1817 to Present
WorldwideA bicycle, also called a bike or cycle, is a human-powered or motor-powered, pedal-driven, single-track vehicle, having two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other. A bicycle rider is called a cyclist, or bicyclist.
In 1817, the German Baron Karl von Drais, a civil servant to the Grand Duke of Baden in Germany, invented his Laufmaschine (German for "running machine"), The first verifiable claim for a practically used bicycle, which was called Draisine, in English, or draisienne, in French, by the press. In the same year, Drais introduced his machine to the public in Mannheim.
In 1839, The first mechanically-propelled, two-wheeled vehicle may have been built by Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish blacksmith, although the claim is often disputed. A nephew later claimed that his uncle developed a rear-wheel-drive design using mid-mounted treadles connected by rods to a rear crank, similar to the transmission of a steam locomotive.
Kirkpatrick MacMillan was also associated with the first recorded instance of a cycling traffic offense, when a Glasgow newspaper in 1842 reported an accident in which an anonymous "gentleman from Dumfries-shire... bestride a velocipede... of ingenious design" knocked over a little girl in Glasgow and was fined five shillings.
Though technically not part of two-wheel ("bicycle") history, the intervening decades of the 1820s–1850s witnessed many developments concerning human-powered vehicles often using technologies similar to the draisine, even if the idea of a workable two-wheel design, requiring the rider to balance, had been dismissed. These new machines had three wheels (tricycles) or four (quadricycles) and came in a very wide variety of designs, using pedals, treadles, and hand-cranks, but these designs often suffered from high weight and high rolling resistance. However, Willard Sawyer in Dover successfully manufactured a range of treadle-operated 4-wheel vehicles and exported them worldwide in the 1850s.
In 1853, once again, Germany was the center of innovation, when Philipp Moritz Fischer, who had used the Draisine since he was 9 years old for going to school, invented the very first bicycle with pedals. The Tretkurbelfahrrad from 1853 is still sustained and is on public display in the municipality museum in Schweinfurt.
In the early 1860s, the blacksmith Pierre Michaux, besides producing parts for the carriage trade, was producing "vélocipède à pédales" on a small scale, where he took bicycle design in a new direction by adding a mechanical crank drive with pedals on an enlarged front wheel. The wealthy Olivier brothers Aimé and René were students in Paris at this time, and these shrewd young entrepreneurs adopted the new machine.
Bicycle historian David V. Herlihy documents that Lallement claimed to have created the pedal bicycle in Paris in 1863. He had seen someone riding a draisine in 1862, then originally came up with the idea to add pedals to it. It is a fact that he filed the earliest and only patent for a pedal-driven bicycle, in the US in 1866. Lallement's patent drawing shows a machine which looks exactly like Johnson's draisine, but with the pedals and rotary cranks attached to the front wheel hub, and a thin piece of iron over the top of the frame to act as a spring supporting the seat, for a slightly more comfortable ride.
In July 1865, Lallement had left Paris, crossed the Atlantic, settled in Connecticut and patented the velocipede, and the number of associated inventions and patents soared in the US. The popularity of the machine grew on both sides of the Atlantic, and by 1868–69, the velocipede craze was strong in rural areas as well.
In 1868 Rowley Turner, a sales agent of the Coventry Sewing Machine Company, which soon became the Coventry Machinists Company, brought a Michaux cycle to Coventry, England. His uncle, Josiah Turner, and business partner James Starley used this as a basis for the 'Coventry Model' in what became Britain's first cycle factory.
The bone-shaker, the common name for the bicycle in America back then, enjoyed only a brief period of popularity in the United States, which ended by 1870. There is debate among bicycle historians about why it failed in the United States, but one explanation is that American road surfaces were much worse than European ones, and riding the machine on these roads was simply too difficult.
At the beginning of the 1870s, the high-bicycle was the logical extension of the boneshaker, making the front wheel enlarging to enable higher speeds, limited by the inside leg measurement of the rider, the rear wheel shrinking, and the frame is made lighter. Frenchman Eugène Meyer, the inventor of wheel spokes in the bicycle, is now regarded as the father of the high bicycle by the ICHC in place of James Starley.
