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THE BICYCLE
 
A Bit to History

A Bit to History

Hobby Horse 1817

The Hobby Horse, 1817.

The bicycle, as we know it today, has had many transformations throughout the course of history. A starting point would be with the Frenchman Sivrac, who invented the celefere in 1790. This was a running machine which had two wheels one behind the other, and the athlete propelled him or herself along with his feet. Up until then most models had had four wheels. In 1817, a German baron, Karl Von Drais, added a steering device to the front wheel , which allowed the rider to maintain his or her balance on it. The use of this kind of hobby horse became a real fashion amongst the upper classes of France, Germany, England and America.

The first bicycle with Macmillan pedals, 1839.

The first bicycle with Macmillan pedals, 1839.

The Michaux velocepede.

The Michaux velocepede.

The innovations continued. In 1839, a Scottish blacksmith called Kirkpatrick Macmillan built the first bicycle with pedals and used it to make a return trip to Glasgow 226 kilometres long, covering one 65 kilometre section at an average speed of 13kmh. But it was France that really advanced the development of the bike the most. A cart builder, Pierre Michaux, added cranks and pedals to the front wheel of a hobby horse and called his machine the velocepede. In 1866 and 1867 he worked on a model which had a larger front wheel and a smaller back wheel as its most important innovations. In 1869, various crucial inventions were made, such as hubs, wheels with metal spokes, solid rubber tyres, the free wheel, mudguard and four gears.

Given that the pedals and cranks of the velocepede were connected to the front wheel, the bigger the front wheel, the faster the machine could go. In the early 1870s, the velocepede had become a very high bicycle, with its front wheel almost the height of an adult human being. The biggest problem was its lack of stability when the wheel ran over a small obstacle.

Bicycle in the early 1870s.

Bicycle in the early 1870s.

In 1885, John Kemp Starley created the safety bike, in which the front wheel is smaller. Thanks to its using bearings, it is powered by a chain and brakes can also be added for greater safety. A little later on, in 1888, tyres designed by John Boyd Dunlop were added, which could be filled with air, softening part of the vibrations caused as the bike wheels made contact with the road.

Safety Bike

Safety Bike

The safety bike design spread rapidly throughout the whole world. In 1896, a bike could cost three months standard wages, but in 1909 it had shrunk to less than the cost of a monthšs work. This bike is extremely similar to the ones we know today.

Sketch by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490.

Sketch by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490.

The advances in technology of the tubing, the development of the components and the gear changing by using front and rear mechs (patented in 1895) permitted bikes to be lighter and of higher quality.

If this interests you I would like to tell you an anecdote. In 1966 some Italian monks discovered manuscripts belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, which included a sketch by the Italian artist made in 1490 which showed a vehicle remarkably similar to the modern bicycle. It included pedals and was powered by a chain. However, as would also happen to Da Vincišs flying machine and other forward-looking devices, the design never actually became converted into reality.