Hikone (Japan), 1732

The Land Boat
Reconstruction: Museo del Sidecar, Cingoli (Macerata)
Materials: wood (pine, poplar, yew), forged iron, brass sheets, cast bronze, copper, jute, natural glues, decorated silk, boiled linseed oil, colored pigments

Hiraishi Kuheiji Tokimitsu (1696-1771), a magistrate of Hikone and amateur astronomer and mathematician, built a vehicle called rikusensha—literally “movable land vehicle in the shape of a boat”—in 1732. Its main feature is the propulsion system, consisting of two pedals that were stepped on alternately. This is the reason why today the Japanese claim primacy in the invention of the bicycle, which is traditionally traced back to the appearance of the dandy horse in Germany in 1817. Steering was controlled by the central handlebar with two ropes connected to the front wheel. The copper dial around the handlebar indicated the steering angle, as on modern ships and airplanes.