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History of the bicycle – 2020

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History of the bicycle

 

 

 

1886 Swift Safety Bicycle

Vehicles for human transport that have two wheels and require balancing by the rider date back to the early 19th century. The first means of transport making use of two wheels arranged consecutively, and thus the archetype of the bicycle, was the German draisine dating back to 1817. The term bicycle was coined in France in the 1860s

 

Replica made 1965-72 from the alleged 1493 Caprotti sketch.

There are several early but unverified claims for the invention of bicycle-like machines.

The earliest comes from a sketch said to be from 1493 and attributed to Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci. In 1998 Hans-Erhard Lessing described this as a purposeful fraud.[1][2] However, the authenticity of the bicycle sketch is still vigorously maintained by followers of Prof. Augusto Marinoni, a lexicographer and philologist, who was entrusted by the Commissione Vinciana of Rome with the transcription of da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus.[3]

Later, and equally unverified, is the contention that Comte de Sivrac developed a célérifère in 1791, demonstrating it at the Palais-Royal in France. The célérifère supposedly had two wheels set on a rigid wooden frame and no steering, directional control being limited to that attainable by leaning.[4] A rider was said to have sat astride the machine and pushed it along using alternate feet. It is now thought that the two-wheeled célérifèrenever existed (though there were four-wheelers) and it was instead a misinterpretation by the well-known French journalist Louis Baudry de Saunier in 1891.[5][6]

19th century

1817 to 1819: the draisine or velocipede

 

Wooden draisine (around 1820), the earliest two-wheeler

 

Drais’ 1817 design made to measure

The first verifiable claim for a practically used bicycle belongs to German Baron Karl von Drais, a civil servant to the Grand Duke of Baden in Germany. Drais invented his Laufmaschine (German for “running machine”) of 1817 that was called Draisine (English) or draisienne (French) by the press. Karl von Drais patented this design in 1818, which was the first commercially successful two-wheeled, steerable, human-propelled machine, commonly called a velocipede, and nicknamed hobby-horse or dandy horse.[7] It was initially manufactured in Germany and France. Hans-Erhard Lessing found from circumstantial evidence that Drais’ interest in finding an alternative to the horse was the starvation and death of horses caused by crop failure in 1816 (“Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death,” following the volcanic eruption of Tambora in 1815).[8] On his first reported ride from Mannheim on June 12, 1817, he covered 13 km (eight miles) in less than an hour.[9]Constructed almost entirely of wood, the draisine weighed 22 kg (48 pounds), had brass bushings within the wheel bearings, iron shod wheels, a rear-wheel brake and 152 mm (6 inches) of trail of the front-wheel for a self-centering caster effect. This design was welcomed by mechanically minded men daring to balance, and several thousand copies were built and used, primarily in Western Europe and in North America. Its popularity rapidly faded when, partly due to increasing numbers of accidents, some city authorities began to prohibit its use. However in 1866 Paris a Chinese visitor named Bin Chun could still observe foot-pushed velocipedes.[10]

Denis Johnson’s son riding a velocipede, Lithograph 1819.

The concept was picked up by a number of British cartwrights; the most notable was Denis Johnson of Londonannouncing in late 1818 that he would sell an improved model.[11] New names were introduced when Johnson patented his machine “pedestrian curricle” or “velocipede,” but the public preferred nicknames like “hobby-horse,” after the children’s toy or, worse still, “dandyhorse,” after the foppish men who often rode them.[7] Johnson’s machine was an improvement on Drais’s, being notably more elegant: his wooden frame had a serpentine shape instead of Drais’s straight one, allowing the use of larger wheels without raising the rider’s seat. During the summer of 1819 the “hobby-horse”, thanks in part to Johnson’s marketing skills and better patent protection, became the craze and fashion in London society. The dandies, the Corinthians of the Regency, adopted it, and therefore the poet John Keats referred to it as “the nothing” of the day. Riders wore out their boots surprisingly rapidly, and the fashion ended within the year, after riders on sidewalks were fined two pounds.

