Early Development Of 19Th Century Bicycles And Its History

Bicycles evolved during the 19th century as advances were made in mettalurgy that allowed for them to be made with lightweight metal designs. Here is the history.

The forerunner of the bicycle was the walking machine, invented in 1817 by Baron von Drais. The Draisienne, as he called his machine, was quite laughable by today's standards. True, it looked like a bicycle with two in-line wheels with the front one being steerable but in order to propel the walking machine one had to shove his feet against the ground to move forward. As could be expected this clumsy device soon fell out of favor.

It wasn't for another 50 years until the first true bicycle was developed in 1865. Again this was a two-wheeled machine but this time pedals were added to the front wheel. However, it was called a velocipede ("fast feet") which sounded like it was some sort of insect. The problem with the velocipede, other than its name, was that since it was made entirely out of wood, the rides were incredibly uncomfortable on the cobblestone streets of that era. This is also why its nickname was "bone shaker."

Fortunately advances were being made in metallurgy and in 1870 the first all metal bicycle was produced with lightweight metal parts. The wheels were solid rubber and there were long spokes on the front wheel which provided a more comfortable ride than the "bone shaker."

Over the next few years, the front wheels of bicycles became larger and larger because of the increased distance that could be traveled with one rotation of the wheel. It got so absurd that the radius of the front wheel became as wide as the average leg was long. At around this time, the velocipede name was ditched in favor of bicycle which means "two wheel." These bicycles with the extremely large front wheels became most popular during the decade of the 1880s.

Despite the popularity of bicycles in that era, there was a segment of society that considered them undignified. Because of the confining nature of long skirts and corsets, bicycles were impractical for women so they rode around on large adult tricycles instead. Certain professionals, such as clergymen and doctors who thought bicycle riding was undignified also rode around on tricycles. One benefit of the tricycle alternative to bicycles was that tricycle technology paved the way for innovations that were later to be incorporated into automobiles such as rack and pinion steering as well as the differential among others.

With further advancements in metallurgy, more improvements were made on the bicycle such as the sprocket and chain so that gears could be used. This also allowed for the front wheel to be reduced to the same size as the rear wheel. Finally, the solid rubber wheels were replaced by pneumatic tires filled with air that made for a much more comfortable ride. This new bicycle comfort also allowed women to give up their large tricycles in favor of the improved bicycles.

The popularity of bicycles among women ended the bustle and corset as part of ladies fashion. Women's clothing soon became more practical for bicycle riding. So important was the bicycle to the social life of women in the 1890s that Susan B. Anthony stated that, "the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world."

© High Speed Ventures 2011