Traditionally said to have been painted in 1871, either at Cloron Sainte-Marie
in the Pyrenees (where Manet joined his family in February) or at Arcachon,
south of Bordeaux (where the family stayed from March to June, before their
return to Paris). The velocipede was a relatively new invention. Speed was
not of its essence, since the machine was only propelled by the action of the
feet on the ground.
In its original state, the composition included a greyhound, whose speed was an easy match for the foot-propelled machine. (One thinks of the comparison of the hare and the steam train in Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed.) For reasons unknown, Manet cut up the canvas, leaving the rider alone on his machine in this long, narrow, upright format.
The young man left holding the machine is Leon Leenhoff (1852-1927), then nineteen years old. After appearing often in Manet's paintings of the 1860s, Leon's role as model virtually discontinues after 1872.