Performing animals have been coaxed to carry out almost every kind of activity as a trick or spectacle. But bicycle riding is considered a supreme example of animal training because of the difficulty of the task, even for people (who are first learning).
So while seeing animals doing human things seems to be innately entertaining experts consider this one of the most difficult tricks, and so a chance for trainer to show they are "the best of the best".
An animals has to be at least partially bipedal (able to stand upright) to be physically capable of pedaling a bicycle. Probably the most common animal taught to bicycle is the bear--a range of species.
The near showed below is a 2-year-old Himalayan bear. She performed at "The Japanese Village" in Buena Park, California during the 1970s.
Notice how the pedals are set very low to the ground to accommodate the bears limited range of motion, and training wheels are attached to reduce the need to keep perfect balance.
A number of circuses still exhibit bicycling bears. Many of then in Russia, which has always been a center for the development of advanced animal training techniques.
Monkeys and Apes
Another obvious choice for bicycle training as out closest relatives. Apes like chimpanzees are capable of riding unmodified children's bicycles. One chimpanzee trained to do this was Zippy who appeared on the Howdy Doody show and Ed Sullivan Show throughout the 1950s.
Currently these acts are most common in China and becoming increasing controversial due to the often harsh treatment of animals in small circuses. The monkey or ape is often displayed chained to the bicycle. In 2011 China banned the use of circus animals but many still operate illegally.
But is it a good idea?
Unlike humans, most animals are just not made to spend a lot of time walking on two legs. As such the strenuous cycling motion can be a great physical strain on them. As such, bicycling animals may become a thing of the past along with a lot of other "acting like humans" bipedal tricks like walking a tightrope.
Just for Fun
Of course a lot of people like to pose their animal in a bicycle. And as long as the animal isn';t too stressed out, it can make for a very nifty picture.
Penny Skinner (author) on February 19, 2013:
It is interesting to hear that this type of act is still performed in the US. From the animals point of view I think the skill and care of the trainer is key.
Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on August 12, 2012:
Interesting hub. I had never heard of a bear riding a bicycle. I have seen a short act at a rodeo where I used to live that was there every year. One of the clowns had a rhesus monkey that rode a little tiny bicycle across the small area and back - it was obvious the clown had a great relationship with the little monkey.
Voted up and well done - pictures are great.