Evolution of Bicycle

Earliest unverified history about the invention of Bicycle :

Da Vinci bicycle - evolution of bicycle
Da Vinci bicycle – Replica made 1965-72 from the alleged 1493 Caprotti sketch.

The replica shown in the picture is  from a sketch said to be from 1493 and attributed to Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci.The authenticity of the sketch is disputed.

First commercially successful two-wheeled, steerable, human-propelled machine:  Karl von Drais of Germany invented his bicycle and named it as  “Laufmaschine”  (German for “running machine”) in the year 1817 and got his design patented in 1818.It was commonly called as velocipede.English press called it as draisine.

Draisine 1817 - evolution of bicycle
Original draisine 1817

Denis Johnson of London developed an improved model of draisine and patented his machine titled “velocipede” with nick name “hobby-horse” in the year 1819.This model provided the basis for further development of bicycles and played a key role in its evolution.

velocipede or hobby horse -evolution of bicycle
Denis Johnson’s son riding a velocipede, Lithograph 1819.

First mechanically propelled vehicle: Kirkpatrick MacMillan was the first to invent a pedal driven vehicle of wood in 1839.He was a Scottish blacksmith.His model was the first rear-wheel pedalled bicycle.However the evidences to prove this were weak and the first documented model was from  Thomas McCall, of Kilmarnock in 1869.

McCall on velocipede - evolution of bicycle
Thomas McCall on his rear-driven velocipede in 1869
wood-engraving of 1869 photo from “Bicycling News” Feb. 6th, 1892.

The advent of Modern Safety Bicycle: 

Though debate rages over the starting point of cycle, most of the experts agree that the 19th century was the great era for the development.In 1885 ,British cycle maker John Kemp Starley claimed the safety bicycle as his invention.Though many similar models of bicycles appeared in the market around the same time, his model was undoubtedly the best of all.Starley’s safety bicycle featured spoked wheels of equal size, a diamond type frame.It also featured J.H.Lawson’s innovation of chain drive and easily adjustable seat and handle bar.The word safety was used because the previous models were perilous contraptions, especially the penny-farthing which was developed by Starley’s uncle,James Starley. Penny-farthing had a giant front wheel and tine rear one and looked strange.The safety model of Starley was safe with sensible height and better weight distribution.

penny-farthing - evolution of bicycle
Penny-Farthing -Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library’s Photo Collection.Original uploader was Bobak -to wikipedia

The evolving bicycles from then featured tangentially spoked wheels and used hard rubber tires which resulted in uncomfortable ride.However the safety model became a massive hit by the incorporation of pneumatic tires developed by John Boyd Dunlop. Then  Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. Ltd was formed in Oriel House in Dublin , to acquire and commercialize John Boyd Dunlop’s patent for pneumatic tires for bicycles.

Many refinements in the bicycle have taken place after the advent of pneumatic tires which were less costly than its predecessors allowing cycling to become a widespread activity.In the evolution of bicycle another significant refinement to bicycles was the design of mountain bike in California during the 1970’s.The evolution of hybrid bicycles with gears, disc brakes etc.., would be elaborated in the coming articles.

Watch this video from Youtube -History of Bicycle -A quick timeline describing the bicycle and how it has evolved.

Also read :Evolution of Hummer

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About Sai Prashanth

IT professional. Love to write.