Braving the Barkerville Boneshaker

By Jenny Manzer

British Columbia’s first bicycle.

The pioneering velocipede, built in British Columbia. Photo: Museum of Vancouver Collection: H971.393.1

It was rudimentary, clunky, and not for the faint of heart—or the tender of hindquarters. The Barkerville Boneshaker rocked and rolled for decades before cyclists in British Columbia pedalled sleek, custom-made bikes and slurped energy gels. The vehicle’s weight and lack of brakes made it difficult to control, so the rider would be “violently shaken” while travelling unpaved roads.

The Boneshaker was built some time before 1869 and is believed to be the oldest surviving bicycle built in B.C. The solid iron bike has wooden wheels rimmed with iron, with pedals attached to the front axle—and no suspension. A Cariboo Sentinel article dated May 12, 1869 credited its construction to J.D. Ritchie, a Barkerville carpenter. It now appears Ritchie had the assistance of his neighbour, blacksmith A.C. Campbell, whose name is stamped on the frame.

“The evidence suggests these men should share the distinction of having been the first to manufacture a bicycle in British Columbia,” writes Bill Quackenbush, Barkerville Historic Town’s former curator, now retired. Ritchie did, however, earn notoriety for pedalling the bicycle from Barkerville to Quesnelle Mouth (now Quesnel) in 1869, a jaunt involving a 610-metre elevation drop, notes Quackenbush.

The Boneshaker is now owned by the Museum of Vancouver, although it’s not currently displayed. A replica is occasionally pedalled on the streets of Barkerville—for those brave enough to take the wheel. (Check out a video of the replica being ridden at about 4:17: vimeo.com/14967589.)

Info: Museum of Vancouver (openmov.museumofvancouver.ca/collection). Search catalogue item: H971.393.1.

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