Annual Pedersen Gathering in Dursley – 6 April 2024

by | Feb 20, 2024

Come and see the Veteran-Cycle Club in action as they ride and display their Pedersen machines around the town of Dursley in Gloucestershire. Many of these strange machines would have been built in this town so it is fitting that we should visit and pay homage to their inventor, Mikael Pedersen. You can see us at various places around the town and join us in the evening for a social evening with talks by Andrew Barton of the Dursley Heritage Centre and Robert Damper, the V-CC Chairman. Our timetable is as follows:

11.00 – 12.30: Market Place
15.30 – 18.00: Display at Kingshill Creative Centre
18.30 – 21.00: Social evening with talks on “Old Dursley” and “High Adventures on a “Dursley Pedersen”.

The following is part of an article first published in ‘The Dursley Gazette’ under the title ‘Aspects of Gloucestershire History’.  It was subsequently reprinted in ‘The Boneshaker’ Volume 085, 1977 which is available in the Club’s online library and can be read in full by V-CC members.

An up-to-date biography about Mikael Pedersen can be view at: https://www.dursley-pedersen.net/index.html and more information about Dursley and its industrial past can be viewed here: http://www.dursleyglos.org.uk

Mikael Pedersen – Inventor

An acquaintance once wrote of Mikael Pederson “He had an inventive mind;  at times his ideas seemed to drive him as though he was not responsible for them.”

He was born at Morbjerb near Roskilde in Denmark around 1860.  A farmer by upbringing, his inventive talents soon made an appearance, for a relative stated that while he was still young he invented a cream separator, the first in Denmark, and a thrashing machine with which he travelled around the local village thrashing farmers’ corn.  Another invention while still in Denmark was the bicycle upon which his fame rests.

When and why he came to England is something of a mystery but by 1893 he was settle in Dursley.  There are several statements to the effect that Pedersen came to Dursley to interest R A Lister & Co in his agricultural inventions and Mr A E Mellerup, who worked with him, said that he designed the once famous Alexandra Cream Separator marketed by this firm.  If this is so then his arrival in Dursley dates from before 1891 as in that year the separator won First Prize at the Doncaster Show.

In September 1893 Pedersen took out a patent on his bicycle and this document states that he was then living at Kingsley House.

Two months later, in November, the Dursley Gazette reported to its readers – “Mr Pedersen of Dursley with that ingenuity for which is known, has recently constructed a safety bicycle of remarkable character.  Its weight is only nineteen pounds and the maker has tested its strength in an extra-ordinary way, he having ridden it up Whiteway”.  Whiteway Hill, one of the steep hills climbing up to the top of the Cotswolds, then would have been muddy or dusty and always stony in those pre-tarmac days.

The 1880s and 1890s were an interesting period in cycle development with the unstable ordinary or “penny farthing” giving way to the chain driven smaller wheeled “Safety” and it was into this period that Mikael Pedersen introduced his machine.  This is how he says his idea came to him.

“I have been a cyclist for twenty years, and have done much hard riding, sometimes 5,000 miles in one season.  I soon found there was much room for improvement in the construction of cycles, although it was only when I got my first ‘safety’ that I saw how much yet remained to be done in this direction.  The part of the machines in general use which I found especially imperfect was the seat…”

He goes on to explain that he developed a hammock type saddle and tried to fit this to the current cycles before abandoning them and devising his own frame to carry the saddle.  The first machine had hickory wood stays and it is said that these were bound to the joints with fisherman’s twine but all later models used metal tubing, sometimes of remarkable lightness.

For the next six years Pedersen seems to have done his best to interest cycle manufacturers in his machine, but with limited success.  He exhibited at National Cycle Shows and his machine drew considerable comment.  Sometimes critical – it lacked lateral strength, its fixed handlebar and saddle heights were inconvenient, its price was too high, its lightness was a myth – but its disciples lauded its strength, lightness, robustness and comfort.  The magazine ‘The Field’ eulogized for some 40 square inches of print over the delights of the saddle with the ‘perfect ventilation’ and others praised its lack of ‘perineal pressure’.  Then, as to some extent now, one either loathed or loved these strange triangulated machines;  there was no in between.

