Take a Luxury Ride, Try the Pedersen Bike

February 5, 1998 - 0:0
COPENHAGEN What has 14 steel tubes, connected at 57 places forming 21 triangles? A piece of trapeze apparatus perhaps? No, it's the Danish-invented Pedersen bicycle, a vehicle eulogized by connoisseurs as the Bentley of the classic cycle world. Kiss goodbye to saddle sores, backaches and bone-shaking rides over pot-holed roads. The Pedersen cyclist, perched straight-backed on a hammock-like saddle, is cushioned from such discomforts.

The bicycle is hand-crafted, tailor-made luxury, and like purchasers of other designer goods, Pedersen owners get noticed. You feel like a king or a queen on this bicycle. It is classical. It gives out a strong signal of `Hello, here I come', Lars Andersen of Christiania Bikes in Copenhagen, one of the few sellers of the bicycle, told Reuters. It is so extraordinarily different that everyone sees you.

Bike Has Unique Hammock Saddle The Pedersen's distinctive space frame structure, more traditionally seen in bridge and roof construction, is crafted from seamless steel tubes and resembles a lopsided, compressed tent frame. The up-right sitting position comes from the angle of the elongated forks, which at between 60 and 65 degrees to the horizontal plane, is smaller than in racer or track bikes where the rider is stretched over the frame.

But the piece de resistance is the leather hammock-style saddle. Suspended from two apexes of the triangular frame, it gently sways with the peddling motion giving a sensation of almost complete suspension. The cycle's designer, Danish inventor Mikael Pedersen, wrote of the saddle: It `gives' in every direction, the weight is evenly distributed...you may take my word for it that all cyclists and especially ladies after once trying this seat will refuse to ride on any other.

Bicycle Has a Long History But this designer item is no child of billion-dollar high technology. Pedersen, born in October 1855 near Copenhagen, was a prolific inventor whose first major success was a machine for separating cream for butter. Around 1893 he moved to Dursley in Gloucestershire, Britain, and that same year patented the bicycle design. The first model in 1893 was constructed from wood and weighed just 19 lbs (nine kg).

Four years later wood was abandoned for metal tubing. The Dursley-Pedersen, as it was soon called, was unique in using small-diameter, thin-walled tubes and the hammock saddle. It was lighter and faster than traditional roadster vehicles and soon became respected for its workmanship and detailed design, two factors which would eventually lead to its demise. Despite its strange appearance, the Dursley-Pedersen was no slow coach.

According to The Ingenious Mr Pedersen written by British schoolteacher David Evans, cyclist Harry Goss Green broke the London to Brighton and back unpaced road record riding a Dursley-Pedersen on November 14, 1898. Goss recorded a time of six hours, eight minutes and 11 seconds, 15 minutes and 14 seconds faster than the previous record. He went on to break five other records two years later in 1890.

Between 1896 and 1922 around 30,000 Dursley-Pedersens were produced in Britain, but by then more traditional bicycles were simpler to build, more rugged and ultimately cheaper. The Dursley-Pedersen went out of production and the unconventional inventor soon returned to Denmark, where he died three days before his 74th birthday in 1929. The triangular machine became a collector's item in Britain, where enthusiasts for veteran cycles still meet annually with their Pedersens. The Danish inventor's standing among British cyclists runs so high that in 1995 his bones were exhumed from a run-down grave in Copenhagen and reburied in Dursley Cemetery. Blacksmith Revives Patent It was almost 50 years after Pedersen's death in 1978, that Danish blacksmith Jesper Soelling, working in Copenhagen's hippie district of Christiania, found the old patent and began making Pedersen frames.

Soelling has refined the design over the years and is the only major producer of the bicycle, manufacturing 200 to 300 frames a year at Ebeltoft in western Denmark. Around half go to Germany, with the remaining 50 percent heading to Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain. Like all luxury goods we have been hit by poor economies, a few years ago we were up to 500 frames a year, Soelling said.

A lot of customers tend to be architects, engineers or designers who appreciate the concept of the design. It is still a very expensive bicycle. A fully-equipped Pedersen costs between 7,500 and 12,000 Danish crowns ($1,080 and $1,730), compared with more traditional city bikes at between 2,000 and 4,000 crowns. The bikes have been sold as far afield as Japan, where the wheel rims and mud-guards were fashioned from beech wood.

Some customers also have been known to request a gold-plated model. It looked beautiful but it was senseless, commented Soelling. (Reuters)