The History of the Bicycle

The modern day bicycle can be traced back to the 16th Century when Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches were discovered. Among the treasure trove that was Da Vinci’s work were simple designs for the bicycle. The 1493 design that some historians claim was made by Gian Giacomo Caprotti, Da Vinci’s assistant was never developed into a working model. In the next 400 years after it was discovered, horses continued to be the primary mode of transport.

It wasn’t until the early 19th Century that German Baron Karl von Drais came up with the ancestor to the modern day bicycle. This early bicycle was known as the “Laufmaschine” and consisted of two wheels that were held together by a central bar. To gain speed, the rider had to walk or run and then raise their legs to ride the momentum until it faded. Von Drais’s design was improved in England to produce the “Dandy Horse”, the world’s first commercially successful bicycle.

The Dandy Horse was in use for more than 40 years before two French carriage makers, Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lalleman decided to attach the pedals to the front wheel and put a driver’s seat on the support beam.  The first model with new design was made in 1864 and seeing how easy it was to produce, the two carriage makers secured the funding to mass produce the bicycle. They made the frame from iron instead of wood and included rubber tires.

One of the most popular models was a bicycle with a large front wheel created by Eugene Meyer in 1869 and mass produced by Englishman James Starley. This new design proved to be more comfortable but was difficult downhill and uphill riding. These bicycles became available in England by 1870 and were well received by the public. But their safety was quickly called into question and in 1885 James Starley developed what he called the “safety bicycle” which is today regarded as the most important step in the creation of the modern day bicycle.

The “safety bicycle” has a chain that connected the pedals to the rear wheel and the steerable front wheel. The device was known as a Rover and it quickly made bicycles safe enough for everyone to ride, leading to the “Golden Age of Bicycles.” During this Golden age, bicycle designs were standardized to satisfy the basic aspects of safety, comfort, speed and steering and it lasted for 50 years from 1900 to 1950 when bicycles were the primary mode of transportation.

Bicycles of the modern age started in the 1960s and 70s when exercise and the benefits of energy efficient transportation became a priority in North America. By 1975, more than 17 million riders owned lighter, more efficient bikes. Since then, racing bicycles, mountain bikes and BMX bikes have become the standard for all bicycle riders around the world. Modern bicycles have come a long way from the ancient wooden frames, utilizing materials like aluminum and carbon fiber to make them faster and lighter.

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