No inventor or country can single-handedly claim to have invented the bicycle; it was invented and reinvented in many places over a period of many years.
In 1817, Germany’s Baron von Drais de Saverbrun invented the Draisienne, (also “draisine” or “hobby horse”) a steerable bicycle. It was almost completely made of wood, and had no pedals. Riders propelled it by pushing their feet against the ground. In 1860, a model called the Michaux Velocipede became the world’s first mass-produced riding machine. Designed by France’s Pierre Michaux, he came up with his design when a customer brought a Draisienne in for repairs. After his son tried riding it and had difficulties with his feet on downhill roads, Michaux came up with the idea of connecting crank arms and pedals directly to the front wheel as a means of propelling the bike. In 1865 in Connecticut, Pierre Lallement rode a distance of several miles and performed the very first “header” (flipping over the handlebars) on his bicycle. He was granted the first bicycle-related U.S. patent in 1866.
It seems that people have always held a special place in their hearts for sports stars of the day; history has seen an ongoing cycle of esteemed athletes.
In a time long before the names Jordan, Gretsky, or McGuire were associated with greatness, people began to idolize a group of athletes who were fun to watch and enjoyable to cheer for. These athletes were bicycle racers, and they became some of America’s earliest sports heroes.
Since the automobile didn’t catch on until the beginning of the 20th century, it is easy to understand how and why the bicycle became so popular. Throughout the late 1800s, new models and materials were constantly being designed and tested. Bicycles provided people with a means of travel, recreation, sport, and newfound freedom. The League of American Wheelmen, or L.A.W., was established in 1880 as a national chapter of bicyclists. Known then as “wheelmen,” cyclists were challenged by gravel and dirt roads, and sometimes given problems by horsemen, wagon drivers, and pedestrians. In order to improve conditions for themselves, the early leaders of bicycling came together and lobbied the government for more paved roads and assistance in ending the antagonistic acts of other road-users. Formally united in 1880, the League’s mission has continued for more than a century. Today, the L.A.W. is called the League of American Bicyclists.