dandy Scotland part 2: The oldest working bicycle in the world


A bike-tastic visit to the Riverside Transport Museum

dandyhorse magazine publisher Tammy Thorne recently visited Scotland. While there, she discovered that the bicycle is an important part of the country’s rich history and current culture.

After a weekend in Crieff enjoying the highland games, she caught a glimpse of the oldest working bicycle, a real-life dandyhorse at the Transport Museum in Glasgow.



dandy Scotland part 2: The oldest working bicycle in the world

Photos and story by Tammy Thorne

The Riverside Transport Museum boasts the oldest surviving bicycle in the world as part of its collection.

This dandyhorse was made by Gavin Delzell in 1846. But it is not the oldest pedal-driven bicycle ever created.

Kirkpatrick MacMillan is credited as having invented the bicycle in 1840, six years before this one above was built by Delzell. And back in the day, there was some controversy, as to who first added the crank. (Looks like in-fighting in the bike community is a centuries-old tradition!)


This penny farthing - also called the "Xtraordinary," high, or ordinary bicycle - was from around 1878 or 1880. In his hilarious account of learning to ride, Taming the Bicycle, Mark Twain wrote in 1884: "You don't get down as you would from a horse, you get down as you would from a house on fire. You make a spectacle of yourself every time."


pennyfarthingPedal pennyfarthingwheel

Details of the penny farthing on display at the Riverside museum.

One of my favourites was this amazing tandem tricycle. (I wish they had displayed it on it's own stand though.)


TrikeFront trikeSide

The tandem tricycle was a huge development in cycling that allowed any rider, according to The Complete Cyclist in 1897, to: "Thereupon take a complete novice — his sister, his cousin, or in an emergency, a woman who is not his relation."

Even a WOMAN who is NOT HIS RELATION! Hah! The bicycle really was quite the instrument of social interaction.

The tagalong rider sat at the front and pedalled with the driver. Here is a photo of a big-wheel tandem tricycle in action: Don't they look happy to be riding together?

Trikes still have a long way to go before they come back into fashion. Even though they are the ultimate in convenience and ease. Check out this beauty little grocery-go-getter below.


The trike above was the starter bike for Jean Sutherland, who learned to ride at 40.

She couldn't quite get the hang of balancing on two wheels so her solution was a tricycle. "People were curious, and delighted, to see it. They'd ask where I got it." she said. Guess who else prefers three wheels over two? Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who we profiled for our summer 2015 issue.


This trike above started out as a two-wheeled bike but the owner applied a Higgens tricycle conversion to create this awesome machine. But, alas, by the 1930s the trike had become "old fashioned."


Four-seat pacing bike (circa 1930), recumbent (circa 1938).


The "safety bicycle" became popular in the late 1800s as an alternative to the penny farthing or tricycle. It is the first modern bicycle, with a diamond frame and two wheels of equal size that seats the rider close to the ground. The one above has sleek wooden wheels.

The Scottish Cyclist circa 1888 noted that "safeties" were all the rage and wondered whether it was merely a fad: "It is, and ever will be, a case of the 'survival of the fittest.'" (Note: Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published only 30 years before this.)


And in the process of natural selection, the safety cycle triumphed for it's sleek design and ease of use. The safety cycle also opened the cycling scene up to women, who were discouraged from mounting the high wheeler bike because of the long awkward climb to the top and likelihood of falling.

No longer front-end cargo on tandem trikes, the cycling craze gave power of movement and independence to women of the time; in 1896, Susan B Anthony famously said that bicycling had "done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."

The artifacts in the Riverside Transport Museum trace the history of the "Second City of the Empire" through its industrial past in the 20th century, and include many fantastic cycling relics.

From the safety cycle to custom racing cycles, this was a truly impressive collection of bikes.


Graeme Obree, also known as the Flying Scotsman, broke the World Hour Record twice consecutively in 1993 and 1994, cycling farthest around a velodrome track in an hour. Although his two wins were astonishing, he was determined to go even faster and designed his own bike in an attempt to do so. However, his bikes were banned for being "too unusual."



David Rattray opened Rattray's Bicycle Depot in Glasgow in 1900, and would go on to make Scotland's premier lightweight bicycle, The Flying Scot. The bicycles were "customized for different cycling styles and wages" — the touring bike cost £364 in 1979.

There were a lot more vehicles of all types at the museum including double decker streetcars, old tramcars, horse drawn trolleys, boat and train engines, cars, trucks, buses and a whole helluva lot of motorcycles.


This was one of the beauties on the motorcycle wall - looks like one of the first ever e-bikes.


This Raleigh with Cymota Power Unit from 1950-52 England was given by Chief constable of the city of Glasgow police in 1972.

With it's impressive collection, cool exterior, and ideal location on the river, the Riverside museum won European Museum of the Year in 2013.


I had a dandy time walking through the history of the bicycle. It was fun to learn more about how deep the bicycle runs through Scottish history.


I've seen refurbished or replicated dandyhorses before, but this one is the oldest working model in existence, which made for an exceptional museum experience.

Scotland's contribution to the international cycling narrative in unmistakable, in part because of the fact that the modern pedal-driven bicycle originated here.

In the next installments of this dandy Scotland series, find out how I got around the towns and cities of Scotland.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

dandy Scotland part 1 - Kits and Kilts

dandy Scotland part 3 - Riding around about towns

dandy Scotland part 4 - A wee wobble on the cobbles of Scotland's two major cities

Bike spotting on Hoskin

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