A Short history of the bicycle

There are several unverified claims for the invention of the bicycle. But the most publicised version so to speak start with a sketch.

In 1534 Gian Giacomo Caprotti a student of the famous Leonardo Da Vinci, sketched the first machine relating to the look of a bicycle as we refer to it today.

220px-Draisine_or_Laufmaschine,_around_1820._Archetype_of_the_Bicycle._Pic_01The first means of transport using two wheels was invented by a German Baron, Karl Von Drais in 1817. The German patented his design in 1817 calling it the Laufmaschine ” Running Machine”.

The design of Von Draise weighed 22 kg, had brass bushings within the wheel bearings, Iron wheels and a rear wheel brake.

In 1818 the Brit Denis Johnson improved on the design by Von Drais with his design of the “Pedestrian Curricle” which the public quickly dubbed the “Hobby Horse”. Johnson’s design was more sleek, The Wooden frame had a serpentine shape.

The first mechanically propelled two wheeled machine is believed to have been built by a Scottish blacksmith in 1839.

The first documented invention of a rod driven to wheeled machine was that of Thomas McCall of Kilmarnock in 1869. The design was copied from the Michaux / Lallement French designed velocipede with the front crank on the front wheel.

But the first popular and commercially successful design was that of the French metal worker Ernest Michaux in 1864. The Michaux or Boneshaker as it was called had rotary cranks and pedals mounted to the front hub.

220px-Ordinary_bicycle01The Michaux was followed by the high wheel “Penny Farthing ” in the
1870’s. Frenchman Eugene Meyer invented the wire spoke tension wheel in 1869 from where he produced the high bicycle design.

The bicycle as we know it today made its first appearance in the 1880’s. It was the most important change in the design of the bicycle and was referred to as the safety bicycle. John Kemp Starley produced the first successful safety bicycle in 1885. It has a steerable front wheel, equally sized wheels and a chain drive to the back wheels.

Coinciding with the invention of the pneumatic tyre in 1888, the safety bicycle made for a much smoother ride.

The bicycle’s shape has not changed much over the years. But advances in design of mechanical components has brought cycling into the modern era. Materials and the application thereof has revolutionized the sport. Steel, Aluminium, Carbon Fibre is the main materials used in cycling production. The latest talk is frames made of Graphite.

Nevertheless the bicycle has and always will be a part of human history.


he World of Cycling board game in 2002.About the Author: Pieter van Wyk is 48 and lives in Boksburg, South Africa. He is the author of the The World of Cycling board game in 2002 and a self proclaimed cycling historian. His expert field is European cycling history since 1892 to present and Pieter is an amateur cyclist, with his best result at road nationals 17th.