Safety bicycle
A safety bicycle is a type of bicycle
A bicycle, also known as a bike, pushbike or cycle, is a human-powered, pedal-driven, single-track vehicle, having two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other. A person who rides a bicycle is called a cyclist, or bicyclist....

 that became very popular beginning in the late 1880s as an alternative to the penny-farthing
Penny-farthing, high wheel, high wheeler, and ordinary are all terms used to describe a type of bicycle with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel that was popular after the boneshaker, until the development of the safety bicycle, in the 1880s...

 or ordinary and is now the most common type of bicycle. Early bicycles of this style were known as safety bicycles because they were noted for, and marketed as, being safer than the high wheelers they were replacing. Even though modern bicycles use a similar design, the term is rarely used today, and may be considered obsolete.


The term safety bicycle was used in the 1880s for any alternative to the penny-farthing, later historians began to use the term in a more restricted way, for the design that was a direct ancestor to most modern bicycles.

Diamond frame is also sometimes used as a term for safety bicycles, even though this technically only refers to a certain type of safety bicycle. The retronym
A retronym is a type of neologism that provides a new name for an object or concept to differentiate the original form or version of it from a more recent form or version. The original name is most often augmented with an adjective to account for later developments of the object or concept itself...

 upright bicycle is used to distinguish the style from recumbent bicycle
Recumbent bicycle
A recumbent bicycle is a bicycle that places the rider in a laid-back reclining position. Most recumbent riders choose this type of design for ergonomic reasons; the rider's weight is distributed comfortably over a larger area, supported by back and buttocks...



The first bicycle to be called a "safety" was designed by the English engineer Harry John Lawson
Harry John Lawson
Henry John Lawson, also known as Harry Lawson, was a British bicycle designer, motor industry pioneer, and fraudster. As part of his attempt to create and control a British motor industry Lawson formed and floated The Daimler Motor Company Limited in London in 1896. It later began manufacture in...

 (also called Henry) in 1876. Unlike penny-farthings the rider's feet were within reach of the ground, making it easier to stop. The pedals powered the rear wheel, keeping the rider's feet safely away from the front wheel. The original model used treadles
Treadle bicycle
A treadle bicycle is a bicycle powered by a treadle instead of the more-common crank. Treadles were one of the mechanisms inventors tried in order to position the pedals away from the drive wheel hub before the development of the bicycle chain or in lieu of it...

 to transfer power to the rear wheel, the updated 1879 model used a chain drive, an important new technology that had previously only been used on tricycles. Lawson's safety failed to catch on, perhaps due to its increased cost, weight and complexity compared to the Penny-farthing.

By 1885, the safety bicycles cataloged in Henrey Sturmey's Indispensible Handbook to the Safety Bicycle included 7 with lever front-drives, 44 with geared front-drives, and only 9 with chain rear-drives. In that same year, John Kemp Starley
John Kemp Starley
John Kemp Starley was an English inventor and industrialist who is widely considered the inventor of the modern bicycle, and also originator of the name Rover....

 came out with the first commercially successful safety bicycle he named the Rover. It was heavier and more expensive than penny-farthings, but lighter and cheaper than tricycles of the day. In its original form it used indirect steering, later direct steering was adopted and the bicycle proved to be a hit.

The safety bicycle was a big improvement on the previous penny-farthing design which it replaced. The chain drive, coupling a large front sprocket (the chainring
The crankset or chainset , is the component of a bicycle drivetrain that converts the reciprocating motion of the rider's legs into rotational motion used to drive the chain, which in turn drives the rear wheel...

) to a small rear sprocket (the sprocket
A sprocket or sprocket-wheel is a profiled wheel with teeth, cogs, or even sprockets that mesh with a chain, track or other perforated or indented material. The name 'sprocket' applies generally to any wheel upon which are radial projections that engage a chain passing over it...

) to multiply the revolutions of the pedals, allowed for much smaller wheels, and replaced the need for the large, directly pedaled front wheel of the penny-farthing. The smaller wheel gave a harder ride; once pneumatic tires
Bicycle tire
A bicycle tire is a tire that fits on the wheel of a bicycle, unicycle, tricycle, quadracycle, bicycle trailer, or trailer bike. They may also be used on wheelchairs and handcycles, especially for racing...

 were developed and replaced the previously used solid ones, this disadvantage was no longer an issue.

With the center of gravity low and between the wheels, rather than high and over the front hub, the safety bicycle greatly diminished the danger of "taking a header" or long fall over the handlebars. This made braking more effective and cycling, previously the reserve of spry, daring young men, safer, and therefore much more popular, especially for women.

Compared with the tricycles of the time, popular with riders less willing to take risks, the safety bicycles were lighter, mechanically more simple, and less expensive.

Its popularity soon grew to be more than the penny farthings and tricycles combined, and caused the bike boom
Bike boom
Bike boom or bicycle craze refers to several different times when, for a period of a few years, many people in many parts of Europe and North America wanted to buy and ride a bicycle. In brief, they occurred in 1819, 1868, the decade of the 1890s, and the 1970s...

 of the 1890s.


Safeties are now characterized by having two wheel
A wheel is a device that allows heavy objects to be moved easily through rotating on an axle through its center, facilitating movement or transportation while supporting a load, or performing labor in machines. Common examples found in transport applications. A wheel, together with an axle,...

s of identical - or nearly identical - size, and a chain
Bicycle chain
A bicycle chain is a roller chain that transfers power from the pedals to the drive-wheel of a bicycle, thus propelling it. Most bicycle chains are made from plain carbon or alloy steel, but some are nickel-plated to prevent rust, or simply for aesthetics. Nickel also confers a measure of...

-driven rear wheel. The most popular form of the safety bicycle frame
Bicycle frame
A bicycle frame is the main component of a bicycle, on to which wheels and other components are fitted. The modern and most common frame design for an upright bicycle is based on the safety bicycle, and consists of two triangles, a main triangle and a paired rear triangle...

, consisting of two triangle
A triangle is one of the basic shapes of geometry: a polygon with three corners or vertices and three sides or edges which are line segments. A triangle with vertices A, B, and C is denoted ....

s, is known as a diamond frame. A similar but different frame used in safety bicycles is the step-through frame
Step-through frame
A step-through frame is a type of bicycle frame, often used for utility bicycles, with a low or absent top tube or cross-bar....


Despite the enormous variety of modern bicycles, recumbent bicycle
Recumbent bicycle
A recumbent bicycle is a bicycle that places the rider in a laid-back reclining position. Most recumbent riders choose this type of design for ergonomic reasons; the rider's weight is distributed comfortably over a larger area, supported by back and buttocks...

s are the only major variety of bicycle which do not use this same basic design.

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