(Pictures of the restored 1905 Dursley Pedersen courtesy of Franz Lindemann)
Born in Denmark in 1855, Mikael Pedersen holds an obscure place in cycling history. He was an individual who possessed a rare mix of creativity, imagination, ability and drive, and his understanding of mechanics combined with his technical skills enabled him to bring his numerous ideas into reality. At the same time, his somewhat stubborn and unpredictable behavior caused him occasional financial and legal problems, resulting in missed opportunities for wider commercial success, and this is perhaps why he has become a forgotten footnote instead of a more recognized name in cycling lore.
Agricultural machinery was a big business in the late 1800's, and Pedersen had obtained patents for various improvements to dairy equipment. The sale of manufacturing rights provided him with royalties, and would have made him a wealthy man by today's standards, but when the royalty payments became sporadic, he began looking for other opportunities.
Enticed to move to Dursley, England in 1893, Pedersen soon began to focus his efforts on his unique bicycle. He was granted a patent on his bicycle design in 1894, but evidently he had built the wood-framed bike several years earlier. The bike was a fixed-gear, and the patent application states that the original low mounted "cow horn" handlebars were for resting the feet!!
It was England's charismatic financier and corporate fraudster, Ernest Hooley, obviously a man far ahead of his time and himself a fascinating story, who provided the funds to form the Pedersen Cycle Frame Co. in 1896. Efforts were made to convince other bicycle companies to produce the Pedersen design under license, and at England's National Cycle Show in 1897, at least six different manufacturers presented their Pedersen bicycles in addition to the ones displayed by the Pedersen Cycle Frame Co. But the cycling press at the time was apparently unimpressed with Pedersen's design, and lack of critical acclaim meant that production remained very limited.
When evidence of corporate fraud unrelated to the Pedersen business finally caught up with Hooley in 1898, he was driven to bankruptcy, and the loss of financial backing forced Pedersen to form another company, known as the Dursley Pedersen Cycle Co in order to manufacture his design, and this is the company most associated with Pedersen's unique bicycle. As the bicycle began to win races and set numerous records, the cycling press took notice. Pedersen even built a super-lightweight racing machine, using extremely thin-walled tubing, 24 inch wood rims, and drilling all components to save weight. This bicycle still exists and reportedly weighs less than 10 pounds!!
Good press began to generate customer interest and sales of the Dursley Pedersen bicycle continued to increase. At the peak, the company employed as many as 50 people producing more than 30 cycles per week. Tandems, triplets, and quads were produced, as well as a folding version. The limited adjustability meant that 8 different frame sizes were offered, and the frames were enamel coated in a choice of colors. A nickel-plated frame was also available. A golf bag carrier and a gun carrier were some of the available accessories, in addition to various bags, and the company actually sold a Pedersen designed ankle-length split skirt so that women could ride with modesty. Pedersen focused his energies on manufacturing processes and incorporated technical improvements into production cycles, adding such things as a ball bearing headset, and adjustable handlebars. The attention to details is evident in these pictures of a restored 1905 Dursley Pedersen.
The 1903 catalog offered Pedersen's patented design for a 3-speed hub gear, based on the countershaft principle, although the design wasn't quite ready for production. It sported a friction clutch, which proved unreliable in use, and Pedersen was reluctant to modify his design. But sales were booked, and without a functional product to deliver, the company was forced into liquidation and was sold by 1905. The new owners quickly moved to correct the design of the clutch, but retained the egg-shaped hub flanges for several more years, which served to limit the hub's commercial acceptance.
Dursley Pedersen bicycles, and the Pedersen hub gear, continued to be produced, but Mikael was no longer involved in the production, as he had been forced to give up control of his inventions. Unfortunately, valuable time had been lost, and the historical opportunity had been allowed to slip away. What became known as the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub had been brought to market at about the same time, and had begun to prove its reliability in everyday use.
The production of the Dursley Pedersen bicycle stopped in 1917, but the design continued to be produced in London by others for several more years. In addition to his continuing efforts in agricultural machinery, Mikael had long since turned his attention to the application of his 3-speed hub gear to motorcycles, which were based on the Pedersen frame of course, but again, valuable time was allowed to pass while design changes were made and the motorcycle hub design was never a commercial success.
Pedersen continued his involvement in other areas and remained a prolific inventor, and his name is associated with, among other things, magneto design, accurate measurement gauges, and munitions. He was an accomplished musician who built his own instruments, brewed his own beer, and loved practical jokes, but by 1920 his creative abilities had begun to suffer, and he moved back to Denmark, where he died in a senior citizen's community in Copenhagen in 1929.
In 1978, Jesper Sølling re-discovered the Pedersen design and began building frames. After more than a century, Pedersen's design continues to be an example of unique craftsmanship in a world of mass-produced convention. Pedersen bicycles are a link to the past, when cycling brought independence and freedom of movement, when quality was apparent, when details mattered, when style was beautiful.
For much more detailed information, see "The Ingenious Mr. Pedersen" by David E. Evans, ISBN 0 7509 0064 4. This has become an obscure book, but has recently been updated and reprinted. The new version by Evans, "Mr. Pedersen - A Man of Genius", ISBN 978-0-7524-4505-2, is now available through the Bicycle Quarterly Press.