Pivotal dates in bicycle history

1817: Germany's Baron von Drais invents the Draisienne, the progenitor of the bicycle. Made of wood, it had a seat and handle bars, but no pedals. Riders propelled the hobby horse (as it was also called) by paddling their feet on the ground.

1839: A Scottish blacksmith named Kirkpatrick Macmillan creates the first self-propelled bike. Macmillan's system used swinging cranks on the front wheel to power a pair of rods that were linked to levers on the back wheel. The bike was very heavy (about 56 pounds), so riders had to be fit.

1863: Pierre Michaux of Paris develops the Michaux Velocipede, which features pedals and cranks on the front wheel. The Velocipede becomes the world's first mass-produced riding machine. The "boneshaker," as it was also known, for its rough ride, remained popular until about 1870.

1870: Englishman James Starley creates the Ordinary bicycle, which has a dramatically large front wheel and a small rear wheel. This allows riders to go farther with each revolution of the pedals. The bike required lots of skill and practice to ride. It was also known as the penny-farthing, because the wheels looked like a large English penny and farthing placed next to each other.

1884: Englishman H.J. Larson designs the first chain-driven bike, which he named the Safety. His bike had medium-sized wheels of equal diameter. It was also more stable and easier to stop than the Ordinary. But Larson's bike never caught on.

1885-1900: John Kemp Starley, James Starley's nephew, creates the Rover Safety, the prototype of the modern-day bike. Starley's bicycle had a saddle, handlebar grips, and rear placement of the crank axle, making the bike both easier and safer to ride. Safety bicycles, as they came to be called, featured the cross frame so familiar today.

1888: John Boyd Dunlop, a veterinarian in Belfast, Ireland, develops the pneumatic (air-filled) tire, which provides a smoother ride. Prior to this, solid rubber tires were used.

1890s: Mass production of reasonably-priced bicycles allows working men to use them for transportation and leisure. Daring young women see the bicycle as a ticket to freedom. Bloomers allowed women wearing skirts to ride while maintaining their modesty. This led suffragist Susan B. Anthony to declare that the bicycle "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."

Circa 1900: An English manufacturer develops a three-speed wheel hub for bikes, allowing riders to cover hilly terrain with less effort.

Circa 1910: The dawn of the automobile age in begins to make bicycles passe for adults in America. Smaller bikes designed for children are introduced, but the market for kids' bicycles doesn't really take off until the post-World War II 'baby boom' begins.

1940s: Built-in kickstands are developed. They appear on postwar bikes. European bike racers begin using derailleurs that gave them five speeds, and later 10, for climbing mountains.

1963: Schwinn introduces the Sting-Ray, the first bike with a 'banana' seat and high-rise handlebars. The Sting-Ray is the precursor to BMX bikes that will become popular in the 1970s.

1960s: The 10-speed gear shift becomes commonplace, though lots of bikes still have only one or three speeds.

1970s: Bicycling becomes more popular because of environmental awareness (the first Earth Day was in 1970), the oil embargo, and resulting fuel shortages. In 1978, more bikes than cars are sold in the US.

1970s: California cyclists begin to modify 'klunkers' for off-road use. The first mountain bikes are mass-produced in the early 1980s.

1984: Cogs added to the rear gear cluster on some bikes allow the number of speeds to increase from 15 to 18, 21, and 24.

1986: The International Bicycle Fund cites a survey from the Department of the Interior and Nielson that shows bicycling is the third-most-popular participatory sport after swimming and general exercise.

1996: Mountain bikes first compete at the Olympic Games.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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