Did you know that the first bicycle in history dates all the way back to 1817? The original bicycle is vastly different from the fancy bicycles with intricate mechanisms we have today.
The Draisine was a human-powered two-wheeled vehicle that is considered the "ancestor" of bicycles. It was invented by a German Baron named Karl Drais von Sauerbronn in 1817. It might surprise you that the Draisine did not have any pedals. Instead, it was propelled forward by the rider pushing his/her feet against the ground. Hence, the Draisine was also called a "laufmaschine," which means "running machine" in German. Although riding the Draisine didn't seem to be any faster than running, it became an instant fad in Europe and inspired future inventors to make improved versions of the prototype.
Michaux Velocipede
It wasn't until fifty years later when a French father and son duo, Pierre and Ernest Michaux, invented a bicycle equipped with pedals named the "velocipede". It was propelled like a tricycle, with its cranks and pedals connected to the front wheel. The addition of pedals changed the game as it allowed riders to travel a lot faster without using as much energy as required for the Draisine.
In an attempt to travel even faster, inventors created bicycles with gigantic front wheels in the 1870s. Although larger wheels increased travelling speed, they made riders more vulnerable to road hazards. If a crash occurred, the rider would most likely be thrown forward with his/her face planted on the ground. There wasn't a safe way to brake, either, not even with the rider's feet, since the rider was seated high above the front wheel. This was brought to the attention of bicycle inventors, which encouraged them to shift their focus from speed to safety.
In 1885, John Kemp Starley redesigned the velocipede to what looks more like the bicycles we have today. Seeing the limitations of large front wheels, he went back to develop a new model based on the original design of velocipede. Starley's design was the first model to adopt the sprocket and chain system. Instead of powering the bike with the front wheel, the sprocket and chain mechanism allowed bikers to drive the bike from the rear wheel. Starley's design was also the first to have inflated rubber tires, which made bicycles more comfortable to ride on compared to the metal and wooden wheels in previous models. Starley made history when he started manufacturing his design - the Rover Safety Bicycle. He established his own bicycle business, the Rover Cycle Company Ltd., which eventually became the well-known British automotive company.
The basic frame design has remained pretty much the same since the Rover, but the development of bicycles didn't stop there. Bicycle designs have become more sophisticated in terms of materials, components and manufacturing processes. Materials like titanium and carbon fiber replaced traditional materials to create lighter and more durable bike parts. Gears were added for the purpose of riding on steeper slopes and on mountains.
Who would have guessed that the bicycles we ride today evolved from a walking machine with wooden wheels?