Who invented the bicycle – in search of the origins of the bicycle

Who invented the bicycle?

The credit for inventing the bicycle is like trying to credit one person for inventing the modern automobile or any other multi-part machine. Did the invention of what we call a car begin with the steering wheel, the cart, or the creation of the first engine? For bikes, do we start the timeline at the wheel, or at the velocipede, which looks like a bicycle but is a glorified scooter? With the wheel high, is this the first time that a two-wheeled mode of transport has been equipped with pedals?

“Of course, giving credit to a single inventor of the bicycle is a thorny subject, debated by some for many years,” says Leon Dixon, longtime cycling historian. Dixon is also known as the King of Classics, thanks to his impressive collection of vintage bikes and cycling memorabilia, and he has traced the roots of cycling for centuries. This could explain why at the most recent International Cycling History Conference, one of the featured articles was titled “A Story Before History or How the Bicycle Was Conceptualized Over Time (A Play)”.

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And that’s why, like so many other inventions, we return to Leonardo da Vinci to discuss who invented the bicycle – although in this case, rather than being the first to imagine the bicycle, Da Vinci was at the center of a counterfeit scandal. at the end of the 20th century after drawings surfaced depicting an early version of a bicycle and credited to the Renaissance master. In a series of heists, forgeries and codices that read like a drab version of The “Da Vinci Code, the drawing of a bicycle attributed to Da Vinci unfortunately turned out to be a hoax. (You can read the full version of the events at CyclePublishing.com.)

A wooden bicycle based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance study project is on display as part of the Codex Atlanticus exhibition at Palazzo Corsini in Rome.

Alessandra Benedetti – CorbisGetty Images

So if it wasn’t Da Vinci who developed the idea of ​​inventing a bicycle, then who did?

the Smithsonian credits the Comte de Sivrac in 1791, when he allegedly made his debut with a two-wheeled scooter-style bicycle in Paris. This first iteration of the bike had two wheels mounted that couldn’t change direction: the handlebars and front wheel could only point forward, making it a very impractical, but fun invention.

the Exploratorium in San Francisco attributes to Baron Karl (or Charles, depending on the source) Drais the invention of the leisure horse, or “Draisienne”, in 1817. The leisure horse was a two-wheeled machine with a saddle that was propelled towards it. ‘forward in a Fred Flintstone fashion. It differed from de Sivrac’s design by adding the ability to rotate the handlebars and the front wheel, which made the bike capable of turning and taking turns. Designed for adults, this early iteration of cycling is similar to modern Strider bikes for small children.

who invented the bicycle
A photo taken on June 22, 2017 shows vintage bicycles at the Bicycle and Motorcycle Museum in Domazan, southern France.

AFP contributorGetty Images

According to iBike.orgDrais’s invention would have been made entirely of wood, which we imagine would have led to a bumpy ride. These amateur horse bikes waned in popularity after only a few years as they were deemed dangerous for pedestrians on sidewalks and frankly did not hold a candle to a real horse for efficiency.

Most experts agree that the real beginning of modern cycling took place around 1860 with the invention of the “bone shaker”. The inventor of the bone shaker is up for debate, as early claims included German Karl Kech and Frenchman Pierre Lallement (or perhaps his boss, Pierre Michaux, according to the Smithsonian) – although Lallement ultimately secured the US patent, according to LiveScience. This precocious velocipede was extremely difficult to ride and, on paved roads, was literally shaking. It looks like a child’s representation of a modern bicycle, with two wheels, a saddle and pedals, and made with more modern materials. But if you put a person on it, you’ll quickly notice how different it was from a modern bike – riders had to keep their legs almost straight in front of them to pedal, as the pedals connect directly to the front wheel. (Going through iBike.org).

These bikes had moments of popularity, especially in college towns across the United States, but as the Smithsonian notes, they were so sturdy and difficult to maneuver that their popularity died out. But better bikes were coming soon, and in 1869 the term “bicycle” was coined.

In 1870, in order to get more speed with each pedal stroke, high wheels or penny farthings were introduced. The term penny-farthing was used because a penny was a much larger coin than a penny, and a high-wheel bicycle had a large wheel in the front and a small one in the back. While these bikes did not yet have any gears or bike chain, they did have pedals that propelled the front wheel forward – and were made with more metal, so they were smaller and larger. robust. They also launched a new technology: rubber tires. And these high-wheeled bikes became some of the first bikes to be raced on tracks and velodromes around the world, though some intrepid riders had already spun with velocipeds (via LiveScience).

enthusiasts gather for the annual dime race
A cyclist takes part in a warm up race on his shaker before the Great Knutsford Penny Farthing Race on September 5, 2010 in Knutsford, England. The original and replica cycles run around the moor and only take place once every 10 years. Competitors must complete as many laps of the one kilometer course as many times as possible within the three hour time limit.

Christopher furlongGetty Images

And then came the safety bike, arguably the great-great-grandfather of the bikes we ride today. In the late 1870s, three English inventors launched these bikes, which would revolutionize bikes as people knew them by making them safer (hence the name) and more accessible (tall wheels were incredibly difficult to handle). drive for anyone, and almost impossible for a woman to drive “ properly ”). These bikes had the first true powertrains and two wheels of the same size. This invention was aided by many other inventions: Ibike.org points out that the 1872 invention of a machine to mass produce ball bearings, the 1876 revealed the first caliper brake and the 1878 invention of the first front hub with interchangeable gears. But it’s unclear who deserves the credit for releasing the first gear bike: Livescience.com credits John Kemp Starley, while Ibike.org shares credit between Henry Lawson for his bicycle with rear hub and derailleur, and Thomas Humber, who adapted the chain lock to produce a line of bikes.

Meanwhile, in the United States, cycling FKTs – the fastest times known – also became a thing around this time. Thomas Stevens became the first man to cross the United States on a bicycle, then continued his adventure by touring the world on two wheels: the original bikepacker began in 1884. In 1894, Annie Londonderry became the first woman to do it. And in the 1890s, it was postulated that the bicycle was largely responsible for “killing the corset” as more and more women took to the streets (via Ibike.org).

In 1888, the bike received a major upgrade with the advent of pneumatic rubber tires – something that sounds simple, but reportedly made the bikes lose weight and made them much more comfortable to ride. drive. Less bone tremor, more grace on the cobblestones.

By the 1890s, companies had started mass-producing bicycles on a much larger scale. Schwinn & Company and the American Bicycle Company were both founded around this time, but other unlikely manufacturers entered the market as well, including the Wright Brothers. By the turn of the century, over a million bicycles were in use in the United States (via the Smithsonian).

While this original bicycle boom finally declined in the early part of the 20th century, as automobiles became more popular, the cycling industry owed a huge debt to the men and women who helped shape the bike in what it is today, growing from a weird scooter with wooden wheels to a bike that freed up quite a sex and opened up new ways for people to be entertained, hang out and travel between cities and states.


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