Articles describing the new invention appeared in several 1819 magazines, including the Belle Assemblee (p. 193-94) and European Magazine (March, p. 245-6).
The Accelerator’s inventor—Baron Charles de Drais, master of the woods and forests of the Grand Duke of Baden—hoped to create quick horseless travel. His previous attempt was for a horseless carriage (it required two servants to operate). But his attention moved to a machine that a single operator could manage on his own, and in 1817 he patented his design.
What did ‘this truly original’ machine look like? Well, just imagine a modern bicycle, but stretch it out in the middle between the two wheels. Put a saddle in the stretched-out middle (not on top of the back wheel as today). Then take away all the gears and chains, leaving just the wheels, the saddle and a pivoting front wheel.
Riding the Accelerator differed from the bicycle as well: the rider leaned forward over the front wheel, placing his forearms on a cushion. The front wheel was guided by the rider’s fingers. The rider would use his feet to propel (or stop) the machine, then raise them when he had reached a good speed.
And it was comparably fast. On wet roads through the plain, the machine could go 6-7 miles an hour. On dry plain roads, it ran ‘equal to a horse’s gallop’—or 8-9 miles an hour. Down hill, it ‘equals a horse at full speed.” And to prove the machine’s velocity, the Accelerator competed against the four-horse coach to Brighton and won by half an hour. On pavement (rather than fields or country roads), the Accelerator could reach ‘great velocity’—and the Metropolitan Paving Act sponsored by London magistrate Michael Angelo Taylor interdicted its use. Those who violated the Act were fined, in one instance, two pounds.
But the name of the Accelerator seemed to be in flux. While the Spirit of the English Magazines (volume 5, p. 120-121) reprints the article included in the Belle Assemblee and the European Magazine, it adds a running head calling the invention the Patent Velocipede, or Swift-Walker.
In England, the English patent for de Drais' invention was held by a Mr. Johnson, a coach-man in Long-acre, who, according to the Spirit of the English Magazines, improved the design in terms of ‘lightness and strength.’ The Spirit'sarticle concludes with the following quotation from a paper in Bury:
“The road from Ipswich to Whitton is travelled every evening by several pedestrian hobby-horses; no less than six are seen at a time, and the distance, which is 3 miles, is performed in 15 minutes.”
At a cost of 8-10 pounds, the Accelerator, or Walking Expedition was out of reach of all but the most wealthy Englishmen. In today’s currency, the Accelerator would cost between 800-1000 dollars.
We usually associate the bicycle with Victorian culture, but in 1819 the Walking Expedition—or Velocipede—or Accelerator—or hobby-horse—was already part of the English imagination!
Note on currency: Currency conversions across time are notoriously tricky, so it's typically best to compare what one thing cost to what another thing cost at the time.. in 1800, the annual farmer’s income was 15-20 pounds a year. So, at 8-10 pounds, the Patent Accelerator was pretty pricey. But to give a sense of the expense of this new means of locomotion, I used Stephen Morley’s Historical UK Inflation Rates and Calculator, 1 pound in 1819 would equal 77.30 pounds in 2016—then translating pounds to dollars at the current rate of .69 pounds for 1 US dollar