Bicycle Gun: The Doggone History Of These Pocket Pistols

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In the early conflict between canines and bikers, bicycle guns aimed to give velocipedes an upper hand.

The Bike Gun’s Roots:

  • Smith & Wesson’s version was a 2-inch iteration of its hammerless model.
  • The concept took off in Europe and became known as “Velo-Dog” revolvers.
  • Many times, owners loaded cork, cayenne pepper or wax bullets as a less-than-lethal dog deterrent.

During the era in which hammerless pocket pistols grew in popularity, human-powered wheeled transportation was undergoing a similar development period. The first bicycle with pedals emerged in the mid-1850s. By the 1870s, the colorful high-wheel bicycle gained popularity among young men with a sense of adventure, good balance, and a certain disregard for its inherent dangers. However, it wasn’t until the 1880s and 1890s that the pedal-chain rear-wheel drive “safety bicycle” velocipede found favor as an efficient form of personal transportation for the general public, with the advantage that you didn’t have to feed it hay and oats.

European folding trigger Velo-Dog type revolvers. Stoney Roberts photo

During this time, Smith & Wesson and other gun firms began marketing short-barrel versions of their hammerless revolvers as “bicycle guns.” Before this, most of these pocket revolvers had a barrel in the 3- to 4-inch range. The short 2-inch barrel on the bicycle model certainly made it easier to carry in a pocket while the legs were vigorously pumping pedals. It begs the question: exactly why did early velocipedists need to carry a gun?

Some of the advertisements of the era made one purpose explicit. Pre-leash-law free-roaming dogs hated the new-fangled gizmos and were wont to attack rider and vehicle alike! A .32 or .38 lead pill struck the marketers as the perfect prescription for persistent petulant pups.

Europe’s Numerous Bike Guns

The intended usage was even more explicit in Europe. That’s where an entire genre of pocket pistols emerged explicitly for this purpose. They were christened “Velo-Dog revolvers,” sometimes also called “Revolver de Poche” (“Poche” apparently meaning “pocket,” not “pooch.”) Some argue that the “dog” part of Velo-Dog references bulldog-style revolvers, but the similarity escapes me. They even had their own cartridge — the 5.5mm Velo-Dog (also variously called the 5.6, 5.75, 5.8, or 6mm Velo-Dog). Note that concealed carriers often loaded these cartridges with cayenne pepper or a hopefully less-lethal cork or wax bullet.

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: European Velo-Dog and other hammerless revolvers, with .5.5 Velo-Dog cartridges compared to .32 and .38 S&W rounds. Stoney Roberts photo
European Velo-Dog and other hammerless revolvers, with .5.5 Velo-Dog cartridges compared to .32 and .38 S&W rounds. Stoney Roberts photo

Initially, the term was probably applied exclusively to the revolvers chambered for that specific round. Today, the Velo-Dog term is used for a broad assortment of Euro pocket revolvers in various calibers by diverse (and often anonymous) makers, probably because no one can think of what else to call them. They all are pocket size. They all have one or more of three specific features — concealed hammer, folding spur-trigger, and manual safety. French manufacturer Galand introduced the first in the mid-1890s. Most came from Belgium, France, or Spain, with additional production in Germany, Italy, and Brazil, with nearly 50 different manufacturers identified. The most prolific production was from the turn of the 20th century to World War I. To the adventurous collector exploring this field, it can sometimes seem more challenging to find two alike than to find a new variation. Rarities that will generally bring a premium include large-frame hammerless revolvers and engraved specimens.

Modern Iterations

In 1997, Casull Arms introduced an updated and very well made version of the Velo-Dog revolver style in .22 LR, the Model CA2000. It is a hammerless double-action-only five-shot stainless steel revolver with a folding trigger and manual safety. Casull discontinued manufacturing of the model in 2005, with reportedly less than 1,000 made.

Editor’s Note: This article is from Gun Digest 2022, 76th Edition, available at GunDigestStore.com.


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