For all of those who use bicycles daily, and for those who thank god cyclists exist to decrease traffic, well, we need to thank almost 200 years of hard work. We might take for granted what we know as 'bicycles' today, but their development is not that straightforward as one would perhaps think of something that looks like a 'stick' with two wheels.
If it wasn't because of a fear to lose horses, this idea wouldn't perhaps have come. It was German civil servant Karl Drais who, alarmed by the death of horses during the famous 'Year Without a Summer' in 1816, started working on an alternative to horses, coming up with the 'running machine', or 'Laufmaschine' in German, also called the 'Draisine'. This was the first human-powered machine with two wheels in tandem. The ancestor of the modern bicycle was born: it was without pedals, made of wood, steerable, and the rider had to push his feet on the ground to move the vehicle.
The vehicle spread in fame across Europe, especially in Germany, France and England. Believe it or not, it became a highly elegant instrument as well: men would ride them to boast in front of others, giving bicycles the nickname of 'dandy horses'. From this point on the story of the bicycle is a long one: based on the foot-pushed prototype, other models were created including some with three wheels, four wheels, high wheels and small wheels. Two milestones however shaped the vehicle towards its modern form: the addition of pedals and rotary cranks in the 1860s and the introduction of a chain drive to the rear wheel in the 1880s.
The importance of bicycles however became more fragile with the advent of automobiles, a breakthrough in private transportation. Although they did remain significant in Europe, the impact of automobiles was undeniable. They were even transformed into children's toys in some areas, such as in the United States.
The irony in this story is of course the present comeback of bicycles, as we cry out for their help in our daily attempts to become greener... It seems bicycles are forever, before and after cars…
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17 September 2011, 06:51PM
Fascinating that 100 years on we are all looking at bicycles as a saviour for our planet and it's resources.
Transport will continue funding "cycling proficiency for the 21 century" programme Bikeability
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