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The History of the Bicycle

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"The History of the Bicycle"
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The bicycle as we know it today first got its start in 1817. Baron von Drais, of Germany, first developed this invention. It was known as the Draisienne, or hobby horse. It had two wheels of the same size, and was made entirely of wood. The front wheel could be steered, and the rider got on by straddling it. This walking machine was moved forward by pushing one's feet along the ground.

Then in 1839 Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish Blacksmith, added pedals, to the front wheel, along with chains and rods. He never got a patent for the elements he added, and soon others saw the potential profit that could be made. MacMillan was also the first person to ever be involved in a bicycle related accident, when a young girl ran out in front of him. He was fined five schillings, because of this incident.

In 1863, the French developed the Velocipede. Pierre Lallement, was the first to apply for a patent in the U.S. in 1866. It was similar in design to the one MacMillan had created. It was also known as the Boneshaker, because it did not offer its riders a smooth ride. Soon after that the bicycle began being massed produced, in France, when the wealthy Olivier brothers got help from their friend, Georges de la Bouglise and a blacksmith named Pierre Michaux. Together they formed a company called Michaux et Cie or Michaux and company.

In 1870 the High Wheel bicycle appeared. The front wheel went as high as 60 inches in diameter. It cost young men of that time six months of their hard earned salary to purchase one of these contraptions. Because of the great height of that front wheel, and the rider's center of gravity being greatly misplaced, the male riders were often known to fall off the High Wheels, landing on their heads. That's when the term "taking a header" came into play.

The ladies of that time rode in an adult version of the tricycle due to the constraints of their long gowns and corsets. Doctors and clergymen used the three wheeled version as well, in making their rounds. The rack and pinion steering, and differential, are just a few of the inventions, that were built during this time, that are now associated with the automobile.

In 1885, an Irish veterinarian by the name of John Boyd Dunlop developed the pneumatic tire when he was trying to find a way to make the ride more comfortable for his young son. Today the Dunlop Rubber company, is a multinational corporation, with their tires being produced for cars, motorcycles and SUV's. Those tires are not only manufactured for everyday transportation, but for motor sport and racing events as well.

As more safety considerations were made, and new inventions put into place the bicycle played a major role in the suffragists or feminist movement of the 1890's. The ladies abandoned their long gowns, in favor of wearing bloomers. They were now able to get around more freely just as the men of those times were.

Today there are many varieties of bicycles that can be purchased. These include kid's bikes, mountain bikes, racing and touring bicycles. There are safety and traffic regulations in place, including the requirement of rear and front lights, for those who ride a bicycle after dark. Some places require that bicycles have a warning bell. Because of the silent nature of the bicycle, the bell is used to warn pedestrians or other bicyclists of another bicycle riders approach.

Bicycles are greatly used today as methods of transportation, or for delivering various items. People of all ages now enjoy taking a recreational ride on their bikes in their neighborhoods or local parks, as well as riding on the many bicycle paths, that have been developed.

In the 1880s and 1890s the bicycle riders of that time started the League of American Wheelman. Today it is known as the League of American Bicyclists. People in many countries of the world now utilize bicycles for transportation or recreational riding. The International Cycling History Conference (ICHC) first took place in Glasgow, Scotland in 1990.

So the next time you peddle off on your bicycle think about all the improvements that have been made over time. If people throughout history had not continued to find ways to improve these two-wheeled wonders, we might not have the safety, speed, or comfort that we have come to expect in the bicycles we ride today.


More about this author: Jan Sterrett

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