Barks & Bullets: The Story of S&W’s Bicycle Guns

Barks & Bullets: The Story of S&W’s Bicycle Guns

U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- The term “velocipede” may be foreign to most today, but it was familiar in 19th century Europe, where it was another way of referring to a bicycle. At the time, these unusual, human-propelled devices opened up a whole new world of possibility in terms of transportation. No longer did you need a horse (and all of the assorted expenses that come along with it) in order to travel faster than you could walk. This new mode of transport did, however, come with some drawbacks, mainly those of the four-legged variety: dogs.

Ad for different types of velocipedes

Just as dogs today chase cars because they’re unusual and scary, they also chased bicycles in the 19th century. Outrunning an angry dog in a car is easy, but if you’re traveling by velocipede, you can only escape as fast as you can pedal. For some, this was slower than a dog could run and the end result was an injury to the rider. Apparently, this happened frequently enough to spawn a new type of firearm with a new name that is familiar with gun collectors even today: the velo-dog revolver.

As the name suggests, a velo-dog revolver was designed to protect velocipedists against dogs when out for a ride. This kind of gun was made by a variety of different manufacturers over the years, but most have two main components in common: a concealed hammer and a short barrel. These pocket pistols were designed to be carried and drawn with ease, which was facilitated by the short barrel and lack of a hammer spur to get caught on one’s clothes.

Imagery from a bicycle gun advertisement

Smith & Wesson’s Safety Hammerless revolvers were introduced in 1887. They were an instant hit with consumers looking for a quality, concealable handgun that could be carried with ease. Looking to the success of the velo-dog in Europe, Smith & Wesson decided to offer something similar in the States. While “velocipede” was a common term in Europe, “bicycle” was much more prevalent in the United States. As such, Smith & Wesson chose “Bicycle Gun” as the name for these new Safety Hammerless revolvers with short barrels.

With barrels ranging anywhere from 1 ⅜-inch to 2.5-inches, bicycle guns were most often produced as small-batch, special order guns. Because of this they number far fewer than their longer-barreled counterparts and are much rarer and highly prized by collectors.

When new, a “bicycle gun” cost of $26.50, but they’ll set you back considerably more today. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples that sold at Rock Island Auction Company in 2019.

Blued S&W “bicycle gun” (Rock Island Auction Co)

One of the guns was a blued example with a 1.5-inch barrel that is believed to be one of approximately 15 made with pinned front sights, which are not found on the rest of the 5th Model variations of this gun. The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson notes that 5th Model guns with 2-inch barrels will bring a 100% premium over the standard lengths. The 1.5-inch guns are even more rare, noting them to be “worth substantial premium [sic].”

It’s hard to explain just how rare this gun is, so here’s a bit of simple math. There were 41,500 5th Model guns made, and only 15 in this specific configuration. If all of them survive (which they likely don’t), they make up just 0.0003% of all the Safety Hammerless 5th Models ever produced. The auction estimate was $2,750 to $4,000 and it sold well above that, hammering at $6,900.

Nickel S&W “bicycle gun” (Rock Island Auction Co)

Another bicycle gun in that same sale, this time with a 2-inch barrel and nickel finish, had an estimate of $1,800 to $2,750. The final price was $4,025.

Because of their high value, many fakes have been made over the years by skilled gunsmiths cutting down longer barrels and reattaching the front sights. The surest way to verify the authenticity of a bicycle gun is through a factory letter. It might seem like another added expense, but it will be well worth it regardless of the outcome. If the gun is legit, you just added to the value. If it’s a well-made fake, then you just saved yourself thousands of dollars.



About Logan Metesh

Logan Metesh is a historian with a focus on firearms history and development. He runs High Caliber History LLC and has more than a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, and the NRA Museums. His ability to present history and research in an engaging manner has made him a sought after consultant, writer, and museum professional. The ease with which he can recall obscure historical facts and figures makes him very good at Jeopardy!, but exceptionally bad at geometry.

Logan Metesh

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RoyD
RoyD
4 months ago

You don’t have to be riding a bicycle for dogs to be a problem:

Pack of Dogs Attack 10-Year-Old Girl, Bite at Her Face: ‘It Was Crazy’ (msn.com)

Tionico
Tionico
4 months ago

Funny about these “bike guns” from a century back. I’ve been an avid road cyclist since I was a kid, fifty years ago. Still get out when I can. I had my run ins wiht the four legged predators, or harrassers, knocking about Southern Claifornia in the 1960’s. A couple of two legged perdators, as well, whom I was able to outfox. In the Pacific NorthWet since 1980, still avidly riding…. pretty much everywhere west of the Cascades. I’d ride up into and around Seattle on occasion, one of my routes would take me across the I 90 floating bridge..… Read more »

RoyD
RoyD
4 months ago
Reply to  Tionico

I carry an LCP (chromed slide assembly) in my back right pocket during my daily, weather permitting, seven mile bike ride. But then it it is always in my back right pocket whenever I leave the house even those times that I carry my G19.

