Some Bicycle History

The following has been assembled from various web sites, a book and some advertising material. It is presented here for your interest and enjoyment. Full credit to those who originally found the information.

Yankee Pedalers

Leonado DaVinci's bike designLeonardo DaVinci. This sketch was discovered in the notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci. From circa1500, it is unmistakably a bicycle with pedals, handlebar steering, spoked wheels, and a chain driving the rear wheel. Note from the following that a chain driving the rear wheels was not re-invented until the late 1800's! Interestingly enough, it is also speculated that the Chinese contemplated a bicycle-like device over a thousand years ago.
Draisine, cira early 1800'sLaufmaschine [Running Machine].Before the Pedal, ca. 1817-1821. This section is devoted to the Laufmaschine which was invented in Germany by Baron Karl Friedrich Drais von Sauerbronn in1817, or earlier by some accounts. It is recounted that the machine was designed to help him get around the royal gardens faster: two same-size in-line wheels, the front one steerable, mounted in a frame which you straddled. The device was propelled by pushing your feet against the ground, thus rolling yourself and the device forward in a sort of gliding walk. The machine became known as the Draisienne or hobby horse. It was made entirely of wood. This enjoyed a short lived popularity as a fad, not being practical for transportation in any other place than a well maintained pathway such as in a park or garden.
Velocipede or Bone Shaker - obvious reasonsVelocipedes and Boneshakers Introduction to the Pedal, ca. 1863- 1870: This era includes the first bicycles with pedals and includes a PhantomVelocipede from 1869. At this time, pedals appeared and were applied directly to the front wheel. This machine was known as the velocipede ("fast foot"), but was popularly known as the bone shaker in America, since it was also made entirely of wood, then later with metal tires, and the combination of these with the cobblestone roads of the day made for an extremely uncomfortable ride. They also became a fad, and indoor riding academies, similar to roller rinks, could be found in large cities.Despite some innovations, such as the adjustable crank and the back wheel brake, interest in the Velocipede faded as quickly as it had started. The industry was apparantly more interested in capitalizing on sales than it was in genuine innovation.
Tricycle VelocipedeTricycle Velocipede.  An example of a velocipede tricycle, circa 1868. 53"x76"x25", manufactured by Michaux, Paris.
Phantom VelocipedeLater Velocipede. By 1869 the Velocipede began to dissappear. At right, a Phantom velocipede, circa 1869. 55"x77"x23", manufactured by Reynolds & Mays, London, England.
HighwheelHigh Wheel Bicycle, ca. 1870- 1892: In 1870 the first all metal machine appeared. Prior to this, metallurgy was not advanced enough to provide metal which was strong enough to make parts which were adequately small and light. Some of the penny-farthings weighed as little as twenty pounds, despite the large front wheel! The pedals were still attached directly to the front wheel with no freewheeling mechanism. Solid rubber tires and the long spokes of the large front wheel provided a much smoother ride than its predecessor. The front wheels became larger and larger as makers realized that the larger the wheel, the farther you could travel with one rotation of the pedals. You would purchase a wheel as large as your leg length would allow. Racers riding these machines could achieve speeds as high as sixty (60) mph. This machine was the first one to be called a bicycle ("two wheel"). These bicycles enjoyed a great popularity among young men of means (they cost an average worker six month's pay), with the hey-day being the decade of the 1880's. Because the rider sat so high above the center of gravity, if the front wheel was stopped by a stone or rut in the road, or the sudden emergence of a dog, the entire apparatus rotated forward on its front axle, and the rider, with his legs trapped under the handlebars, was dropped unceremoniously on his head. Thus the term "taking a header" came into being, see the image on the home page.
Tricycle Highwheel for LadiesHigh Wheeled Tricycle. While the men were risking their necks on the high wheels, ladies, confined to their long skirts and corsets, could take a spin around the park on an adult tricycle. These machines also afforded more dignity to gentlemen such as doctors and clergymen. Many mechanical innovations now associated with the automobile were originally invented for tricycles. Rack and pinion steering, the differential, and band brakes, to name a few!
Penny FarthingPenny-Farthing bicycle of the 1870's. This style of bike was one variation designed to compete with the diamond frame designs of the day. It's called a Kangaroo bike and was built in 1884. The chain drive was the main attraction of this bike and by gearing up, the front wheel could be made smaller, thus making the bicycle more stable. The Kangaroo's gear design was used to smash racing records set previously by Penny Farthing riders.
Dursley-PedersenDursley-Pedersen. Other inventors continued to try and improve upon the diamond design. One interesting bike was the Dursley-Pedersen from 1893. Designed on scientific principles with a multitude of triangles, this frame was strong yet light. The hammock type saddle halped make the Pedersen one of the most comfortable and easy to ride bicycles.
Highwheel SafetySafety Bicycles. These bikes were the first chain-driven bicycles that employed hand brakes. Improvements to the design began to be seen, including many bicycles with the small wheel in the front to eliminate the tipping-forward problem. One model was promoted by its manufacturer by being ridden down the front steps of the capitol building in Washington, DC. These designs became known as high-wheel safety bicycles. Since the older high-wheel designs had been known simply as bicycles, they were now referred to as "ordinary bicycles" in comparison with the new-fangled designs, and then simply as "ordinaries." The 'Ariel' was the first English Ordinary bicycle and featured a new system for tensioning a metal spoked wheel.
HTSafety.gif (2316 bytes)Hard-tired Safety, at left. The further improvement of metallurgy sparked the next innovation, or rather return to previous design. With metal that was now strong enough to make a fine chain and sprocket small and light enough for a human being to power, the next design was a return to the original configuration of two same-size wheels, only now, instead of just one wheel circumference for every pedal turn, you could, through the gear ratios, have a speed the same as the huge high-wheel. The bicycles still had the hard rubber tires, and in the absence of the long, shock-absorbing spokes, the ride they provided was much more uncomfortable than any of the high-wheel designs. Many of these bicycles of 100 years ago had front and/or rear suspensions. These designs competed with each other, your choice being the high-wheel's comfort or the safety's safety, but the next innovation tolled the death of the high-wheel design.
Pneumatic Tired SafetyPneumatic-Tired Safety. The pneumatic tire was first applied to the bicycle by an Irish veterinarian who was trying to give his young son a more comfortable ride on his tricycle. This inventive young doctor's name was Dunlop. Sound familiar? Now that comfort and safety could be had in the same package, and that package was getting cheaper as manufacturing methods improved, everyone clamored to ride the bicycle. This 1898 Yale uses a shaft drive to dispense with the dirty chain.

It was a practical investment for the working man as transportation, and gave him a much greater flexibility for leisure. Ladies, heretofore consigned to riding the heavy adult size tricycles that were only practical for taking a turn around the park, now could ride a much more versatile machine and still keep their legs covered with long skirts. The bicycle craze killed the bustle and the corset, instituted "common-sense dressing" for women and increased their mobility considerably. In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said that "the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world."

Yankee Pedalers

Bicycling was so popular in the 1880s and 1890s that cyclists formed the League of American Wheelman, still in existence and now called the League of American Bicyclists. The League lobbied for better roads, literally paving the road for the automobile. Yankee Pedalers is a League of American Bicyclists affiliated club.

Page last modified:  05/01/01 21:56