The History of Tall Bikes

The Story Behind The World's First Tall Bike "Dismounting causes the greatest trouble in using it. The easiest way is to fall off and trust to luck to sustain nothing more than a few bruises."


Parisian Leon Lyon's imagination ran wild when he devised a scheme to win the prize for the oddest bicycle in the 1894 Paris Bicycle Parade. Lyon was on the organising committee for the parade and placed a bet of 500 francs with another cyclist that he'd win the prize. While Paris frame builders were busy scratching their heads building strange machines for the June parade, perhaps in a bid for secrecy, Lyon made a detour to England where he found a frame builder to create his Eiffel Tower machine. The Beeston bike builder (perhaps Humber Co., Ltd., which had one of their factories, located at that time, in Beeston, Nottingham, England) thought it better to call the machine a "Giraffe Bicycle". Three weeks later on the 14th of June 1894, mounted high above the street on his ten foot high, Eiffel Tower inspired British made bike, Lyon won the sought after prize for oddest bicycle in Paris, taking the prize money together with his wager. Thereafter perhaps both the Beeston frame builder and Lyon had their way, later in Australia one bike was called both Giraffe and Eiffel Tower.

As a bicycle this was perhaps the first ever version of what we know today as a "tall bike". In it's original guise riders seemed to have no trouble mounting the machine, some though had trouble dismounting, preferring falling off the machine as their favourite method of getting back to earth. "Dismounting causes the greatest trouble in using it. The easiest way is to fall off and trust to luck to sustain nothing more than a few bruises." In New York the Eiffel Tower bicycle achieved a form of cult status with other bicyclist's following along, lending a helping hand, even stopping trains. "The adventurous spirit who has been seen riding this remarkable wheel is usually accompanied by a number of companions who serve as a sort of bodyguard and prevent vehicles and pedestrians - trains from obstructing the way."

During late 1894 and early 1895 the "Eiffel Tower" bicycle toured the United States. The tall bike made an appearance at the world famous Springfield bicycle meet of 1894, just months after it won first prize for "oddest bicycle" at the Paris Bicycle Parade. By April 1895 the bicycle had been on show in a lower Broadway bicycle shop and created a sensation at the Madison Square Garden bicycle show in New York.

By June 1897 an Eiffel Tower bicycle appeared in Melbourne Australia at a town parade. "…came the lofty Eiffel Tower bicycle, handsomely decorated, with a rider in fancy costume, who did not seem to relish his lofty ride with a strong wind behind him." It seems there were either copycats in the colonies creating their own giraffe and Eiffel Tower versions, or Lyon's machine was completing it's own tour of the world.

At the Bendigo Easter carnival of April 1898 an "extraordinary-Eiffel-Tower bicycle, which was provided by the Austral Cycling Company" made an appearance. Later the same Eiffel Tower machine was called a Giraffe bicycle. "The Giraffe bicycle of the Austral Cycle Agency - a machine some 12ft high" appeared at the gates to Centennial Park at a gathering of cycle clubs in September 1898. During December 1898 in Adelaide at the North Adelaide Cycling Meeting, an Eiffel Tower bicycle raced a rider riding backwards in a pursuit race. The backwards racing rider won.

At the Paris Exposition of 1900, the entire Eiffel Tower bicycle joke was turned on it's head when a building was erected and called "The Bicycle for Two Thousand .. will be the very behemoth of bicycles - the largest wheel ever built…and what the Eiffel Tower was to the last Exposition the big bicycle will be to this." Initially the Eiffel Tower inspired Lyon to create a bicycle in it's own style, ironically by 1900 a building dressed up as a bicycle was put forward as the model to supplant the original tower.

The world's first Tall Bike was a sensation wherever it went, no one was even sure about it's height - ten to thirteen feet depending on who was telling the story. Capable of winning prizes for the oddest bike in show, drawing crowds yet incapable of beating a backwards racing rider.

