The notion of riding on two wheels became popular after a fad started in Paris in 1818 following the demonstration of the Draisienne, which was invented by Baron Karl von Drais of Germany.
The fad quickly spread among France’s upper classes and then to high society in Britain and the United States, where the machine became known as the Hobby Horse or Dandy Horse.
This machine is thought to have been made by Denis Johnson of London, England, who was primarily responsible for introducing the Hobby Horse to Britain.
To ride the Hobby Horse, you first adjusted the seat to a comfortable height and then swung your leg over the frame to, hopefully, get the leather seat between your legs. Leaning forwards, you placed your forearms and chest on the rest, grabbed the ball on the end of the steering tiller and then pushed off from the ground with the tips of your feet. First foot, second foot — and you were off.
The fact that the frame and wheels took most of your weight meant your motion was somewhat awkward: it was closer to “assisted walking” than riding. Nevertheless, a good rider could reach speeds as high as 8 or 9 miles an hour (13 or 14 km/hr).
Balancing wasn’t too much of a problem, since you had one foot on the ground much of the time. More of a challenge came from pushing a mostly wooden contraption with solid iron forks that weighed nearly 40 pounds (18 kg). Urging your machine along the muddy, uneven and mud-filled roads could be tough. Climbing hills could be arduous.
Coasting downhill was dangerous because you had no brakes, and a faster ride made for a more unpleasant one, as every bump was transmitted to your backbone via the machine’s iron tires, stiff wooden spokes and rigid frame.
For these reasons, the Hobby Horse was usually ridden on flat ground in parks or, for those who could afford it, in special riding academies. For the most part, it provided a social ride for the well-to-do.