The early invention of home trainers led very quickly to stationary bicycle racing as described by G. Lacy Hillier in the Badminton Library’s 1896 volume on Cycling.
In the winter home-trainer races are promoted by many clubs, the competitors pedalling away at top speed, whilst the excited spectators watch the progress of certain hands round the face of a dial—a contrivance put upon the market by Messrs. Hutchins & Hamilton, of Queen Victoria Street.
A tradition continued today in the Goldsprint competitions and the roller racing events organised in the United Kingdom by Rollapalooza.
Watching the riders progress on a dial was all very well but one Arthur Lionel Knighten of Oakham, County Rutland, England, came up with an ingenious idea that he no doubt thought would make racing on home trainers more exciting to watch. Having obtained Letters Patent in Great Britain in March 1893, Knighten filed a patent in America which was granted on 12 February 1895 as patent US 534223 A.
Rather than recording the racers progress on a dial Knighten envisaged that spectators would enjoy a proxy version of the race with models representing each contestant progressing around a circular track as they were driven by the riders on stationary bicycles. Safety or any other form of cycle were to be raised from the ground and a system of pulleys drove the mechanism by connecting the chain wheel to the front wheel which transferred power to the machine. The model cyclists were to be jointed at the hips and knees so that they ‘pedalled’ round the track “as if the model cyclist was driving the model machine.” The home trainer and the corresponding model of a cyclist could be colour coded ” so that the spectators may readily discern from the models, the relative speed of the actual riders or contestants.”
Knighten didn’t claim a patent for the general concept of a mechanical racing machine but rather for various parts of the drive mechanism and supporting structure. Did crowds of spectators thrill to the spectacle while placing wagers? I like to think so.
All images are in the public domain.
by Mike Dash
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