Ej harbet
Ej harbet
3 months ago
Reply to  Tionico

I like a hill people chest pouch,carrys wallet keys g19 and 2 mags of hst124.
Walking or biking it feels great

Wass
Wass
4 months ago

Great idea! Similar small revolvers would do well nowadays as “jogger guns”. Something that possibly could have made a difference to the Central Park jogger or that unfortunate gal, murdered, a few years ago, while jogging near her home by Jamaica Bay.

Last edited 4 months ago by Wass
RoyD
RoyD
4 months ago
Reply to  Wass

That was her choice. And a tool does you no good if you can’t or won’t use it at the proper time in the proper fashion.

Wass
Wass
4 months ago
Reply to  RoyD

Don’t you assume that a person going through the trouble (and these days it’s more troublesome) to acquire a firearm ,would acquire the mindset as well toward its proper use?

Knute
Knute
4 months ago
Reply to  Wass

In my experience as a gunsmith, most newbies seem to just assume that a firearm is a magic wand, and just being in possession of it is all they need. Many only want to know how to load it, and that no more effort than that is needed. Some don’t even want to know that much. They want the smith to load it FOR them.
Over the decades I’ve done my best to talk these ones out of such nonsense.

RoyD
RoyD
4 months ago
Reply to  Wass

You don’t get out much, do you.

RichV
RichV
4 months ago
Reply to  RoyD

Who is her and what was her choice? Both were attacked. Both lived in a city that strongly curtails 2nd amendment rights

RoyD
RoyD
4 months ago
Reply to  RichV

So what you’re telling us is that you have no problem living on your knees. Enjoy your chains.

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
4 months ago
Reply to  Wass

Lets not forget people eaten by mountain lions while jogging or by bears in the wild.

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
4 months ago

Can’t believe what I see in the picture. In my day we had to carry a baseball bat or pedal like hell because a kid could not have a gun without an adult present. If you did hit a dog with a bat trying to attack you, the question was, who owns that dog and they need to be fined and have the dog taken away, pay for the medical care to the person and the dog catcher needs to come get it and put it down because our children’s safety was more important. I read ROWBOAT and his comment… Read more »

Phil in TX
Phil in TX
4 months ago

As an aside to this article, I am a cartridge collector and have a couple of .22 Velo Dog cartridges in my collection. They look like a centerfire .22 Magnum but are actually less powerful than a .22 LR. Both are topped by FMJRN bullets.

Phil in TX

Knute
Knute
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil in TX

Probably the rarest cartridge in my collection is the 5mm rimfire magnum. I used to shoot dump rats with it, but the gun itself went down the road many moons ago…

Rowboat
Rowboat
4 months ago

Nowadays, shooting a dog that is attacking you is almost akin to a political assassination ! If you dare to shoot the “family member “ a “ nice” pit bull or Rottweiler, you will face both criminal and civil legal actions. Seems a dogs life has been elevated above human life.

Grigori
Grigori
4 months ago
Reply to  Rowboat

That is true! I see you got downvoted by an offended dog worshipper. I bet when these small guns began seeing use for their intended purposes, people learned to keep their snarling, biting, prosthetics safely confined or they learned to live without them.

Sisu
Sisu
4 months ago
Reply to  Grigori

I’m guessing there were many more feral dogs around and pet/guard dogs were not required to have shots … rabies and other diseases a much greater risk … attacks more frequent and threatening. One of my grandmothers was bitten as a child (mid 1890s) by a dog and needed to receive rabies shots in the stomach (I don’t know if that is still the protocol) she had vivid memories of how painful it was and always keep clear of dogs.

Rowboat
Rowboat
4 months ago
Reply to  Grigori

I expected to get down voted/negative feedback from the “ dog worshipers “
Make no mistake, I own a HUNTING dog myself ( Golden Retriver ( that actually retrieves ) , not an intimidating HOUSE dog
That get love but no discipline, and thinks it’s “job “ is protect its pack ( human owner ) from anyone on or near their territory.

Tionico
Tionico
4 months ago
Reply to  Rowboat

Observe: the City of Seattle has more dogs than they do children. The recent antics of the elected officials reigning in that hole reflect that twisted value set well.

