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Florence, Sunday April 25, 2004

Reenactment of a Draisine (early 19th-century bicycle) race

On the occasion of the second Bicycle Day proclaimed by the Commune of Florence, celebrated on the day of the anniversary of the Liberation, the Institute and Museum of the History of Science organized a historic reenactment of a draisine race. Draisines, 19th-century vehicles which today are unknown, aside from a few rare existing examples, were "bicycles" because they had two wheels aligned along a single axis, however, in contrast to those with which we are familiar, they did not have brakes or pedals. In order to ride them one mounted the saddle and pushed with his feet. And with his feet he also had to brake.

In the mid-1800s draisine races were in vogue. The spectacle offered by gentlemen kicking about, trying to reach the finishing line and thus win the first prize, 20 thalers and a banner signed by the King, was successfully brought back to life on the 25th of April. Twelve cyclists in period costume accepted the challenge on draisines reconstructed based on the 19th-century example model exhibited at the Museum, along a course that began and finished in Piazza dei Giudici and crossed the Ponte alle Grazie and Ponte S. Trinità bridges. The whole course was repeated twice, for a total of 3.6 km. The first to finish, Fabio Murgia, won a super-light recycled aluminum bicycle, offered by the Commune of Florence. Averaging 13.7 km/h his performance was less exhilirating than that of his 19th-century predecessors who, on average, reached 22 km/hr...

The race, observed by a group of tourists, cyclists and curious bystanders, was immortalized not only by the digital photos on this page, but also by a 19th-century photographic apparatus from the Fratelli Alinari History of Photography Museum. Carlo Monni was the exceptional radio commentator, and a young woman in costume presented the prize to the winner.


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