Bicycles are everywhere these days. People use them for fun, to work out, or as eco-friendly transportation on their commute to work. Bikes are so common that it seems they have been around forever, which isn’t exactly true. In fact, these handy contraptions are older than many people realize, though there was a time when they didn’t exist. So, who invented the cycle?
Well, there is no single answer to that question since modern cycles were developed over time, with alterations and additions added with each new design to create the current bikes we use today. Several people were involved in the process, which lasted hundreds of years, so to learn the history of the bike, it’s best to go back to the beginning. If you’ve ever wondered how the common two-wheeled vehicle evolved over its lengthy lifespan, check out the detailed history outlined below.
There is some controversy about the origins of the first bicycle sketch. It’s been stated that Leonardo da Vinci came up with the concept for the first bicycle, though he had some difficulty designing it. One of his students took up the reigns, sketching the first crude design in 1943.
In the 1970s, these designs were discovered, which lead to the discussion of their authenticity. Some scientists believed the drawings were not as authentic as claimed since they could have been based on earlier Da Vinci inventions.
Then, in 1998, a physics professor named Hans-Erhard Lessing described the sketches as an intentional fraud, though not all experts agreed with him. A lexicographer and philologist, Professor Augusto Marinoni, was allowed access to Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus by the Commissione Vinciana of Rome. His followers still maintain his belief in the authenticity of the sketches.
In 1817, the first true bicycle design was not only created but built by a young baron and inventor in Germany named Karl Drais Trusted Source Draisine, ca. 1818 | National Museum of American History In 1817, Karl Drais, a young baron and inventor in Baden (Germany), designed and built a two-wheel, wooden vehicle that he straddled and propelled by walking swiftly. americanhistory.si.edu . The finished product, referred to as a Laufmaschine, was a wooden contraption with four wheels, a seat, and a steerable front wheel. It lacked pedals, requiring the rider’s feet to get it moving.
After Drais invented the first bicycle, it gained popularity in Europe, with copies showing up all over the continent as transportation and entertainment vehicles. In 1818, the Draisienne was brought to the United States by artist Charles Wilson Peale, who placed one in his Philidelphia museum. Replicas were made and riding rinks established, though many U.S. citizens took to riding them downhill at high speeds.
A few years later, the Draisienne lost its appeal due to a few factors. These early bikes were heavy, costly, and impractical. They also lacked a braking system and were difficult to control, causing accidents and injuries. By 1920, the Draisienne fad was over.
With the popularity of the Draisienne, new developments occurred in the area of human-propelled riding vehicles. Rather than re-trying the two-wheeled designs, three- and four-wheeled models were invented. These eliminated the balance issues of the previous models and included new features, such as pedals and hand cranks.
The issue with the tricycles and quadricycles was the high weight of the vehicles, which increased rolling resistance. A resident of Dover named Willard Sawyer was the only man to have any real success with treadle-operated quadricycles, exporting them around the world until the 1950s.
In 1862, Karl Kech claimed to have added pedals and gears to one of the Draisienne replicas referred to as a hobby horse, though the first patent for such additions didn’t appear until 1867, which is why the credit for the new invention went to Pierre and Ernest Michaux. The father and son team owned a Parisian carriage company, where they first designed the Velocipede in 1963. The two-wheeled bicycle included a durable frame, iron-equipped wheels, cranks, and pedals on the front wheel. Though innovative, it wasn’t the most comfortable ride, earning the contraption the nickname Boneshaker.
By 1870, consumers were fed up with previous cycle designs, though inventors hadn’t given up on the concept. Luckily, there were innovations in the works. Metallurgy Trusted Source Metallurgy - Wiley Online Library Definition of metallurgy and an in-depth explanation. onlinelibrary.wiley.com , which is the process of extracting metals from ores and processing them into usable materials, was advanced enough to replace wood in many situations. Inventors took advantage of this, replacing the wooden cycle frames with lightweight metals.
The first of these was the Penny Farthing, which was believed to be invented by Frenchman Eugene Meyer. As well as the metal upgrade, the Penny Farthing featured a large front wheel, which raised the bike seat significantly. The design retained the pedals on the front wheel within easy reach of the rider. They were also the first bikes to feature rubber tires.
Though lighter and fun to ride, these bikes weren’t the safest option. They required incredible balance to stay upright, so even a slight bump in the road could cause unexpected tumbles.
A few crucial innovations brought about the release of the world’s first safety bicycle. First, the advancement of metalwork allowed for the creation of chains and sprockets, which lead to the first drivetrain system. In 1979, Harry John Lawson added a rear-chain drive system to his bicyclette, though the large front wheel remained.
John Kemp Stanley introduced the first safety bicycle with equally sized wheels. a steerable front wheel, and a chain-driven rear wheel. Though the Rover was never patented, it took the world by storm, replacing its high-wheeled predecessor by 1890.
