Cycle Inventions which Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time

I just picked up a short book in Waterstones – The Next Big Thing. The book has a range of things that once were popular, but with the benefit of hindsight it is really very hard to see why. From legalised paedophilia in ancient Greece to shell suits being the height of fashion, there are many things humanity looks back on with a sense of shame and embarrassment.

But cycling has its very own history of shell suit fashion, corsets and marmite ice cream. These are some things in the world of cycling that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The All over Skin Suit.


In the 1970s, these all over skin suits were all the rage in the time-trialling community. Apparently, dressing up in this figure hugging lycra piece was a couple of seconds more aerodynamic over 25 miles.  Fortunately, we have since invented stylish aero bike helmets – which are both faster and have also solved the problem of looking a little silly on the bike.

Not Drinking water.

For many years, the top training tip of the European continental pros was, wait for it – not to drink any water. Only an amateur would resort to drinking water. A really good training ride was when you could make yourself faint with dehydration and spend 48 hours without having to visit the bathroom. Even organisers of races made it difficult for riders to pick up water. Water was only allowed and considered helpful if it was mixed with a certain percentage of performance enhancing substances such as amphetamines, alcohol and beta blockers. If water had drugs in then the organisers didn’t mind so much. But, plain water – well that was just downright plain cheating.

Eating that raw steak

As late as the 1980s, the conventional wisdom for pro cyclists was that there was no better food for cyclists than eating a raw steak before a short 300km race. Apparently, raw steak was the perfect food for racing.

Using a piece of steak to prevent saddle sore.

Apparently a popular cure for saddle sore was to place a raw piece of steak in your cycling shorts – it provides a natural seat. Though whether this piece of steak was then eaten for the next days breakfast is a matter procyclists seemed somewhat reluctant to disclose.

The bike with Square wheels.
Credit: Stan Wagon

I think this must have been thought up on a late night after quite a few beers. But, it’s one thing to think up a crazy idea, it’s quite another to actually put it into practise. Of course, after creating this bike with square wheels, the inventors soon discovered the great problem it has – You just try getting a square inner tube – nowhere stocks it!
Though to be fair, if you come across a road with equal sized bumps, this bike works just fine, apparently.

Iron Seat Warmer


OK, I’m the first to admit than when it’s just above freezing, the idea of a heated seat could seem like a good idea. But, I can’t help but think this iron is like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, so to speak.

The Bike Caravan


What better way to see the country than cycle around with your own bed on the back? No wonder youth hostels were so popular for cycle touring back in the 1950s.


Somewhere in the history of procycling someone must have thought, why don’t we all spend 30% of our income on buying drugs so that we can put our lives on the line for a bit of added excitement? Of course, this drug culture was justified on the grounds that it didn’t change the results in anyway. Since everyone was taking drugs, it just meant they could ride events doped up to the eyeballs and take away that sensation of sitting on a piece of raw steak and the interminable dehydration of trying to ride 200km with a single glass of water.

If it takes 10 pills to kill us we’ll take 9 pills.

As the late Tom Simpson used to say, if 10 pills kill me, then I’ll take 9. Unfortunately, many cyclists got this calculation wrong and since they were so drugged up with all the LSD they were taking it meant they saw double and couldn’t count properly.

The Penny Farthing.


OK, the penny farthing looks pretty cool. When a penny farthing goes past you think that looks great. But, how many penny farthings do you see negotiating the streets of London? Cycling is dangerous enough without lifting yourself three feet of the ground so when you fall off a grazed elbow becomes a broken wrist.

Other inventions


9 Responses to Cycle Inventions which Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time

  1. Al-Bo December 18, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Seat warmer – I would be constantly thinking there had been a rather unsavoury incident in my cycling shorts.

    Nutrition – Reminds me of when the best sports drink was considered to be a pint of full-fat milk, quaffed immediately after exertion.

  2. tejvan November 20, 2009 at 8:13 pm #

    I agree! Good old Penny Farthings!

  3. Dave Preece November 5, 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    Re. penny farthings in London!

  4. John Girvin November 5, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    You’re being a bit unfair on the old Penny Farthing there!

    Yes, the design is mad and dangerous, but it’s the best they could do at the time. The huge front wheel exists because they couldn’t make chains small or robust enough.

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