the “difficult to ride” ordinary or “penny farthing” bicycle had given way to the chain-driven smaller-wheeled “safety” bicycle but before the now familiar diamond shape had become standard.


This article was first published in ‘Inside the collection‘ blog