Nevertheless, Drais’ velocipede provided the basis for further developments: in fact, it was a draisine which inspired a French metalworker around 1863 to add rotary cranks and pedals to the front-wheel hub, to create the first pedal-operated “bicycle” as we today understand the word.

1820s to 1850s: an era of 3 and 4-wheelers

 

A couple seated on an 1886 Coventry Rotary Quadracycle for two.

 

McCall‘s first (top) and improved velocipede of 1869 – later predated to 1839 and attributed to MacMillan

Though technically not part of two-wheel (“bicycle”) history, the intervening decades of the 1820s-1850s witnessed many developments concerninghuman-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 (quadracycles) 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 inDover successfully manufactured a range of treadle-operated 4-wheel vehicles and exported them worldwide in the 1850s.[11]

1830s: the reported Scottish inventions

The first mechanically propelled two-wheel vehicle is believed by some to have been built by Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish blacksmith, in 1839. 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. Proponents associate him with the first recorded instance of a bicycling traffic offence, when a Glasgownewspaper reported in 1842 an accident in which an anonymous “gentleman from Dumfries-shire… bestride a velocipede… of ingenious design” knocked over a pedestrian in the Gorbals and was fined five British shillings. However, the evidence connecting this with MacMillan is weak, since it is unlikely that the artisan MacMillan would have been termed a gentleman, nor is the report clear on how many wheels the vehicle had. The evidence is unclear, and may have been faked by his son.

A similar machine was said to have been produced by Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow, circa 1845. There is no record of Dalzell ever having laid claim to inventing the machine. It is believed that he copied the idea having recognised the potential to help him with his local drapery business and there is some evidence that he used the contraption to take his wares into the rural community around his home. A replica still exists today in the Glasgow Museum of Transport. The exhibit holds the honour of being the oldest bike in existence today.[11] The first documented producer of rod-driven two-wheelers, treadle bicycles, was Thomas McCall, of Kilmarnock in 1869. The design was inspired by the French front-crank velocipede of the Lallement/Michaux type.[11]

1860s and the Michaux or “boneshaker”

The first really popular and commercially successful design was French. An example is at the Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa.[12] Initially developed around 1863, it sparked a fashionable craze briefly during 1868-70. Its design was simpler than the Macmillan bicycle; it used rotary cranks and pedals mounted to the front wheel hub. Pedaling made it easier for riders to propel the machine at speed, but the rotational speed limitation of this design created stability and comfort concerns which would lead to the large front wheel of the “penny farthing”. It was difficult to pedal the wheel that was used for steering. The use of metal frames reduced the weight and provided sleeker, more elegant designs, and also allowed mass-production. Different braking mechanisms were used depending on the manufacturer. In England, the velocipede earned the name of “bone-shaker” because of its rigid frame and iron-banded wheels that resulted in a “bone-shaking experience for riders.”

The velocipede’s renaissance began in Paris during the late 1860s. Its early history is complex and has been shrouded in some mystery, not least because of conflicting patent claims: all that has been stated for sure is that a French metalworker attached pedals to the front wheel; at present, the earliest year bicycle historians agree on is 1864. The identity of the person who attached cranks is still an open question at International Cycling History Conferences (ICHC). The claims of Ernest Michaux and of Pierre Lallement, and the lesser claims of rear-pedaling Alexandre Lefebvre, have their supporters within the ICHC community.

 

The original pedal-bicycle, with the serpentine frame, from Pierre Lallement’s US Patent No. 59,915drawing, 1866

 

New York company Pickering and Davis invented this pedal-bicycle for ladies in 1869.[13][14]

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.

