How It Began

People have been using some sort of human powered machine to get around since the 16th century, when a hand-cranked tricycle was invented. Obviously, it didn't catch on!

The velocipede was invented in the 1860s in France and first manufactured by the Michaux company from 1867 to 1869 – the time of the first bicycle craze, and copied by many others during that time. It was characterized by a VERY uncomfortable ride, using a wrought-iron frame and solid wooden wheels! No wonder it was nicknamed the "Boneshaker"!

But things got really moving (pun intended) in the later 19th century with the invention, in 1869, of the first machine to actually be called a "bicycle". Eugène Meyer, a Frenchman, invented the high-wheeler bicycle design in 1869 and fashioned the wire-spoke tension wheel. It rapidly became more popular than the velocipede or Boneshaker because it was less uncomfortable and, believe it or not, considerably faster. Still, it's hard today to imagine riding this ungainly vehicle, although there are actually clubs who still take these on group rides in a tribute to cycling nostalgia. Obvious problems were the result of (a) no gearing and (b) having to mount it by climbing a step on the back while pushing off. Injuries were common and serious, usually the result of a 'header' (thrown forward) or just falling from such a height.

But then, look out - along came the 'safety bike' The first bicycle to be called a "safety" was designed by the English engineer Harry John Lawson (Henry Lawson) in 1876. Unlike with penny-farthings, the rider's feet were within reach of the ground, making it easier to stop. The pedals powered the rear wheel, keeping the rider's feet safely away from the front wheel. The later 1879 model used a chain drive, an important new technology that had previously only been used on tricycles. As you can see from this picture, finally we have the basic design for bicycles that remains to this day - a diamond frame, chain drive, and spoke tensioned wheels.

And so it began. And today, I share the sentiment of H. G. Wells who said "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer fear for the human race." Stay tuned for more . .

--Jim Kellett