The Story Behind The World's First Tall Bike "Dismounting causes the greatest trouble in using it. The easiest way is to fall off and trust to luck to sustain nothing more than a few bruises."
Parisian Leon Lyon's imagination ran wild when he devised a scheme to win the prize for the oddest bicycle in the 1894 Paris Bicycle Parade. Lyon was on the organising committee for the parade and placed a bet of 500 francs with another cyclist that he'd win the prize. While Paris frame builders were busy scratching their heads building strange machines for the June parade, perhaps in a bid for secrecy, Lyon made a detour to England where he found a frame builder to create his Eiffel Tower machine. The Beeston bike builder (perhaps Humber Co., Ltd., which had one of their factories, located at that time, in Beeston, Nottingham, England) thought it better to call the machine a "Giraffe Bicycle". Three weeks later on the 14th of June 1894, mounted high above the street on his ten foot high, Eiffel Tower inspired British made bike, Lyon won the sought after prize for oddest bicycle in Paris, taking the prize money together with his wager. Thereafter perhaps both the Beeston frame builder and Lyon had their way, later in Australia one bike was called both Giraffe and Eiffel Tower.
As a bicycle this was perhaps the first ever version of what we know today as a "tall bike". In it's original guise riders seemed to have no trouble mounting the machine, some though had trouble dismounting, preferring falling off the machine as their favourite method of getting back to earth. "Dismounting causes the greatest trouble in using it. The easiest way is to fall off and trust to luck to sustain nothing more than a few bruises." In New York the Eiffel Tower bicycle achieved a form of cult status with other bicyclist's following along, lending a helping hand, even stopping trains. "The adventurous spirit who has been seen riding this remarkable wheel is usually accompanied by a number of companions who serve as a sort of bodyguard and prevent vehicles and pedestrians - trains from obstructing the way."
During late 1894 and early 1895 the "Eiffel Tower" bicycle toured the United States. The tall bike made an appearance at the world famous Springfield bicycle meet of 1894, just months after it won first prize for "oddest bicycle" at the Paris Bicycle Parade. By April 1895 the bicycle had been on show in a lower Broadway bicycle shop and created a sensation at the Madison Square Garden bicycle show in New York.
By June 1897 an Eiffel Tower bicycle appeared in Melbourne Australia at a town parade. "…came the lofty Eiffel Tower bicycle, handsomely decorated, with a rider in fancy costume, who did not seem to relish his lofty ride with a strong wind behind him." It seems there were either copycats in the colonies creating their own giraffe and Eiffel Tower versions, or Lyon's machine was completing it's own tour of the world.
At the Bendigo Easter carnival of April 1898 an "extraordinary-Eiffel-Tower bicycle, which was provided by the Austral Cycling Company" made an appearance. Later the same Eiffel Tower machine was called a Giraffe bicycle. "The Giraffe bicycle of the Austral Cycle Agency - a machine some 12ft high" appeared at the gates to Centennial Park at a gathering of cycle clubs in September 1898. During December 1898 in Adelaide at the North Adelaide Cycling Meeting, an Eiffel Tower bicycle raced a rider riding backwards in a pursuit race. The backwards racing rider won.
At the Paris Exposition of 1900, the entire Eiffel Tower bicycle joke was turned on it's head when a building was erected and called "The Bicycle for Two Thousand .. will be the very behemoth of bicycles - the largest wheel ever built…and what the Eiffel Tower was to the last Exposition the big bicycle will be to this." Initially the Eiffel Tower inspired Lyon to create a bicycle in it's own style, ironically by 1900 a building dressed up as a bicycle was put forward as the model to supplant the original tower.
The world's first Tall Bike was a sensation wherever it went, no one was even sure about it's height - ten to thirteen feet depending on who was telling the story. Capable of winning prizes for the oddest bike in show, drawing crowds yet incapable of beating a backwards racing rider.
A CURIOUS BICYCLE 1895 The North Queensland Register (Townsville, Qld. : 1892 - 1905), Wednesday 23 January 1895, page 27 One of the most curious sights that has lately been been seen in the streets of New York is what has felicitously been called the Eiffel Tower bicycle. This machine is constructed on the same principle as an ordinary safety but it has a frame superstructure which carries a distance of some lOft from terra firma. The machine is frequently seen on the avenues of the city, and the rider easily over top the ordinary lamp post along the route traveled. He seems to have perfect control over the machine, which he can drive at quite a good rate of speed, taking sharp corners with perfect ease and apparent safety. This bicycle is mounted from behind in the usual way, but it has to be held by attendants while mounting. The owner sometimes places the machine against a wall and mounts from a standstill, but, of course, in the city this is not always practicable. There is considerable difficulty in driving the bicycle up hill, owing partially to the weight, the length of the sprocket chain and the balance of the machine. The sprocket chain extends from the upper sprocket wheel and the lateral swing or play of the chain is prevented "by a guide roller mounted just above the back wheel. The front wheel measures 28 inches, the rear wheel 36 inches and the extreme height is said to be 13 feet. The machine was constructed in England, but the American Dunlop tire was supplied after it arrived in this country. The adventurous spirit who has been seen riding this remarkable wheel is usually accompanied by a number of companions who serve as a sort of bodyguard and prevent vehicles and pedestrians - trains from obstructing the way.
EIFFEL TOWER BICYCLE A NOTABLE PARIS ODDITY ON EXHIBITION IN THIS CITY (Toledo Blade - Apr 4, 1895)
The Machine Which Took a Prize at the Great Paris Parade - it's Designer Rode It in a Street Show.