The story of this Danish inventor is a strange one, and rumours about him still haunt the Dursley area, where he perfected his most celebrated creation, the Pedersen bicycle. He was 6ft 8in tall, says one tale. He was a bigamist, or even a polygamist, says another. He was once well off but died a pauper ...
As usual, there are grains of truth in all these echoes. The son of a farmer, Pedersen grew up a precocious musician, accomplished on several instruments, and a bit of a composer. One of his most successful inventions was a centrifugal separator, for skimming cream off milk, and it was probably this that attracted the attention of RA Lister, an engineer who had set up an iron foundry and workshop in Dursley.
Lister bought British rights in the separator, and in 1893, at the age of 38, Pedersen moved to live in England, where he became a partner in Lister's firm. He left behind his first wife, Lara, but brought with him his peculiar bicycle, which he proceeded to develop and sell, with some success.
The machine had two pioneering features: its unique triangulated frame, made first from wood, later from narrow-gauge steel tubes, and its hammock- like saddle, fashioned from cords and slung between two high points of the frame. Light, elegant, comfortable and exceptionally manoeuvrable, the Pedersen soon began to win races and break records.
The man, however, proved less durable than the machine. For a while he flourished under Lister's umbrella, and he became well-known in the Dursley area. With his dark hair and heavy black beard, he looked anything but Scandinavian: an amiable eccentric, he would walk the streets of the town lost in thought, grappling with a storm of ideas.
Yet his home life was restless and unsettled. Having cast off his second wife, Dagmar, who produced no children, he married a third, Ingeborg, and was rewarded with three sons and a daughter - only to separate yet again, and follow his family back to Denmark in about 1920, arriving there destitute, and finishing his days in an old people's home.
Yet such were the virtues of his bicycle that it survives to this day, not only in the form of vintage originals, but also in brand-new models, built to order by a specialist firm that turns out 40 or 50 a year, fitting modern wheels and gears on to Pedersen frames. To ride one of these gives a curious sensation of going back in time, and yet also of enjoying the benefits of modern technology. The tall handlebars have a whiff of the penny-farthing about them - somebody likened riding a Pedersen to riding a wheelbarrow - but the bike I tried recently proved a delight to handle, and the slung saddle was pure joy.
For more than a century the machine has attracted an extraordinarily loyal following - and so it was that, a couple of years ago, the Rev Patrick Birt, vicar of Stour Provost and a member of the Veteran Cyclists' Club, fell to talking with Finn Wodschow, a Danish enthusiast. What a pity it was, someone remarked, that a man of such originality should lie forgotten in an unmarked grave. "Why not dig Mikael up and bring him back to Dursley, where he belongs?" Mr Birt suggested.
So they did just that. Mr Wodschow dealt with formalities at the Danish end, while Mr Birt tackled the Home Office here. Then, to avoid publicity, the exhumation was carried out early one morning, and Pedersen's mortal remains were given a musical send-off by a band playing one of his own compositions.
He would surely be pleased if he knew how latter-day fans are financing his reinterment. A German paid the undertaker's fee in Copenhagen. The modern Lister's - still going strong - has presented pounds 50 towards costs; members of the Veteran Cycle Club are chipping in, and Alan Fowler, Manager of Mossford's Memorials in Bristol, has arranged for his firm to contribute a tombstone of black granite, on which a representation of the inventor and his bicycle is etched.
I suspect that Pedersen was a rather unhappy man. But next week in Dursley there will be much satisfaction that a modest genius has at last come home.
Sutton's Cycles, Rosliston Forestry Centre, Rosliston, Swadlincote, Derby DE12 8JX (01283 740480). 'The Ingenious Mr Pedersen' by David E Evans (pounds 7.99, Alan Sutton) gives a thorough account of the inventor's life.Reuse content