In 1896, according to Mr Mellerup, Pedersen bought premises in Water Street to begin manufacturing machines himself.  It is unlikely that he intended to go in for quantity production here as in the following year, when he started work with Mr Mellerup, Jens Jorgensen, four other skilled mechanics and a boy, companies such as Humber, Valkyrie and Monopole were exhibiting Pedersen frames made under licence.

1897 saw Pedersen taking out patents for a chain wheel, crank fixing, pedals, and for tandem and triplet design.  These multi seat machines and a quadruplet were put on show the following year.  In this year (1898), the Pedersen machine appeared on the racing scene.  This was at a Whitsun grass track meeting held in conjunction with Stroud Sports and here A E Mellerup thoroughly trounced his opponents even though they paced each other in trying to cut his initial lead.  These grass track meetings were as serious as today’s road races and Mellerup won £6 6s., worth perhaps £60 today.

In November, Harry ‘Goss’ Green, one of the great cyclists of his day, used a Pedersen cycle to break the unpaced London to Brighton and back record in a time of 6 hours 8 mins 11 secs.

In 1899 a ladies’ model with dropped frame was produced and to go with this Mikael Pedersen himself “designed a costume, unrivalled for elegance, comfort and appearance which may be described as a most clever combination of the shirt and the pantaloons.  Made in blue or black serge with white facings, this is the ideal garb for lady cyclists”.

As stated before, Pedersen’s attempts to get other manufacturers to produce his machine met little success.  In the middle of 1899 he and Robert and Charles Lister joined forces to create the Dursley Pedersen Cycle Company whose trade mark was registered in November and which became ‘limited liability’ the following year.  The Water Street works were expanded considerably and hopes were high for large sales.  The sales prediction was 250 machines by `1st May 1900, 2,000 in the next 12 months, rising by 1,000 per year to 10,000 to be sold in 1909 and thereafter annually.  In fact sales averaged around 2,000 per year as in total some 30,000 Dursley Pedersens, as they were now known, were made

Three models were advertised in the beginning;  a ladies, a gents with fixed ‘cow horn’ handlebars and a gents adjustable, all priced at between £20 and £25 – perhaps about £200 in today’s values.  As the years passed, prices fell but always they were high compared to other makes.  In 1903, when a BSA gents bicycle could be bought for £3, the cheapest Pedersen was £17.17s.0d.  Small wonder then that most machines went to the well to do – parsons, doctors and people of independent means.

Mikael Pedersen invented a 3 speed hub gear in 1902 and this was put on production models in 1903.  It was nearly an expensive failure as it soon became apparent from irate customers that the friction clutch was not strong enough.  For more than a year Pedersen made modification after modification before turning to toothed drive.  The long delay caused the company to make a loss of about £3,000 and in 1905 it went into voluntary liquidation.  Its assets and liabilities were taken over by R A Lister & Co and Mikael Pedersen then had little to do with the machine but draw royalties.

On the outbreak of the First World War manufacture of cycles ceased, though machines were still sold until 1917 when the sheep shearing dept. took over the building, stock in trade and bad debts.  This, however, was not the end of the Pedersen cycle as it was sold, and perhaps made in London until at least 1922.

Mikael Pedersen worked on military equipment including thread gauges during the war and then as mysteriously as he had appeared in England he left, following his wife and children.  It is said that he ended his days in comparative poverty in a Danish Old Peoples’ Home.

From talking with people who knew him and from reading about him one gets the impression of a brilliant, impulsive man, warm hearted, but at times stubborn and erratic.  He was a talented musician on French Horn and Viol;  a restless man who drove himself ceaselessly, perfecting and multiplying his inventions and cycling miles on his brainchild.

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