Pedalling through History: The Evolution of Bicycles
The evolution of bicycles has come a long way over the past 200 years, since their creation in 1817. So we thought you may like to read a bit more about how they have evolved! This blog will help guide you through these changes and teach you a little about the history of the bicycle. Here goes:
German Inventor, Karl von Drais, made the first major development of the bicycle, creating a steerable two-wheeled contraption. However there were a multitude of inventors who all played major roles in different aspects of the bike and the appearance of it today. Originally known by the name ‘Running Machine’ or ‘Hobbyhorses’, this original design has undertaken huge developments since then, across a journey that spans centuries. Leading towards the sleek, efficient, and diverse bicycles we know today.
The ‘Running Machine’ or ‘Hobbyhorses’ – 1817
The earliest forms of bicycles, known as ‘running machines’ or ‘hobbyhorses’, appeared in the late 18th century. Unlike modern bicycles, they did not have pedals. Instead, riders propelled themselves by pushing off the ground with their feet, much like running. They consisted of two wheels aligned in a single line, with a handlebar for steering. Early running machines were predominantly made of wood, including the frame and wheels, some having iron or metal components as well. The front wheel was steerable allowing for control of direction and they often featured a saddle for the rider to sit on.
The running machine was a significant innovation in transportation during its time, allowing for faster and more efficient travel, compared to walking or traditional horse-drawn carriages. While it lacked the pedals and chain drive that define the modern bicycle, it set the stage for further developments that would eventually lead to the creation of the bicycle as we know it today.
‘The High-Wheeler’ or ‘Penny-Farthing’- 1870’s
The ‘High Wheeler’ or ‘Penny-Farthing’ as we tend to refer to it now despite not being called this till later on, was a distinctive and iconic bicycle design with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. The front wheel was extremely disproportionate to the rest of the bike and could reach as big as five feet in diameter! The reason for this design was to allow greater distance covered per pedal rotation, providing a higher top speed. The rear wheel was significantly smaller as shown in the photos beneath.
The pedals were attached directly to the front wheel, requiring the wheel to be large to achieve efficient pedalling. ‘High Wheelers’ did not have a gear system or chain drive like modern bicycles. As you may have guessed, there were a multitude of flaws to the ‘High Wheeler’ design. Riders sat high above the front wheel, which gave them a clear view of the road but also made falls more dangerous.
Many early high wheelers lacked effective braking systems making them challenging to stop, especially when traveling at high speeds downhill. Finally, the design of the high wheeler made for a relatively uncomfortable ride, as the large front wheel had limited shock absorption. Even so, the high wheeler enjoyed a period of popularity in the 1870s and 1880s when it was considered a symbol of modernity and progress. Despite its quirks and challenges it was a significant advancement in bicycle technology during its time.
‘The Safety Bicycle’ – 1880’s
The “Safety Bicycle” is the name given to this next bicycle that emerged around the 1880’s. It was named this to distinguish itself from the ‘High Wheeler’, mentioned above. The ‘Safety Bicycle’ had equally sized wheels, providing better stability and balance compared to its predecessor, as well as a chain drive system. This system allowed for power to be transferred from the pedals to the rear wheel, eliminating the need for a direct-drive mechanism attached to the front wheel.
The ‘Safety Bicycle’ also introduced inflatable tyres, developed by John Dunlop in 1888, greatly improving comfort and providing a smoother ride. They were equipped with more effective braking systems, as well as positioning the rider closer to the ground, making them safer and easier to control.
The safety bicycle design quickly gained popularity and became the standard bicycle design by the 1890s. It was accessible to a wider range of riders, including women, due to increased comfort, being less restrictive to clothing and also smaller in height. The ‘Safety Bicycle’ contributed significantly to the growth of cycling as a popular recreational activity and mode of transportation, leading to various models and styles emerging; including road bikes, touring bikes, and racing bikes. All catering to different riding preferences and purposes.
Its design laid the foundation for the modern bicycles we use today, which continue to feature equally sized wheels, chain drives, and pneumatic (inflatable) tyres.
This innovation marked a significant milestone in the history of cycling and transportation.
The Modern Day
Since ‘The Safety Bicycle’, the components of the bicycle have gone from strength to strength. Steel frames replaced iron frames, making bicycles lighter and more durable. The 20th century brought further innovations, including geared bicycles, coaster brakes, and the development of various bicycle types, such as road bikes, mountain bikes, and BMX bikes.
With advances in battery technology, electric bicycles (e-bikes) have gained popularity for their pedal-assist capabilities and extended range. As well as improvements in materials like carbon fibre, 3D printing and advanced manufacturing techniques, all leading to the custom and high-performance bicycles for various purposes; all of which are found here at Cycle Revival!
We have a wide range of options from electric folding bikes all the way to to full-suspension mountain bikes. Whatever bike it is you desire, we’re bound to have the right choice in stock for you. Feel free to give us a call at 01435 866118 or drop us an email at email@example.com. Alternatively, you could visit us at our shop in Heathfield or fill out the contact form here. We’ll do our best to get back to you as soon as possible.
Electric Bike Experts
We have evolved with the electric bike market over the 30 yearsView Electric
Bike Servicing & Repair
Our cycle repair workshop is fully equipped to work on any kind of bikeGet it fixed