Invention of the bicycle - The first bicycle

Invention of the bicycle - The first bicycle

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The history of bicycle (the bicycle) could go back to the mythical Comte Mede de Sivrac supposed inventor of the celeriferous wine in 1790. But it really begins in 1817: the German baronKarl Drais von Sauerbronn presents in the Luxembourg garden, in Paris, a “seated running machine” made up of two iron wheels connected by a crossbar and by the action of the feet on the ground. This ancestor of the bicycle, followed by pedal velocipeds to the current electric bicycle, launched the adventure of two wheels.

A story of two wheels

From the second half of the 17th century, rudimentary two-wheeled vehicles, propelled by the feet, were in vogue. In 1690, a Frenchman invented the celeriferous. It was a vehicle made up of a simple wooden beam on which the wheels were fixed, but without handlebars. The driver sat on a cushion placed on the beam while, to propel and guide the machine, he pushed on the ground with his feet. It was in 1816 that a German, the engineer Karl Friedrich Drais, designed the first two-wheeled vehicle with a steering system. This machine, called a balance bike (name derived from that of its inventor), had a handlebar which swiveled in the frame, thus allowing the front wheel to be turned.

Subsequently, French, German and English inventors made all kinds of improvements. In Great Britain, one of the older models, the expensive curriculum, was called the dandy horse. Invented in 1818, the curriculum was lighter than the balance bike and had an adjustable saddle and armrests. In 1839 drive levers and pedals were added to a balance bike type machine by Scottish Kirkpatrick Macmillan. These innovations allowed the operator to propel the machine without his feet touching the ground. In 1846 an improved model of this machine, also designed by a Scotsman, was given the name dalzell and was widely used in Britain.

Invention of the bicycle

But the direct precursor of the modern bicycle was the French velocipede, driven by cranks and free pedals. This became very fashionable in France around 1855. The frame and wheels were made of wood. The tread (the equivalent of our current tires) was made of iron, and the pedals were attached to the front wheel hub, the drive wheel, which was slightly higher than the rear wheel. The British called this object a boneshaker (literally "! Bone shaker!"), Due to its discomfort on a rough road or on a cobblestone street.

The first machine to be patented as a bicycle dates back to 1869, when rubber tires mounted on steel rims were invented in Great Britain. Four years later, the Briton James Starley built a machine, the "big bi", which incorporated most of the equipment of a modern bicycle. The front wheel of Starley's machine was then three times the size of the rear wheel.

Towards the success of the bicycle

After the war of 1870, the improvement of velocipedes will continue especially in England. The front wheel gets bigger, and the rear wheel gets smaller. This kind of bicycle was a huge success. Subsequently, the locksmith craftsman Pierre Michaux and his son Ernest equip it with pedals, and 1885 for these are placed in their current position and connected to the rear wheel by a chain. The enthusiasm will not be denied any more, thanks to the popularity of the campaign factors and, from 1903, of the riders of the Tour de France.

Today, the bicycle remains the most widespread means of transport: there are 1.5 billion in the world. A time eclipsed by the car in industrialized countries, it is making a comeback. More or less depending on the country: the Dutch and Danes cycle a thousand kilometers per year on average, the French a hundred. More recently, we have seen the enthusiasm of the general public for a new type of bicycle, the mountain bike (MTB).

The future: the electric bike

The electric bicycle, or rather electrically assisted, has experienced tremendous success in recent years and has revived the use of the bicycle, particularly in urban areas. Its invention is not recent, it even dates from the end of the 19th century. It already has one or two electric motors installed in the wheels or in the crankset, and powered by a battery. The arrival of the motorcycle, powered by a gasoline engine, will be the reason for the electric bicycle for a long time. The latter will continue to be improved in the following decades, however without meeting any commercial success.

Contemporary environmental considerations and the emphasis on "soft" transport give this mode of travel a second chance. Non-polluting and requiring only little physical effort, the electric bicycle is now popular with urbanites. While its price remains high overall (between 500 and several thousand euros), its growing success should make it more accessible to as many people as possible in the years to come.


- Small stories of transport: Or how the means of transport have evolved since their invention by Pierre LEFEVRE. bayard, 2014.

- 50 bikes that have marked the history of cycling. Editions of the unforeseen, 2017.

For further

- Tournus bicycle museum

Video: Who Invented The Bicycle? History Of The Bicycle I