Eugene Meyer, 1828-1891, was born in Alsace France. A skilled mechanic and inventive genius, Meyer built some of the finest velocipedes of the day. He is recognized as the inventor of the all metal tension wheel, French patent # 86705 of August 4, 1869, and considered by some to be the creator of the first commercially successful high wheel bicycle. Meyer also raced his velocipedes.
Most velocipedes used wheels built on the construction principle employed by the carriage trade. They consisted of a wooden hub, spokes, and felloe which then had a heated metal band or rim placed over its outer diameter. As the metal band cooled it shrank and compressed the spokes/felloe holding the wheel tight. This is referred to as a "compression wheel". This age old form of construction was fine for wagons,carts,and carriages but wheels built this way were quite heavy and prone to work loose over time . Meyer's wheels consisted of wire spokes, headed at the rim end, which then passed through a bronze hub flange into a hollow cavity. There the threaded end of the spokes were captured by a small brass nut or nipple. Like today, the twist of a few spoke nipples would allow easy repair and make the wheel "true" or straight. By tensioning all spokes equally the wheel had tremendous strength, lightness, and offered the rider a degree of suspension. The outer rim was an inverted "V" shaped channel that held a band of solid circular rubber. This type of wheel is referred to as a "tension" wheel . Today most bicycle wheels are built on the tension principle. Meyer's elegant wire wheel velocipedes weighed approximately 44 pounds, a good twenty pounds less than the standard velocipede with wood wheels.
As mentioned, Meyer also raced velocipedes and provided his wheels and velocipedes to the best competitors. The first long distance road race, the Paris - Rouen, was held November 7, 1869 over a distance of 123 kilometers or 83 miles. 120 riders started with 36 finishing .The winner James Moore rode a machine by Jacques Suriray equipped with ball bearings, a high front wheel, and solid rubber tires. Eugene Meyer finished 10th on one of his tension wheel machines. .
In August 1870 at Molineux Park, Wolverhampton, James Moore won the English "Championship" on a state of the art 43" French "Spider" bicycle with tension wheels by Meyer. Most racing men now preferred a larger diameter front wheel for increased speed. Unlike wood wheels, as the diameter of a metal or tension wheel increased the weight remained reasonable and was structurally sound.
Meyers work was interrupted briefly with the outbreak of the Franco - Prussian War July 19,1870 to May 10,1871. Paris was surrounded and bombed and the velocipede trade collapsed. Meyer survived and reopened his shop, again in the heart of the Parisian carriage district, at number 7 Rue de Acacias Ternes in 1872 . The velocipede on display dates from this time.
Daper Gent with his Meyer
Photo courtesy of Lorne Shields collection
Little is known of the life of cycling pioneer Eugene Meyer other than the fact that he custom built some of the finest bicycles of his day and introduced the world to the tension wheel . Meyer passed quietly at age 63 in 1891 after retiring to Brunoy en Essonne near Paris, France.