How many of you remember your first bike? I fondly remember my first bike in spite of the scars I have to remind me of it! My first bike was a bright red children’s Pegasus with a silver Pegasus sticker on the frame.
When I was a kid I often wondered who made the first bike, but never really pursued the question because I was too busy riding my bike, acrobatic moves and all, and scraping my knees.
It turns out this year is a great time to learn more since the bicycle turns 200. Information on who invented the first bike tend to contradict each other, and while some records date back to 1418, the bike as we know it today seems to be modeled after the 1817 machine made by Karl Drais. It was called the “dandy horse”, “velocipede”, or “the running machine.” It’s purpose—a replacement for the horse after a crop failure led to the starvation and slaughtering of horses. It was made of wood, front wheel steer, and it was propelled by pushing it off with the feet. This first model was short-lived though and it would be another 50 years until the bicycle would get another chance.
A brief history of the evolution of the bicycle
- In 1863 there was the “bone shaker” because it was made of hard materials with steel wheels and rode on cobblestone roads.
- 1870 the “high wheelers” looked more like a circus bicycle and weren’t very safe, it’s no wonder they were not that popular either.
- 1878 first American bicycle, the Columbia Bicycle made by the Weed Sewing Machine Company and it was quite expensive, almost ten times more than a sewing machine.
- 1880 women could also take a spin on a new model called the tricycle. Many men also adopted this machine because it was more practical than the two, high wheels model.
- 1888 John B. Dunlop first used a pneumatic tire for the bicycle and made it more comfortable and safer to ride.
- 1890 advances in metallurgy lead to the “safety bike”, a model that looked a lot like what we know nowadays, much safer and more popular. During this time, the bicycle also become more accessible to a larger number of people and many of them started using it as a means of transportation as opposed to an expensive leisure machine up to this point.
- 1890 was also the time when more women started riding bicycles.
- 1894 a change in ladies fashion allowed them more freedom and increased mobility. This is also the year when bamboo bikes were manufactured.
- 1894-1895, Annie Kopchovsky, finished a multi-modal trip around the world. She would ride her bicycle to and from the main ports.
- 1895, Ogden Bolton Jr. patented the first e-bike.
- 1903 Sturmey Archer invented the internal hub gears.
- 1920 after WWI, kid’s bikes were introduced to revitalize the bike industry at a time when the automobile was gaining more and more popularity.
- 1958 the first World Championship on road and track included women.
- 1965 Bike-share begins in Europe.
- 1970 on Earth Day, the bicycle sees a comeback in light of increased awareness of air pollution.
- 1973 the Oil embargo creates even more interest in bicycling.
- 1978 high oil prices lead to more sales of bicycles than automobiles.
- 1980’s we see an interest in health and fitness and the bicycle is embraced for both recreational purposes and commuting. Interestingly the middle and the upper classes lead the way in this trend.
- 1986 bicycling was the third most popular sport.
- 1990 Shimano introduced the integrated brake levers.
- 2002 was the year when Campagnolo introduced the 10 cog rear cluster which allowed for 30 speed bicycles.
- 2016, the U.S. had 2,655 bike share stations in 65 cities.
I can’t wait to see where the bicycle will go next! Hopefully it will have Complete Streets everywhere so it can go anywhere it wishes.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of events. If you want to learn more check out the following sources: