Santa Claus, at least in his modern-commercialized form, is almost exactly as old as the bicycle. Some would argue that our image of Santa as jolly-fat-man-in-a-red-suit was invented by American illustrator Thomas Nast, who, in 1863, created illustrations for Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit by St. Nicholas” (aka “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”). These illustrations in Harpers magazine helped establish the image of a rotund, bearded, mischievous St. Nick.
Meanwhile, the earliest version of the pedal-driven bicycle, the velocipede or “Boneshaker,” was invented just a few years later in France and/or America and/or Britain, depending on which origin story you believe. By the end of the 1860s, velocipede fever had gripped Paris, New York, and London.
In a sense, Santa Claus and the bicycle grew up together in the late nineteenth century. Both captured the imagination of the late Victorian Age. And although the jolly fat man is generally associated with another form of travel altogether, he was, in those final decades of the nineteenth century, depicted aplenty on cycles of various kinds. It may seem an odd combination but it’s not, really. Santa Claus doesn’t look so different from the kinds of men so often depicted astride cycles in the 1880s and 90s, with their beards, pipes, bugles, and quasi-military costumes.
So, as a small yuletide gift to our readers this festive season, here’s a selection of some of our favorite old-school Santa rides. Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!