Coventry Machinists double-seater three-wheeler, c. 1890

 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Traffic & Transport
Road Traffic
1850 - 1899
This double-seater three-wheeler was advertised – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – as a “matchmaker”. Riding the tricycle was easy to learn and, unlike the penny-farthing, accessible to women also.

At a time when men and women were under the close scrutiny of chaperones, three-wheeled tandems provided an opportunity for an undisturbed excursion. In keeping with the conventions of the day, the front seat was reserved for the lady. In this way she was not forced to stare at her male companion’s back, and her view of the scenery remained unobstructed. The arrangement also meant that the gentleman was able to present the surroundings to “his” lady. Tandem cycling was therefore an extension of the bourgeois pastime of promenading through city parks, i.e. seeing and being seen on a fashionable new machine.

The two-seater tricycle by Coventry Machinists was designed accordingly. The front frame was kept low so the ladies had no difficulty seating themselves in the saddle in their long skirts. The front drive chain was originally enclosed to protect the riders’ clothing.

However, reconciling technical solutions and social conventions was not that simple. From a technical point of view, it made sense to steer from the front. De facto that meant that the men would have to let the women do the steering. The designers at Coventry Machinists preferred not to take that risk so they designed a lateral linkage rod running from the front handlebar to the rear to assist with the steering. In practice this gave rise to new problems. If the lady and her gentleman each chose to steer in the opposite direction, they would mutually block each other.

The two-seater tricycles were not only expensive, they were also bulky and cumbersome. They were soon outnumbered by the growing competition from so-called “safety bicycles”. From the 1890s these lightweight and easily manoeuvrable bicycles allowed men and women to set off on cycling tours together and separately.

Inv.Nr. 556

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