Auf dem Plakat sieht man eine Dame mit grauem Rock und schwarzer Bluse. Sie fährt auf einem Fahrrad gerade aus einem Eisenbahntunnel. Sie hat ihren Kopf nach hinten gewendet und wirft einen überlegenen Blick hinter sich. Dort folgt ihr eine Dampflokomotive. Diese befindet sich noch im Tunnel. Man erkennt schemenhaft den winkenden Lokführer. Über dem Tunnel ist der Schriftzug „Cycles Terrot Dijon“. Unten Rechts ist eine Fahrradritzel mit Kette mit der Bezeichnung „nouvelle chaine Brevetèe S.G.D.G.“

Freedom on Two Wheels

Until 8 December 2024 the special exhibition "Freedom on Two Wheels" is showing large-format historical bicycle posters from France around 1900.

The Bicycle on French Posters
around 1900

The poster shows a woman wearing a gray skirt and a white blouse. Riding her bicycle, she has just emerged from a railroad tunnel. She turns her head and, with a superior expression on her face, gazes back into the tunnel, where a steam engine is following her. We can only just see the engineer waving. The lettering above the tunnel reads “Cycles Terrot Dijon.” The bottom right shows a sprocket with chain and the writing “NOUVELLE CHAÎNE BREVETÉE S.G.D.G.” – new patented chain.
Advertising poster for Cycles Terrot, lithograph by Francisco Nicolas Tamagno, Paris ca. 1895. Source: SDTB / Historical Archive, V.4. X 0079
Source: SDTB, Historical Archive, V.4. X 0079

Free, independent, and modern: words to describe the lifestyle promised by the bicycle in France around 1900. Across the country, bicycle advertising was steeped in this dream. Lithographic posters served as the advertising medium, resulting in exceptional works of art which, when we look at them today, offer special insights into the understanding of technology and culture at the time. A unique feature of the posters of the “Belle Époque” is that women, acting as advertising ambassadors, took center stage in different ways.

From 24 April to 8 December 2024, the Deutsches Technikmuseum is presenting more than 40 large-format bicycle posters from its collection. The exhibition "Freedom on Two Wheels. The Bicycle on French Posters around 1900" tells of a time when the bicycle as a modern means of transportation and the poster as a new advertising medium entered into a symbiosis, prompting an explosion of creativity that is still fascinating today. The posters reflect societal ideals and world views from the time around 1900, shedding light on the gender roles, technologies, and cultural realities typical at the time.

Between Poster Plague and Bicycle Craze

At the center of this poster is a bride wearing her wedding dress and a veil. A polite little smile on her face, she is riding down a long flight of steps on a black bicycle. Two white butterflies are flying alongside her. We can see the wedding party at the top of the steps behind her in the distance. Standing in the center of this group is the bridegroom, waving his arms and calling after his bride. The scene is set in a park. In the right background, three children are catching butterflies with colorful nets. Above them is the lettering “Papillion.”
Advertising poster for Papillon bicycles, lithograph by A. Bonnard, Paris ca. 1890. Source: SDTB / Historical Archive, V.4. X 0033
Source: SDTB, Historical Archive, V.4. X 0033

Around 1890, European cityscapes began to change. Now, large, colorful posters were plastered across facades that used to be gray. Quite a few people experienced this as a disfigurement, referring to it as a “poster plague,” while others celebrated the wall art as an expression of a new, modern age.

Around the same time, another development burst on the scene: the bicycle. Promising personal mobility, it sparked the urge for freedom. Especially for women, the velocipede was a vehicle of emancipation. For this reason, it was as controversial in conservative circles as the poster. Regardless, its revolutionizing power was taking hold.

The bicycle posters provided the imagery for the dreams the bicycle was to help make come true. By 1900, more posters had been produced to sell bicycles than for any other product.

What is more important: Atmosphere or Technology?

There was a great variety of bicycle posters. They presented their subjects in floral Art Nouveau style, as mythological depictions or ensconced in idyllic landscapes. These posters did not focus on the machine itself, but created atmosphere instead – and so the bicycle as a technological object was often depicted only partially or inaccurately. It was not until after 1910, when the bicycle became much more widespread, that advertising began to offer realistic depictions of technical features.

Women as Poster Subjects and Potential Customers

This poster features a lady with a red hat, a white blouse, and a black skirt. She is seen riding a lady’s bicycle, moving from right to left. In front, a large white dog jumps over the lettering “Peugeot Valentigney-Doubs.” The background shows a park landscape with a white temple and two more white dogs.
Advertising poster for Peugeot bicycles, lithograph by Walter Thor, Paris 1906
Source: SDTB, Historical Archive, V.4. X 0012

It is striking how many women are shown on these posters. Female figures are ubiquitous on French posters from around 1900 in general – and they also appear in bicycle advertising.

Nevertheless, cycling was still considered inappropriate for women: how could one possibly reconcile physical exercise and practical trousers with graceful femininity? 

Bicycle posters, however, showing smartly dressed, decidedly feminine “poster ladies” or mythological figures, aimed to counter such prejudices. These youthful, attractive figures served not only as eye-catchers for the male public; female viewers were also meant to identify with them.

The Collection

The historical bicycle posters now on display at the Deutsches Technikmuseum come from a collection the museum acquired in 1980. The collection is now part of the museum’s Historical Archive.



Please click on the picture for a full view.