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May 3, 2005 > Bicycle beginnings

Bicycle beginnings

'I thought of that while riding my bicycle.'-- Albert Einstein

by Tony Yang

Some say Leonardo DaVinci is the true inventor of the bicycle. Meticulous sketches, dated 1490, of a foot-carriage are seen as proof of their argument. Sadly, it was never built.

In 1791, French inventor Comte de Sivrac constructed a wooden scooter known as a celeripede or "hobby horse." Made almost entirely of wood, it was not very fast or comfortable.

German inventors Karl Ludwig and Baron von Sauerbronn augmented the rudimentary bicycle with steering in 1817, adding a new name: velocipede.

Two more innovations were necessary before a modern version of the bicycle would emerge - pedals and inflatable tires.

The father and son team of Pierre and Ernst Michaux added pedals to their bike in 1861, nicknamed the "Boneshaker" for its rough ride. During this era, bikes with enormous front wheels were popular, but quite unstable and unsafe.

John Kemp Starley's "Rover safety bicycle," introduced in 1885, featured improvements including rear drive trains, pneumatic tires and gears, all critically important to smooth and comfortable rides. Bikes became increasingly popular for men and women, rich and poor alike.

According to the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen, Ohio, demand for the self-propelled vehicles even sparked a fashion trend. Modest Victorian-era ankle-length dresses were not conducive to safe bicycle riding, so bloomers- baggy pants- were invented to keep riders' hemlines from getting caught by the wheels or pedals.

In an 1894 issue of the "Ladies' Standard Magazine" a lady bicyclist said: "If I was compelled to go back to wearing a skirt on my wheel, I would give up cycling."

 
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