A CURIOUS BICYCLE 1895  The North Queensland Register (Townsville, Qld. : 1892 - 1905), Wednesday 23 January 1895, page 27 One of the most curious sights that has lately been been seen in the streets of New York is what has felicitously been called the Eiffel Tower bicycle. This machine is constructed on the same principle as an ordinary safety but it has a frame superstructure which carries a distance of some lOft from terra firma. The machine is frequently seen on the avenues of the city, and the rider easily over top the ordinary lamp post along the route traveled. He seems to have perfect control over the machine, which he can drive at quite a good rate of speed, taking sharp corners with perfect ease and apparent safety. This bicycle is mounted from behind in the usual way, but it has to be held by attendants while mounting. The owner sometimes places the machine against a wall and mounts from a standstill, but, of course, in the city this is not always practicable. There is considerable difficulty in driving the bicycle up hill, owing partially to the weight, the length of the sprocket chain and the balance of the machine. The sprocket chain extends from the upper sprocket wheel and the lateral swing or play of the chain is prevented "by a guide roller mounted just above the back wheel. The front wheel measures 28 inches, the rear wheel 36 inches and the extreme height is said to be 13 feet. The machine was constructed in England, but the American Dunlop tire was supplied after it arrived in this country. The adventurous spirit who has been seen riding this remarkable wheel is usually accompanied by a number of companions who serve as a sort of bodyguard and prevent vehicles and pedestrians - trains from obstructing the way.


The Machine Which Took a Prize at the Great Paris Parade -  it's Designer Rode It in a Street Show.

A bicycle firm on lower Broadway has an exhibition in it’s window, a machine which made a sensation at the bicycle parade in Paris, on June 14 last and was an object of much interest in the recent bicycle show at Madison Square Garden. Paris was bicycle crazy last year and in the spring, when the craze was at it’s height, the great parade was held there. Prizes had been offered for the handsomest machines, the most gaudily decorated ones and the oddest ones. The latter prize was the most sought after by the Parisians and the French manufacturers were kept busy long before the parade, building bicycle monstrosities on plans submitted by wheelmen ambitious to carry off the prize. Three weeks before the parade a young Frenchman named Leon Lyon, a member of the committee which got up the parade, made a wager of 500 francs that he could design and have ready in time, a machine which would carry off the prize for the oddest bicycle. The bet was taken by another bicyclist who had designs on the prize himself and the next day M Lyon went to England, and calling on the office of a bicycle maker at Beeston, informed him that he wanted a bicycle made shaped as much like the Eiffel Tower as possible. The dealer thought he was talking with a crazy man at first but Lyon convinced him that he was in earnest and the two went to work and designed the ridiculous looking, but nevertheless, rideable machine which is now on exhibition in this city. The manufacturer called it the Giraffe Bicycle, but M.Lyon insisted on calling it the Eiffel Tower bicycle, and under the latter name it was entered in the Paris Parade. From the moment machine and rider appeared on the street there was no doubt about the winner of the prize. The rider was as proud as a peacock perched way up high on the seat but he didn’t dare to respond in nay way to the enthusiastic applause which his presence caused. It took all the ingenuity he had to keep from falling off of the high affair. He managed to get through the parade withouta tumble however and when he received the prize he didn’t forget to mention the fact that an English firm had made the wheel. The machine cost Mr Lyon the equivalent of $20 American money but the prize he won was worth almost as much as that. From the ground to the saddle the bicycle is a distance of ten feet the framework being made of steel tubing light but very strong. The manufacturer followed instructions in making the machine look as much like the Eiffel Tower as possible, and thus probably had much to do with the success of the rider. The lower part of the machine is an ordinary safety bicycle with pneumatic tires and ball bearings. The small cog beside the rear wheelis connected with another cog wheel about five feet up the frame by the ordinary bicycle chain. Another chain connects the latter chain with pedals. Above this are the saddle and handlebars, all made in the usual style. The framework in the rear is so arranged that it forms a sort of ladder, up which the rider climbs to the seat while someone holds the machine. It would be almost impossible to climb on the bicycle while it was in motion, which is practically the only thing that can’t be done on the “Eiffel Tower” wheel, despite it’s great height, the whole thing weighs only sixty pounds, which is less than some of the old fashioned high bicycles. The wheel was brought to this country several months ago and exhibited at the Springfield meeting. It has been ridden in this city (New York) several times. It requires nerve to mount the machine but once on top and started there is little difficulty in keeping it going. Dismounting causes the greatest trouble in using it. The easiest way is to fall off and trust to luck to sustain nothing more than a few bruises.