Introduction
Early Bicycles
Bicycle Touring
Cycling in Fiction
Women Awheel
Cycling Music
 
Credits

 

Early Bicycles

Velocipedes, Bicycles and Tricycles (1869)
Velocipedes, Bicycles
and Tricycles
(1869)
It is not certain when the first bicycle was built. Machines resembling bicycles can still be seen in frescos at Pompeii. At a chapel in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, a pane in a seventeenth-century stained glass window depicts a man on a two-wheeled contraption that closely resembles early nineteenth-century bicycles. Some historians believe that the Comte de Sivrac invented the bicycle in France about 1690; others believe the story is apocryphal. In 1816, Baron Karl von Drais rode a wheeled device that could be steered by a handle. Called a draisine, Baron von Drais' invention was little more than two wagon wheels connected by a bar. It was soon picked up in England as a novelty by Regency dandies, but, without pedals, the riders were left to push themselves along with their feet, and the sight was so ridiculous that cartoonists such as Robert Cruikshank could not resist making fun of grown men who rode around neatly manicured gardens on these "dandy horses".
By the 1840s rods had been connected to the rear axle, anticipating the modern bicycle by allowing the rider to rotate the rear wheel using his feet. Sometime in the middle of the 1860s, however, a Frenchman attached pedals to the front wheel of a bicycle. Historians dispute whether this was done by the Parisian carriage maker Ernest Michaux or by a man who worked for Michaux named Pierre Lallement, but it is certain that Lallement took a front-pedaled bicycle with him when he left France for America in 1866. On a country road in Connecticut, Lallement became the first man in the United States to "take a header." Coasting down a hill, the rider swerved to avoid a slow-moving cart, lost control of his bicycle, and was thrown over the handlebars into a ditch. Sadly, the machine was too unwieldy, and Lallement gave up and returned to France.
At the Crystal Palace in London in 1869, two British bicycle manufacturers showed off a new design, made of iron instead of wood and featuring rubber tires and wire spokes. Over the next few years the front wheels of bicycles grew larger and larger while the rear wheels continued to shrink. The weight of bicycles plummeted in some cases to as little as twenty pounds thanks to the use of hollow steel tubing for the frames. At the centennial exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, a British "ordinary" (see illustration on right) was put on display to the crowd's delight. Several enterprising men who saw the machine made up their minds to begin importing British bicycles into the United States. One of these men, Albert A. Pope, was destined to become the father of the bicycle industry in America. Largely with the well-being of his business at heart, Pope became one of the most outspoken advocates of the Good Roads Movement.
Bicycling: Its Theory and Practice (1878)
Bicycling: Its Theory
and Practice (1878)
Bicycling and Tricycling (ca. 1870)
Bicycling and
Tricycling (ca. 1870)
In 1884, J.K. Starley of Coventry, England, made even further developments to the bicycle's design. Called the "Rover", Starley's invention was for all intents and purposes the first modern bicycle. Called the "safety" bicycle, its design incorporated many of the recent developments in bicycle construction (hollow tubing, steel spokes, rubber tires), but hearkened back to the "dandy horses" and draisines of the early nineteenth century in that its wheels were of equal size. This significantly reduced the risk of a rider being thrown over the front wheel if he struck something in the road. The new design especially appealed to amateur cyclists and women (see Women Awheel). Air-filled tires were introduced around 1889, and when the last addition to the bicycle, the coaster brake, was developed in the 1890s, the modern bicycle was born.

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