The history of the bicycle is marked by false starts, with the first version developed in the late 1700s as a “walking machine”. In the 1860s, French inventors developed the pedaled velocipede, followed by the high-wheel bicycle in the 1870s. The development of gears allowed for the creation of the safety bicycle, which led to the explosion in popularity of bicycles. The invention of the pneumatic tire created a smooth and safe ride. Modern bicycles are designed for various purposes and are affordable to most consumers.
The history of the bicycle is actually a bit murky, which is quite remarkable when you consider the fact that the bicycle was developed in the 19th century, a very well documented historical period. What is definitely known about the history of the bicycle is that it was marked by a series of false starts before people finally developed the bicycle into its modern form, and that bicycles haven’t changed much since the late 19th century, beyond the developments of cutting-edge materials to make bicycles more efficient.
The first version of the bicycle was developed in the late 1700s as a “walking machine”. It basically consisted of a bicycle frame that was walked, rather than pedaled. This rather useless device wasn’t a big hit, not least because it was difficult to handle on surfaces other than smooth pavement or gravel, but it clearly inspired a few would-be inventors.
In the 1860s, French inventors developed the velocipede, a pedaled variation of the walking machine that was better known by the uncharitable name of the “boneshaker,” a reference to the rough ride on a velocipede. The pedals were placed on the front wheel, with the rider leaning back slightly to pedal the bicycle, and the wheels were made of wrought iron and wood, telegraphing every bump in the road to the hapless rider.
The Boneshaker had one clear flaw besides the uncomfortable ride: It was hard to drive and tiring to pedal. In response to this problem, inventors developed the high-wheel bicycle, also known as the penny farthing, in the 1870s. This bicycle had a large wheel in front and a small wheel in the rear, turning every push of the pedals into more power and making cycling more efficient. Some creative variations on the bone shaker included women’s tricycles and four-wheeled tandem bicycles.
The Cents were more efficient, but they were also dangerous and not very comfortable to ride, even with an all-metal frame. The next major development in the history of the bicycle was the development of gears, which allowed inventors to create the safety bicycle. Safety bicycles had two identically sized wheels, with pedals in the center attached to gears. The safety bicycle had an easy-to-maintain center of gravity and was easy to ride and steer, thanks to the use of gearshifting.
With the invention of the safety bicycle, the popularity of bicycles began to explode and only increased when someone came up with the brilliant idea of the pneumatic tyre, creating a smooth ride as well as a safe one. The basic shape of the bicycle has not changed since then, although elements on the frame have moved and improvements have been made to shifting and braking to improve efficiency and safety.
Modern bicycles are designed for a variety of purposes, including commuting, stunt riding, mountain biking, and cargo or passengers, with specialized versions for men, women, and children. The cost of a bicycle has also dropped significantly since the 19th century, with basic bicycles affordable to most consumers, although higher-end versions can get quite expensive.