June 12, 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the date on which the German Baron Karl Freiherr von Drais took his new invention out for a ride and the modern bicycle was born.
Karl Drais launched the bicycle into centuries of evolution by covering the distance from Mannheim to the nearest post-coach stopover (the Schwetzinger Relaishaus) at an average speed of 15km/hr (9.3 mph) - faster than the horse-drawn post coach could make the trip! Necessity was the mother of this invention: folks in 1817 were in the midst of a sort of "fuel crisis". Due to the skyrocketing price of oats, horses were becoming unaffordable. (See Lloyd's take on this environmental crisis for more!)
Drais' wooden bike allowed a person to keep their feet on the ground, extending their stride as the wheels rolled along at the push of the leg. The "draisine," named after its inventor, was also known as the velocipede, hobby horse, dandy horse, or in the always-practical German laufmaschine (running machine).
As the bicycle became more popular, people found riding in the streets was uncomfortable due to the deep ruts left behind in soft roads by coach wheels. Bicyclists began sharing the sidewalks with pedestrians, which led to the first conflicts over bicycle infrastructure. The penny-farthing, a bicycle with a huge direct-drive front wheel and tiny rear wheel accelerated fears for the safety of riders and passers-by alike. Bicycles bans became common.
The invention of the "rover safety cycle" put the rider's feet back within reach of the ground, and helped this mode of transportation to return to the streets of cities around the world, introducing the rear chain drive in the process. Further important breakthroughs included the invention of ball bearings, the pneumatic tire, and the freewheel.
Around the same time, bicycles influenced women's fashion, especially the popularity of "bloomers" in the late 1800s which allowed women to pedal a bike without exposing their legs. Praise bikes for women's "common sense" clothing! In a testimony to how far we have come, modern women are more likely to pick a bike matching their "cycle chic" than the other way around.
Did you know the first recumbent bicycles originated in the late 1800s and these alternatives became popular in the 1930s? From the to the world-record setting longest tandem to the backwards bicycle, humans have never stopped having fun with pedal-power.
As we enter an era when new pressures encourage everyone to swap their car for alternative transportation, it makes sense to celebrate the birthday of the amazing bike!