Between 1885 and 1890, dozens of manufacturers produced bicycles like this Rudge Safety of 1887.
These machines were known as “cross-frames,” a word that referred to the straight backbone that ran from the steering tube to the rear hub, crossed at right angles by the seat tube extending down to the crank bracket.
Other than the frame, this safety looks like a modern bike. It has two 28-inch (71 cm) wheels and rear wheel chain drive. The front forks, though hinged, are steered directly through the handle bars. It’s low to the ground, easy to balance, and hard to take a header over the handle bars.
One problem with this design was the overly sensitive steering caused by the short wheel base. Indeed, the wheels are so close together that the seat tube had to be curved to go around the back wheel.
Another problem was the very rough ride caused by the small wheels with their solid rubber tires.
Road vibration was made worse by the lack of sufficient stiffness in the frame – something the designers tried to fix with stays running from the steering tube to the crank bracket and the crank bracket to the rear hub.
The stays helped but didn’t truly solve the problem. As a result, the position of the crank could shift as you rode and you would soon find yourself pedalling a very loose chain, or no chain at all.