Who invented the bicycle?

By George Garza
Info Guru,

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Person on bicycle
The precursor to the modern bicycle did not have pedals
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See the bicycle in development through stages

The Tour-de-France is the best known bicycle race. The innovations made to bicycles go as far back as 1818. If you want to know who invented the bicycle, read on.

Before there were bicycles

Other precursors to the modern bicycle were known as push bikes, draisines or hobby horses. The draisine was first introduced to the public in Paris in 1818 by the German Baron Karl von Drais. The rider sat astride a wooden frame supported by two in-line wheels and pushed the draisine along with his/her feet while steering the front wheel. The draisine had two wheels but no pedals.

Scottish blacksmith Kirkpatrick MacMillan refined this in 1839 by adding a mechanical crank drive to the rear wheel, creating the first bicycle in the modern sense.

In 1870, Englishman James Starley created the ordinary bicycle. These bicycles were not for the weak due to the high seat and poor balance. It was easy to fall and take a header.

And then there were bicycles

The dwarf ordinary bicycle addressed some of these problems, first by reducing the front wheel diameter and then by setting the seat farther back. But having to both pedal and steer through the front wheel remained a problem. Starley's nephew J. K. Starley, J. H. Lawson, and Shergold solved this problem by introducing the chain drive - connecting the pedals held with the frame to the back wheel.

These models were known as dwarf safeties, or safety bicycles. They had lower seat height and better weight distribution. Starley's 1885 Rover is usually considered the first recognizably modern bicycle. Soon thereafter, the seat tube was added, creating the double-triangle diamond frame of the modern bike.

The golden age of bicycles

New innovations increased comfort and ushered in the golden age of bicycles in the 1890s. In 1888, Scotsman John Boyd Dunlop introduced the pneumatic tire, a popular move which soon became universally adopted. Soon thereafter, the rear freewheel was developed. This enabled the rider to coast without the pedals spinning out of control. This refinement led to the 1898 invention of coaster brakes.

Derailleur gears also came into use. Derailleur gears is a transmission system commonly used on bicycles consisting of a chain, multiple sprockets and a mechanism to move the chain from one sprocket to another. Hand-operated cable-pull brakes were also developed during these years, but were only slowly adopted by casual riders.

By the turn of the century, cycling clubs flourished on both sides of the Atlantic, and touring and racing were soon extremely popular.

Bicycles and horse buggies were the two mainstays of private transportation just prior to the automobile. This led to the grading of smooth roads in the late 19th century. Coincidentally, as the automobile was coming into use, the graded road was seen as necessary to take advantage of the speed that was possible with the automobile. Grading was already in the public eye because of the need for it with bicycles.

So, who invented the bicycle? JK Starley is the person that is given credit for inventing the modern bicycle. He had help, but he put together most of the refinements necessary to push the bicycle in the modern direction.

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