Treadmill on Wheels

Early days of cycling in Ballarat

Europeans had been developing variations of the modern-day bicycle since the 18th century. By the 1860s, a commercially successful and fully operational bicycle was taking Europe.

Ballarat’s press closely followed the growing bicycle movement, reporting on the latest developments from overseas and locally.

First velocipede race at Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1869 (State Library of Victoria collection IAN14/08/69/161)

First velocipede race at Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1869 (State Library of Victoria collection, IAN14/08/69/161)

There was much interest in Ballarat by the time the two-wheeled phenomenon reached town. One of the first bicycle sightings was in 1869 when a group of cyclists rode their velocipedes to Buninyong. One reporter called the new vehicle ‘a sort of treadmill on wheels’.

Bicycles soon became a fixture of Ballarat’s social and cultural life. Velocipede races were held at local sporting carnivals, festivals and agricultural shows.

They were also given away as prizes at local fundraising events and fetes. Ballarat cyclists, such as foundry worker James Ivey, established themselves as regular winners of velocipede events held in Ballarat and Melbourne.

Velocipede, circa 1870s. This velocipede was owned by Athol Kelly who rode it in vintage bicycle races up until the 1990s; hence the modern additions such as brakes. (Gold Museum collection, 99.0014)

Velocipede, circa 1870s. This velocipede was owned by Athol Kelly who rode it in vintage bicycle races up until the 1990s; hence the modern additions such as brakes. (Gold Museum collection, 99.0014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The velocipede was nicknamed ‘the boneshaker’ because of its iron wheels, stiff frame and difficult steering system.

Ballarat locals were intrigued by the appearance of the velocipede.

In 1869, a crowd of 500 onlookers gathered opposite the Ballarat Post Office to see a rider propel his velocipede down Sturt Street. One onlooker described the vehicle as a ‘buggy the man worked by himself’.

Not everyone welcomed the new addition to Ballarat’s roads. Reports of collisions between cyclists and horses were used by media commentators to highlight the dangers of two-wheeled vehicles.

To learn more about the early history of cycling in Ballarat and Australia, visit the Gold Museum to see On Your Bike!and the National Museum of Australia’s Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia.

References

‘BCC Athletic Sports Meeting’, Ballarat Star, 22 October 1869.

‘News and Notes’, Ballarat Star, 27 April 1869.

‘News and Notes’, Ballarat Star, 21 May 1869.

‘News and Notes’, Ballarat Star, 8 June 1869.

‘News and Notes’, Ballarat Star, 19 June 1869.

‘News and Notes’, Ballarat Star, 23 June 1869.

‘The Velocipede Nuisance’, Ballarat Star, 10 November 1869.

‘To the Editor of the Star’, Ballarat Star, 28 June 1869.

‘Velocipede and Other Races’, Ballarat Star, 11 September 1869.

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