The bicycle has its origins in the “Dandy horse,” Draisienne, or Laufmachine invented by Baron Karl von Drais in Germany. The Baron introduced the first mode of human transportation to have two wheels set in tandem to the public in Mannheim in 1817 and Paris in 1818. It would take nearly 70 years for bicycles to resemble the rides we know and love. Find out more about the history of the mechanical technology used in bikes for women and men.
1840s: A Mechanical Mystery
A Scottish blacksmith named Kirkpatrick MacMillan has long been rumored to have developed the first mechanically-propelled vehicle with two wheels in 1839. There is some evidence that he rode back in the 1840s: a traffic offense reported in a Glasgow newspaper in 1842 mentioned that the rider of a velocipede or “ingenious design” was fined five shillings for knocking over a child.
Early-to-mid 1860s: Mechanical Crank Drive with Pedals
Bicycle technology advanced rapidly in the early 1860s. Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement worked together to develop a mechanical crank drive operated by pedals. This early version of a bicycle was known as the velocipede, and had a larger front wheel than today’s mens bikes and hybrid bikes for women.
1869: Rear Wheel Drive and Wire Wheel Spokes
Parisian inventor Eugène Meyer patented wheels with wire spokes in 1869. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Thomas McCall invented a rear-wheel mechanical crank drive version of the velocipede. Around this time, the Coventry Sewing Machine company was transitioning into the Coventry Machinists Company, which would manufacture bicycles in Britain.
1870s and Early 1880s: Refined Design
During the mid-to-late nineteenth century, bicycles began to have smaller front wheels and seats set further back. Modifications in the gearing setup were designed to increase efficiency and rider control. In 1876, J.K Starley introduced the chain drive by connecting cranks mounted to the frame to the rear wheel. This new design led to the early bike designs called “dwarf safeties,” safety bicycles or upright bicycles.
Mid-to-late 1880s: Early Modern Bicycles
The Rover made in Coventry by J.K Starley back in 1885 is the first bike to resemble a modern bike design. This model combines a number of innovative features, such as a chain, rear-wheel drive and wheels of similar sizes. John Boyd Dunlop introduced the pneumatic tire in 1888. Around this time, innovations such as the rear freewheel, Dérailleur gears with variable ratios, and Bowden cable-pull brakes were also introduced.
Bicycle mechanics have benefitted from over two centuries of invention. This two-wheeled mode of self-powered transportation may not look all that different than its first modern predecessor from the 1880s, but the comfort and safety technology on most twenty-first century bike designs far surpass what was possible even as recently as the turn of the century.
Whether you prefer to ride road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids or other innovative designs such as a recumbent bike, it can be easier to appreciate the synthesis of creativity and technology that made cycling possible when you know a little about the history and evolution of this method of transportation.