Monday, February 6, 2012

A brief history of the bicycle

With some of my recent posts about the new bikes for 2012, I thought it was about time to have a look at how the bicycle came to be.

The humble bicycle is almost unrecognisable to the rough drawing of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s students, in the 15th century. Despite all of the components being available to the general public, nobody considered putting them all together. It wasn’t for another few hundred years, before things really got going.

Karl Drais
The real history of the bike starts with Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn, or simply known as Karl Drais. Aristocrat, Drais was one of the most creative of his time; however, he was regularly ridiculed by his peers. Many of his inventions are still in use today, including the meat grinder, but it was his bicycle that really made his famous.

His machine consisted of two wooden wheels, one behind the other, and could be powered by moving your feet along the ground. The Laufmaschine (running machine), invented in 1817, was the first thing to resemble the modern day bike and was the first vehicle to have to wheels placed in one line.

Dandy Horse
After the Laufmaschine came the Dandy horse, with its bigger wheels making for a much more comfortable ride. It’s inventor, Denis Johnson, was much better at marketing and found it easier to introduce to the public.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the bicycle acquired pedals and a crank, but no one is too sure who put them there. There is a three way fight between Kirkpatrick MacMillan, Philipp Moritz Fischer and Pierre Lallement. Most believe it is between Fischer and Lallement, with the Frenchman filling for a patent in the US in 1866. The question remains as to when Fischer’s was invented; it is safe to say, this is where the bike began take its modern form.

Penny Farthing
The inclusion of the pedals seemed to do wonders for the success of the bike, but the invention of the penny farthing in the 1870s was a bit of a step back. It wasn’t long before it was reversed and the front wheel became the larger one.

J.B. Dunlop was the next man to jump on the cycling band wagon, when he developed the hollow tyre and inner tube. Forgive the pun, but once we hit the 20th century the development of the bicycle raced ahead.

The first road race was held between Paris and Rouen, France, in 1869. Before the UCI we had the Union Vélocipédique de France, in 1881, with the UCI arriving in 1900. We didn’t see the Road Cycling World Championship until 1927.  The bicycle might have changed almost every year, for the past 200 years, but it is still recognisable to Karl Drais’ invention.

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