Vehicles with two wheels were first seen in the 19th Century. Balance of the rider was vital for movement. The earliest prototype of the modern-day bicycle (made in Germany) dates back to 1817.

1. The Bicycle Was Called Draisine

Back then, it was not called a bicycle; it was known as draisine. The word bicycle was first used in 1860 (coined by the French). This version had huge wheels, especially in front. The riders back then travelled considerable distances; they wanted a vehicle that could cover more distance in less time. When the wheels were made large, every peddling covered a more considerable length, and the large wheels had better shock absorption. 

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Draisine_Smithsonian Institutions

2. They Resembled Pennies and Farthings 

The British called it penny-farthing after pennies (that were large) and farthings (that were small). If you place them side by side and look at them from their side view, you would see that they did resemble these bikes with the big wheel following the small one. In retrospect, the bicycles of this design are referred to as penny and farthing. Back then, they were not called penny and farthing; they were just called ordinary bikes. The earliest time one saw penny and farthing being used to refer to the bicycle was in 1891 in Bicycling news related newspapers. By then, these bikes had lost their status to modern bikes. This model became outdated in the 1880s when the modern-day bicycle started coming in. 

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3. The Modern-day Bike Was Fondly Called Safety Bike

The main difference was that these new bicycles had gear trains driven by chains. Another selling point of these new bicycles was that they were named safety bikes. This is because the height from which one could fall off was drastically reduced.

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Safety Bicycle_Jonathan Cardy-Wikipedia

4. It Was Hard to Decide Who Invented Bicycles

There are a lot of claims as to who invented the bicycle. Most of these may be unverified and false. There is a small sketch from 1500 that is said to have been drawn by Gian Caprotti, who was a student of Leonardo da Vinci. However, Lessing Hans-Erhard refuted the claim and called it intentional fraudulence in the year 1998. Nevertheless, many adherents of Augusto Marinoni believed in the sketch. 

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The famous bicycle sketch in Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus_Portolan Research

5. The Celerifere Is A Debated Version Of The Bicycle

Another claim: a certain de Sivrac created celerifere in the year 1972. He presented his invention in the royal palace of France. The celerifere was stationed on double wheels. The wheels were a set of wooden frames that were rigid and had no steering. The direction of the vehicle was controlled by leaning to the side the rider wanted to go. It was said that the rider would sit astride and make the machine move along with alternate feet. Many historians think this is false and that the machine did not exist. They think the whole machine and its description were due to an error by a popular French journalist Louis de Saupier Bandryin in the year 1891. It was in the nineteenth century that claims started gaining traction because there were means to verify them. 

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6. Von Drais Karl Was The First To Invent A Bicycle

Von Drais Karl was a civil servant of the Baden’s duke in Germany. Laufmaschine (meaning running vehicle) was what his first invention was called. It was invented in the year 1817. In England however, it was called draisine. In France, it was termed draisienne, especially by the media. In 1818, the very first commercially available human-propelled bicycle was invented. It had two wheels and a steering for direction. The name of the machine was velocipede. It had nicknames: dandy horse and hobby horse. The first places it was manufactured were France and Germany

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Von Drais Karl_Wikipedia

7. Bicycles were Alternatives to Horses

Hans Erhard, the man who wrote the biography of Drais, found the reason why Drais invented the bike. He was looking for an alternative to horses in the year 1816, a terrible year for Germany. During this time, there were severe crop failures (due to a volcanic eruption) and horses were dying of starvation. 

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8. It Was Also Called Pedestrian Curricle 

Draisine weighed about 22kgs and was composed majorly of wood. Wheel bearings came with brass bushings inside them. The wheels were made of iron-shod and there were brakes in the rear wheel. His model was however outlawed owing to the many crashes it was involved in. Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a Scottish blacksmith was said to have invented the first mechanically propelled two-wheeled vehicle. Johnson Denis from London proposed a modern version of this. Johnson’s version was called the pedestrian curricle.

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Pedestrian Curricle_Pixels

9. Bicycles Made Boots Wear Off

It was more elegant and good-looking, his frame was made of wood just like Drais’ and shaped like a snake (Drais’ was straight). The serpentine shape of the frame made it possible to use large wheels without affecting the height of the rider’s seat. This model didn’t last long either. It was because people felt that riding this bicycle made their boots wear off easily. 

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Pedestrian Curricle_Atlas Obscura

10. Thomas Mccall Was The First To Start Making The Rod Driven Treadle Bicycles

In 1863, the Drais model was further improved upon, it received pedals and cranks for the hub of the wheel in front. That set the precedent for the new bikes we see today. Pierre Michaux replaced the cast iron in the previous models, the wrought iron design was no longer serpentine in shape, and it was made diagonal. Bicycles saw further improvements like rubber tyres and ball bearings.

Thomas Mccall_Wikiwand



Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.