Though John Boyd Dunlop was credited with the first patented inflatable tire in 1988, the true creator was Robert William Thomson Trusted Source No. 3045: The Pneumatic Tire, by Andy Boid Invention of the inflatable tire is often credited to Scottish veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop as he watched his young son bump along roads on his tricycle. www.uh.edu half a century earlier. After apprenticing for an uncle in the U.S., Thomson returned to Scotland, where he developed several innovative designs. As well as the inflatable tires, he was also responsible for creating a way to detonate explosives with electricity.
Thomson’s aerial wheels were used on London’s horse-drawn carriages. Unfortunately, the high production cost prevented the tires from catching on. Instead of giving up, Thomson switched to solid rubber for his new inventions.
Though Dunlop’s patent was invalidated a mere two years after it was granted, the tires weren’t tossed along with it. In 1988, Dunlop constructed the tires after watching his son’s uncomfortable tricycle rides on bumpy roads. He added glued rubber sheets to the trike’s solid rubber tires and filled the space between them with air.
A year later, Dunlop talked Willie Hume into using his patented design during a cycling competition, which lead to Hume’s repeated victories in the sport. Dunlop’s inflatable design soon became the standard tires for bicycles.
By the 1890s, all of the previous bicycle innovations came together to create a fantastic new mode of transportation and source of entertainment. The diamond frame came into play to match the even-sized wheels, with proper handlebars and more comfortable seats. The chain drive on the rear wheels was improved for smoother, more relaxed pedaling with a reduced risk of injury. The pneumatic tires increased comfort on unpaved roads. Best of all, the bikes were lightweight and easy to manage.
Though the older bike styles were mainly used by men, the bicycles of the 1890s became the first models favored by women. They offered a sense of freedom and self-reliance few women had experienced before. With so many women taking to bikes, ladies’ fashion was forced to change. Restrictive clothing like corsets and bustles were discarded and replaced by bloomers to maintain a woman’s modesty while increasing freedom of movement.
Though the bicycles of the past were fantastic stepping stones, a few innovations have come into play in the 1900s. First, the materials used for the frame have changed since options like carbon fiber and titanium are lighter and easier to maneuver. New components were also created to alter single-speed bikes into multi-speed models. These include shifters, derailleurs, and complex brake systems.
In the last half of the century, new bike types were also added to the lineup. For more rugged terrain, manufacturers created the best mountain bikes with durable frames and thicker tires. BMX bikes, road bikes, racing bikes, and even vintage models with upgraded features all became available. Even three-wheeled bikes came back into style, like the Schwinn Meridian Adult Trike, which includes 7 speeds, wide handlebars, a thick comfort cruiser saddle, and a large basket on the back.
As well as being a mode of transportation, bikes also became well-known for their health benefits Trusted Source Cycling Benefits: 12 Reasons Cycling Is Good for You Cycling is a low impact exercise that can help you manage your weight as well as prevent health risks. It’s good for beginners and advanced athletes alike. www.healthline.com . As well as strengthening your body, lowering cholesterol, and boosting mental health, it is also eco-friendly. Those of all ages and skill levels take to biking, making them one of the most popular inventions of all time.
The first true dirt bike was invented by Siegfried Bettman, who established the Triumph Cycle Company in 1886. The dirt bikes he designed started as existing motorcycle models, though he modified them to match the terrain they’d be used on. In fact, most of the dirt bikes that followed were modified from street bikes until the 1940s.
For the next few decades, dirt bikes came into their own, with two-stroke engines and trail-riding features. Four-stroke models soon followed, creating some of the best dirt jump bikes for all the adventures riders have in mind.
Though bikes have been around for centuries, the first mountain bike didn’t appear until 1979. Its creation is credited to Joe Breeze, who introduced the first model as part of his Breezer Series. Unfortunately, he used chromoly for the frame instead of traditional steel. Though heavy, the material couldn’t handle the rough use the bike was intended for. Breeze went back to work, upgrading several components to improve the old design.
The first motorbike was created by American inventor Sylvester Howard Roper in 1867 and was essentially a steam-powered bicycle with a twist grip throttle on the handlebars. The design was short-lived, due to the bulk and weight of the engine.
It wasn’t until the 1880s that a gas-powered two-wheeled vehicle appeared, designed by German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. Their Reitwagen was more moped than motorcycle since it still included the pedals. These models weren’t sold commercially, though, and instead were test objects for the inventors’ ICE engines.
It wasn’t until 1894 that gas motorcycles became commercialized. Several adaptations came into play, including engine variations and construction techniques. Reliability improved and new motorcycle companies were introduced, including Harley Davidson, Indian, and Triumph.
Bikes have a long and complicated history most people are unaware of when they head to a bike shop to pick out a new model. These handy contraptions have been around for over two centuries, though you may not recognize the original models when comparing them to the flashy bicycles of our modern age. Countless adaptations, alterations, and upgrades have transformed the first bikes to improve performance, decrease weight, and make them as comfortable as possible. In fact, those early men who invented the cycle may not even recognize the 21st-century bikes seen all over the world. Those early designs were necessary tools, though, and the bikes of today wouldn’t exist without them. They even paved the way for motorized two-wheeled vehicles, like motorcycles and dirt bikes, so bikers everywhere should take the time to learn the origins of their favorite rides and praise the men who took the time to make bikes the best they could be.