Mike Carbine
Mike Carbine
4 months ago
Reply to  Rowboat

Pit bulls are #2 on my list of why I CC. A huge amount of tissue damage in a instant, magnified by how small and or young the victim is. I’m all for people owning any damn fool critter the local law allows, long as I have the means to protect me & mine.

brudaman
brudaman
4 months ago

Like the article, just to think small guns really had a purpose haha, keep up the great work ammoland

MB
MB
4 months ago

Interesting, but almost no useful information. Caliber? ? 22LR?, 40 S&W?338 Lapua ??? who writes this crap. basic journalism 101, who what when where how why.

RoyD
RoyD
4 months ago
Reply to  MB

Of course you could just read what is stamped on the side of the nickel plated barrel: 32 S&W CTG.
Then again you could read the article from whence this came and it would also tell you the blued gun is chambered for the 38 S&W ctg.

Smith & Wesson Bicycle Guns: Dog Defense (rockislandauction.com)

Last edited 4 months ago by RoyD
MB
MB
4 months ago
Reply to  RoyD

Maybe you can read it on a postage stamp size picture, but I don’t have a 50 inch monitor to enlarge it. Should be in the article.

Sisu
Sisu
4 months ago
Reply to  MB

I agree the article while interesting is wanting for completeness. And, while an interested reader may chose to pursue self education, this site is more for the casual reader but not a la a tabloid or picture magazine. … “41,500 5th Model guns made …” suggests “in common use” – is this true ? Where ? … Might qualify for a “Gun Rights” indexing (?). A couple of interesting comments about the cartridges above; the author might have commented as to the “tool’s” effectiveness for the stated purpose. …

Tionico
Tionico
4 months ago
Reply to  Sisu

41,500 built, and now so rare they fetch high four figures says something. Also the number of faked copoies extand indicates a demand for them.

I don’t know, and am too busy with IMPORTANT things, to find out how many Smith Airweights are produced a year.. but my guess is that number is signficantly larger than the total of 41, 500 built of these doggie guns.

Sisu
Sisu
4 months ago
Reply to  Tionico

I can’t tell if you are agreeing or disagreeing. I accept the “too busy with IMPORTANT things” … for me those “things” are “very important, emotionally draining and without remuneration” so I come here for a distraction (and to occasionally “kick a dawg”). … I’m guessing these guns were not particularly useful. Regardless, while the article starts off stating “introduced in 1887”, the “5th model” doesn’t appear to have been produced in any caliber before 1909 (https://gunvalues.gundigest.com/smith-wesson). … Again, the article is wanting for an explanation.

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
4 months ago
Reply to  MB

I agree, it should be in the article but to me it was more important that you could shoot them when trying to bite you than what kind of gun it was. This I am sure was way before my time.

Terry
Terry
4 months ago
Reply to  MB

If it was interesting it served it’s journalistic purpose. Who, what, when, where, how, and why did anyone give you a degree in journalism? I love the articles by Logan. They are a breath of fresh air after reading about the latest overpriced gun or optics or accessories.

Sisu
Sisu
4 months ago
Reply to  Terry

Perhaps others have greater intellectual curiosity – why should the readership sink to your LCD “standard”. This country is failing because of the prevalence of “low information voters”; you should celebrate those who find “written sound bites” unacceptable.

RoyD
RoyD
4 months ago
Reply to  Sisu

Sisu: You know what you have after you pour a gallon of water into an eight ounce glass? That’s right eight ounces of water. Same with some people. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze sometimes.

Tionico
Tionico
4 months ago
Reply to  Terry

well spoken, sir.

Tionico
Tionico
4 months ago
Reply to  MB

and seeing, they comprehend not.

Learn to read for content, and to think a little bit. Makes life both more bearable and more enjoyable. expecially for the rest of us who normally do those things.

Or, write your own articles. Submit them to Ammoland, and share your wisdom and knowledge with us, the mere mortals.

MB
MB
4 months ago
Reply to  Tionico

I read it, didn’t see caliber, effectiveness,legality or a lot of other things that pertain to this weapon that should have made it into the article. And it would’t have taken 10 pages to include it. If I wanted to research it, I could of, but then why read Ammoland at all? Apparently journalism is DOA in American, and seems many don’t care, they just accept the CNN view of the world in a sound bite and move on. Happy New Year.

Dave in Fairfax
Editor
Dave in Fairfax
4 months ago
Reply to  MB

MB, You musta gotten up on the wrong side of the bed today. You’ve been here long enough to know what historical articles are about. As was pointed out, the caliber was printed on the barrel. If you’re having problems reading it, I recommend CTRL+ to increase the size of the image. Since we’re talking about a rare, antique weapon, expecting someone who doesn’t own it to take it to the range and test it out is…unlikely. Legality is a question of jurisdiction and covering all of those would have covered considerably more than 10 pages. If you want to… Read more »