In the United States, Bostonians such as Frank Weston started importing bicycles in 1877 and 1878, and Albert Augustus Pope started production of his "Columbia" high-wheelers in 1878, and gained control of nearly all applicable patents, starting with Lallement's 1866 patent. Pope lowered the royalty (licensing fee) previous patent owners charged and took his competitors to court over the patents. The courts supported him, and competitors either paid royalties ($10 per bicycle), or he forced them out of business.
The ladies' version of the roadster's design was very much in place by the 1890s. It had a step-through frame rather than the diamond frame of the gentlemen's model so that ladies, with their dresses and skirts, could easily mount and ride their bicycles, and commonly came with a skirt guard to prevent skirts and dresses becoming entangled in the rear wheel and spokes.
In 1893. the recumbent bicycle was invented, which is a bicycle that places the rider in a laid-back reclining position. Most recumbent riders choose this type of design for ergonomic reasons: the rider's weight is distributed comfortably over a larger area, supported by back and buttocks.
Bicycles continued to evolve to suit the varied needs of riders, as derailleur gears, a variable-ratio transmission system commonly used on bicycles, consisting of a chain, multiple sprockets of different sizes, and a mechanism to move the chain from one sprocket to another, developed in France between 1900 and 1910 among cyclotourists, and was improved over time.
In 1934, the Union Cycliste Internationale banned recumbent bicycles from all forms of officially sanctioned racing, at the behest of the conventional bicycle industry, after relatively little-known Francis Faure beat world champion Henri Lemoine and broke Oscar Egg's Hour record by half a mile while riding Mochet's Velocar.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japan used around 50,000 bicycle troops. The Malayan Campaign saw many bicycles used. The Japanese confiscated bicycles from civilians due to the abundance of bicycles among the civilian population. Japanese bicycle troops were efficient in both speed and carrying capacity, as they could carry 36 kilograms of equipment compared to a normal British soldier, which could carry 18 kilograms.
Although multiple-speed bicycles were widely known by this time, most or all military bicycles used in the Second World War were single-speed. Bicycles were used by paratroopers, the military parachutists, during the war to help them with transportation, creating the term "bomber bikes" to refer to US planes dropping bikes for troops to use.
In Britain, the utility roadster declined noticeably in popularity during the early 1970s, as a boom in recreational cycling caused manufacturers to concentrate on lightweight (10–14 kg (23–30 lb)), affordable derailleur sportbikes, actually slightly-modified versions of the racing bicycle of the era.
In the early 1970s, when teenagers imitated their motocross heroes on their bicycles, BMX bikes, specially designed bicycles that usually have 16 to 24-inch wheels (the norm being the 20-inch wheel), were originated in the state of California. The 1971 motorcycle racing documentary, On Any Sunday, is generally credited with inspiring the movement nationally in the U.S., as in the opening scene, kids are shown riding their Schwinn Sting-Rays off-road.
In 1981, the first mass-produced mountain bike appeared in the U.S., intended for use off-pavement over a variety of surfaces. It was an immediate success, and examples flew off retailers' shelves during the 1980s, their popularity spurred by the novelty of all-terrain cycling and the increasing desire of urban dwellers to escape their surroundings via mountain biking and other extreme sports.
In the early 1980s, Flying Pigeon was the country's biggest bike manufacturer, selling 3 million cycles in 1986. Its 20-kilo black single-speed models were popular with workers, and there was a waiting list of several years to get one, and even then buyers needed good guanxi (relationship) in addition to the purchase cost, which was about four months' wages for most workers.
In the 2000s, bicycle designs have trended towards increased specialization, as the number of casual, recreational, and commuter cyclists has grown. For these groups, the industry responded with the hybrid bicycle, sometimes marketed as a city bike, cross bike, or commuter bike. Hybrid bicycles combine elements of road racing and mountain bikes, though the term is applied to a wide variety of bicycle types.