Have you ever wondered how the bicycle you ride today came to be? Many bicycle enthusiasts have questioned the development of the bicycle especially the ones that they used today. With so many bicycles on the market, it is easy to assume that the great advances we use today are relatively new. But this is certainly not the case. Bicycles have been around for a very long time and the bicycles we use today all stem from the same designs.
The origins of the bicycle are certainly shrouded with an element of mystery. The reason for this is that the development of the bicycle is not positively attributed to a single individual. But what remains clear is that early ancestors to the modern bicycle we use today have been around since the beginning of the 1800s.
It was in 1817 that Charles Baron von Drais devised the front wheel which could be steered by an individual. This was the first time that this is been done. But he didn’t stop there. He went so far as to give this front wheel a padded saddle on which the controlling individual could rest and an armrest for the front part of his body. The armrest was designed to assist the individual in exerting force against the ground. This unique design was patented the following year and taken to Paris where it was given the name of “velocipede”. This term, one which is still in use in some form or another in a language such as French or Russian continued to be used for the bicycle until 1869 when the word “bicycle” became popular. Throughout France, this device gained popularity and it immediately migrated across the water to England. It was here that a London coachmaker decided to expound upon the original idea. Soon bike riding academies have been established and people were seen across the streets of London riding their bicycles. And for some reason in spite of the rapid rise of the early bicycle, this past time declined very quickly after the early 1920s.
In the United States, it was W. K. Clarkson Junior from New York who patented a similar idea around the same time in June 1819. Unfortunately, the records of this particular patent were destroyed by a fire in the patent office in 1836 which means that what this Patton actually covered in terms of the design remains a mystery. There’s also no evidence that this sport became very popular in the United States around this time.
In 1863 pedals were added to the front axle of the bicycle in Paris. Again, while we know the workshop in which the petals were added originally, it cannot be said whether it was the employee or the employer who came up with the idea. In any case, the development was brought across the waters to New Haven, Connecticut. In 1866 a new patent was granted for improvements to the existing bicycle. More improvements were patented in 1868 to improve the vehicle.
At this point, America began to show some interest in the bicycle and carriage builders started to make the bicycles in the beginning of 1869. Writing schools cropped up along eastern cities and the sport became quite popular especially among students who were attending Harvard and Yale universities. In much the same fashion as it did in London, this craze ended about as abruptly as it started. By the end of that same year, the sport started to die. The reason for this decline is that the cycles themselves were very heavy. There was little to no cushioning on the bikes and the rider was responsible for steering and peddling the same front wheel. It took a lot of coordination and strength to ride the early forms of bicycles, especially with the larger wheel. Cities also started to pass ordinances against riding the bikes along sidewalks because it interfered with pedestrians.
By the beginning of the 1870s, of course, the bicycles and tricycles that use wire spokes for the wheels started to crop up. The high wheel bicycle with the wire spokes of been copied for two decades but now these modifications brought the bicycle that we are more familiar with today. Improving upon the high wheel bicycle, the ordinary bicycle became lightweight and fast. The rider could use the handlebars and gain better control of the bike. More design improvements were made such as adding to small wheels which were the same size, adding gears, and adding a chain driver. By the end of the 1890s brakes were improved upon as well. This brought with it a huge boom in bicycles. In fact, by the 1920s, children’s bikes were quite popular. This meant that families could collectively ride together. The built-in kickstands were developed by the 1940s which allowed people to ride their bikes and then simply stand them up when they were done. The racing bikes that we know today with the lighter frames, dropped handlebars, and Nero tires didn’t arise until the 1960s.
But by the 1980s mountain bikes became extremely popular as did the sturdier frames, the flat handlebars, and the larger wheels. Part of this craze was supported by the love of extreme sports. In addition to this aerobic exercises started to become popular specifically with bicycles. Bicycle messengers carried larger envelopes between companies. Women’s road racing and men’s road racing became quite popular as increased numbers of speeds were developed bringing current bicycles from a minimum 15 speed up to a 24 speed.
The beginning of the 1990s integrated the gear and brake levers that we see today as well as hydraulic disc brakes systems. This led to mountain bikes appearing in the Olympics by 1996. And of course today we see bicycles even replacing vehicles to some degree, ever growing in popularity not only as a fun pastime but as a wonderful way to reduce our carbon footprints.
You can find information about the history of bicycles online.