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Bicycles have been around for awhile now; almost everyone has learned to ride a bike at some point. We all remember our first lessons from when we were kids, and of course, our first awesome wipeout and the feelings that came along with it; a burst of adrenaline, a taste of freedom, a sprinkle of independence. These are our own personal biking milestones of course, but those two-wheeled machines – often both our favourite toy and a way to escape – have been around for 200 years, and they have quite a few milestones of their own.
Was it designed by one inventor?
If we think about who invented the bicycle, then we realise that it was more of a team effort than a single man’s work. Someone came up first with the idea and crafted it, the next one improved it, another added some parts and made adjustments, and others followed likewise.
1750: the prototype
Its first appearance in 1750, in Nuremberg was totally different from modern bikes regarding structure and form.The first ever bicycle was wooden, didn’t have any pedals or a steering wheel.
Early 1800s: the development
In 1817 in Germany, the initiative of a man who just wanted to wander around his gardens led to a more sophisticated structure. Baron Karl von Drais, crafted the draisienne, the primal bicycle which was named after him and added a steering wheel so one could walk on it and freewheeled it. His vision was to replace horses as means of transports, that’s why the alternative name for his invention was “hobby horse” or “dandy horse”.
The following year Dennis Johnson from Great Britain replaced many wooden parts of the draisienne with metallic ones, and a few years later in 1839 the Scottish Kirkpatrick Macmillan was the first one who applied pedals and connected them with the back wheel without using a chain. It resembled a toy car thus, required to slide it.
Another enthusiast of the bicycle was Pierre Michaux, who installed pedals in the front wheel, creating the Velocipede that means fast feet. He also increased the size of the front wheel and added rubber tyres. At those days the wheels were mostly wooden, and didn’t have tyres at all! The Michaux company was the first to mass produce the velocipede, from 1857 to 1871. That French design was sometimes called the Boneshaker, since it was also made entirely of wood, then later with metal tires. They also became a fad, and indoor riding academies, similar to roller rinks, could be found in the main cities.
The first appearance of the tandem bicycle occurred in 1886 and had four wheels, two small ones and two big ones.In fact, the rider sat between the big wheels whereas the small ones assisted in keeping the balance preventing them from falling. James Starley and William Hillman in Britain pioneered and constructed Ariel which was a bicycle with an enlarged front wheel with pedals.It was named penny farthing since its wheels had the analogy of a penny in size.This modification allowed the bicycle to reach speeds of 24km/h but owing to the bad condition of the roads there were frequently many falls.
The final form of the bicycle
In 1885, a significant variation altered the function of the bicycle, a chain that enabled motion both to the back wheel and to the metallic spokes, giving it, its current form. Undoubtedly, the advance of metallurgy had a grave effect on the development of the bicycle. The addition of the inner tube and of the gears is attributed to John Kemp Starley, the nephew of James Starley, the inventor of Ariel. Following his uncle’s footsteps, he went further on replacing the frame with a blank metal, resulting in reducing its overall weight. This model was called the Rover!
In 1888 Dr.John Boyd Dunlop, trying to help his son have a more comfortable ride, replaced the rubber tyres with pressurised air ones and became the founder of a very large multinational tyre company. Some fifty nine years later, the metallic frame was replaced by an aluminium one, the same material that was used in the aviation field. In 1965, a mini bike was released to the general public and in the 1970s the advent of the popular mountain bikes became a reality.
Nowadays, millions of people worldwide use their bikes to commute to work or to transport in close distances, others cycle to keep fit and exercise, others do it just for pleasure, others to explore nature, others for sightseeing; bicycles do really have so many potentials. A bicycle is the most efficient and stylish method for travelling from A to B. Needless to say, the benefits of cycling are both essential and endless.
The love of human for the bicycle, transformed it to a sport and today competitive cycling attracts many audiences and consists an impressive spectacle for all. Bicycle racing is recognised as an Olympic Sport and bicycle races are popular all over the world, especially in Europe.