The Quadracycle.

Gallery opened: Sept 2003

Updated: 10 Sept 2023

Yet another fire-brigade quadracycle added
Or the quadcycle, or the quadricycle. You choose.
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In the early history of pedal-driven vehicles, the diversity of design was truly astonishing. Bicycles, dicycles and tricycles abounded in a wide variety of configurations, with front or back wheels driven, with front or back wheels steered (or both), and with all sorts of connection between pedal and wheel. One variant that was conspicuously unsuccessful, however, was the quadcycle.

A quadcycle is basically a bicycle with four wheels, one at each corner, ridden by one or, more often, more people. One quoted advantage was stability- unlike a bicycle you could not fall off sideways, and at the time that was considered an important issue. However, a major disadvantage was its much greater weight, which was particularily onerous for a one-person model; most had two or three people pedaling. Another problem was the absence of suspension (this would have made it even heavier- almost a car without an engine) which meant that on anything other than a perfectly flat road one wheel would be off the ground, and this was at a period when most roads were unmade, and before pneumatic tyres were available to give at least some compliance. A tricycle did not have this problem.

Left: The Andrews quadracycle: pre-1869.

"Made of the best inch-square iron, seven feet long between the perpendiculars" which seems to indicate a rather heavy vehicle for one man to pedal.

This machine was propelled by foot-levers driving a double-cranked rear axle. The feet were pushed into shoe-like holders, which moved in an ellipse with the long axis horizontal. In the absence of differential or ackermann steering, and apparently any suspension, most of the wheels must have been slipping most of the time.

Manufactured by Mr Andrews of Dublin. My source (1869) says it was "the favourite four-wheeler of the past generation of mechanics", so it may well have been built as early as 1840.

Left: The Sawyer quadracycle: 1855.

The Sawyer Quadracycle is believed to have been an American production. It has wooden wheels, iron tires, and tiller front steering. Propulsion was by foot levers connected to the rear axle.

In fact, it is very much like the Andrews quad shown above, except for lighter construction. You may be wondering why the wheels are so big; this is because larger wheels roll more easily over irregularities in the road surface. In those days there were plenty of them.

This machine is at the Metz Bicycle Museum in Freehold, New Jersey.

Left: The Coventry Rotary quadracycle: 1885.

A quadracycle built for two.

This was a variation on the popular Coventry Rotary tricycle. The "Rotary" bit refers to the use of rotating pedals rather than foot-levers, which were common in early cycle technology.

This machine is at the Metz Bicycle Museum in Freehold, New Jersey.

Left: The Rudge quadracycle: 1888.

This was described as the first practicable quadracycle. It has seats and pedals for three, and much lighter construction. The same design was applied to a single-rider version.

The front rider steered, using the two side-levers.

The front frame carrying the two steerable wheels could swing transversely to the rear frame, enabling all four wheels to always touch the ground.

Left: The fire-brigade quadracycle: 18??.

Fully equipped three-man quadracycle with bell, fire-extinguisher, and what appear to be a small hosereel and a fire-extinguisher at the back.

It is not known if this is a proposal or if it was actually ever produced.

Left: Fire-brigade quadracycle: 1912

This quad was built in 1912 by Howards Ltd for the New Farm Volunteer Fire Brigade, of Australia. It has a central box holding four brass helmets and an attachment for towing a hosereel trailer. The New Farm Volunteer Fire Brigade was established in 1889.

Left: Swiss fire-brigade quadracycle: 1870

Another three-man fire-brigade application, with a hose reel. One has sympathy for the bloke at the back who seems to have a five-gallon tank on his back. The platform at the back seems to be holding hose nozzles.

Left: Fire-brigade quadracycle: 18??

Another quad, with hose reel trailer attached. It is not clear if the front or middle man is steering.

Nationality unknown but possibly Belgian.

Left: The Canadian Royal Mail quadracycle: 1901.

This quad was use for delivering the post in Toronto in 1901. It was built by Massey-Harris.

The term "Quadricycle" was sometimes applied to lightweight early four-wheeled motor cars; these are not dealt with here.

Quadracycles are still very much in production; they are mostly used for recreational use in theme parks, etc, as they remain too heavy for use as serious transport. For one version, see

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