By the early 1860s, the blacksmith Pierre Michaux, besides producing parts for the carriage trade, was producing “vélocipède à pédales” on a small scale. The wealthy Olivier brothers Aimé and René were students in Paris at this time, and these shrewd young entrepreneurs adopted the new machine. In 1865 they travelled from Paris to Avignon on a velocipede in only eight days. They recognized the potential profitability of producing and selling the new machine. Together with their friend Georges de la Bouglise, they formed a partnership with Pierre Michaux, Michaux et Cie (“Michaux and company”), in 1868, avoiding use of the Olivier family name and staying behind the scenes, lest the venture prove to be a failure. This was the first company which mass-produced bicycles, replacing the early wooden frame with one made of two pieces of cast iron bolted together—otherwise, the early Michaux machines look exactly like Lallement’s patent drawing. Together with a mechanic named Gabert in his hometown of Lyon, Aimé Olivier created a diagonal single-piece frame made of wrought iron which was much stronger, and as the first bicycle craze took hold, many other blacksmiths began forming companies to make bicycles using the new design. Velocipedes were expensive, and when customers soon began to complain about the Michaux serpentine cast-iron frames breaking, the Oliviers realized by 1868 that they needed to replace that design with the diagonal one which their competitors were already using, and the Michaux company continued to dominate the industry in its first years.

On the new macadam paved boulevards of Paris it was easy riding, although initially still using what was essentially horse coach technology. It was still called “velocipede” in France, but in the United States, the machine was commonly called the “bone-shaker”. Later improvements included solidrubber tires and ball bearings. Lallement had left Paris in July 1865, 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 thevelocipede craze was strong in rural areas as well. Even in a relatively small city such as Halifax, Canada, there were five velocipede rinks, and riding schools began opening in many major urban centers. Essentially, the velocipede was a stepping stone that created a market for bicycles that led to the development of more advanced and efficient machines.

However, the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 destroyed the velocipede market in France, and the “bone-shaker” 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. Certainly another factor was that Calvin Witty had purchased Lallement’s patent, and his royalty demands soon crippled the industry. The UK was the only place where the bicycle never fell completely out of favour.

1870s: the high-wheel bicycle

Main article: Penny-farthing

The high-bicycle was the logical extension of the boneshaker, the front wheel enlarging to enable higher speeds (limited by the inside leg measurement of the rider),[15][16][17][18] the rear wheel shrinking and the frame being made lighter. Frenchman Eugène Meyer is now regarded as the father of the high bicycle[19] by the ICHC in place of James Starley. Meyer invented the wire-spoke tension wheel in 1869 and produced a classic high bicycle design until the 1880s.

 

A penny-farthing or ordinary bicycle photographed in the Škoda museum in the Czech Republic

James Starley in Coventry added the tangent spokes and the mounting step to his famous bicycle named “Ariel.” He is regarded as the father of the British cycling industry. Ball bearings, solid rubber tires and hollow-section steel frames became standard, reducing weight and making the ride much smoother. Depending on the rider’s leg length, the front wheel could now have a diameter up to 60 in (1.5 m).

 

Starley’s “Royal Salvo” tricycle, as owned by Queen Victoria

This type of bicycle was retronymed the “ordinary” (since there were then no other kind)[20] and was later nicknamed “penny-farthing” in England (a penny representing the front wheel, and a coin smaller in size and value, the farthing, representing the rear). They were fast, but unsafe. The rider was high up in the air and traveling at a great speed. If he hit a bad spot in the road he could easily be thrown over the front wheel and be seriously injured (two broken wrists were common, in attempts to break a fall)[21] or even killed. “Taking a header” (also known as “coming a cropper”), was not at all uncommon. The rider’s legs were often caught underneath the handlebars, so falling free of the machine was often not possible. The dangerous nature of these bicycles (as well as Victorian mores) made cycling the preserve of adventurous young men. The risk averse, such as elderly gentlemen, preferred the more stable tricycles or quadracycles. In addition, women’s fashion of the day made the “ordinary” bicycle inaccessible. Queen Victoria owned Starley’s “Royal Salvo” tricycle, though there is no evidence she actually rode it.

Although French and English inventors modified the velocipede into the high-wheel bicycle, the French were still recovering from the Franco-Prussian war, so English entrepreneurs put the high-wheeler on the English market, and the machine became very popular there, Coventry, Oxford, Birmingham and Manchester being the centers of the English bicycle industry (and of the arms or sewing machine industries, which had the necessary metalworking and engineering skills for bicycle manufacturing, as in Paris and St. Etienne, and in New England).[22] Soon bicycles found their way across the English Channel. By 1875, high-wheel bicycles were becoming popular in France, though ridership expanded slowly.

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. There seems to have been no patent issue in France, where English bicycles still dominated the market. By 1884 high-wheelers and tricycles were relatively popular among a small group of upper-middle-class people in all three countries, the largest group being in England. Their use also spread to the rest of the world, chiefly because of the extent of the British Empire.

Pope also introduced mechanization and mass production (later copied and adopted by Ford and General Motors),[23] vertically integrated,[24] (also later copied and adopted by Ford), advertised aggressively[25] (as much as ten percent of all advertising in U.S. periodicals in 1898 was by bicycle makers),[26] promoted the Good Roads Movement (which had the side benefit of acting as advertising, and of improving sales by providing more places to ride),[27] and litigated on behalf of cyclists[27] (It would, however, be Western Wheel Company of Chicago which would drastically reduce production costs by introducing stamping to the production process in place of machining, significantly reducing costs, and thus prices.)[28] In addition, bicycle makers adopted the annual model change[29] (later derided as planned obsolescence, and usually credited to General Motors), which proved very successful.[30]

Even so, bicycling remained the province of the urban well-to-do, and mainly men, until the 1890s,[31] and was an example of conspicuous consumption.[32]

The safety bicycle: 1880s and 1890s

 

A 1884 McCammon safety bicycle[33]

 

A 1885 Whippet safety bicycle[34]

 

A 1889 Lady’s safety bicycle

The development of the safety bicycle was arguably the most important change in the history of the bicycle. It shifted their use and public perception from being a dangerous toy for sporting young men to being an everyday transport tool for men—and, crucially, women—of all ages.

Aside from the obvious safety problems, the high-wheeler’s direct front wheel drive limited its top speed. One attempt to solve both problems with a chain-driven front wheel was the dwarf bicycle, exemplified by the Kangaroo. Inventors also tried a rear wheel chain drive. Although Harry John Lawson invented a rear-chain-drive bicycle in 1879 with his “bicyclette”, it still had a huge front wheel and a small rear wheel. Detractors called it “The Crocodile”, and it failed in the market.

John Kemp Starley, James’s nephew, produced the first successful “safety bicycle” (again a retrospective name), the “Rover,” in 1885, which he never patented. It featured a steerable front wheel that had significant caster, equally sized wheels and a chain drive to the rear wheel.[35]

Widely imitated, the safety bicycle completely replaced the high-wheeler in North America and Western Europe by 1890. Meanwhile John Dunlop‘s reinvention of the pneumatic bicycle tire in 1888 had made for a much smoother ride on paved streets; the previous type were quite smooth-riding, when used on the dirt roads common at the time.[36] As with the original velocipede, safety bicycles had been much less comfortable than high-wheelers precisely because of the smaller wheel size, and frames were often buttressed with complicated bicycle suspension spring assemblies. The pneumatic tire made all of these obsolete, and frame designers found a diamond pattern to be the strongest and most efficient design.

The chain drive improved comfort and speed, as the drive was transferred to the non-steering rear wheel and allowed for smooth, relaxed and injury free pedaling (earlier designs that required pedalling the steering front wheel were difficult to pedal while turning, due to the misalignment of rotational planes of leg and pedal). With easier pedaling, the rider more easily turned corners.

The pneumatic tyre and the diamond frame improved rider comfort but do not form a crucial design or safety feature. A hard rubber tire on a bicycle is just as rideable but is bone jarring. The frame design allows for a lighter weight, and more simple construction and maintenance, hence lower price.

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